November 02, 2011

Philosophy To Live By: Center for a New American Security CEO, Marine Veteran, Best Selling Author Nate Fick

WashingtonExec reached out to area executives to gain insight and share local “secrets to success” stories.

Today’s working advice comes from Nate Fick, CEO of the Center for New American Security. Fick is also an Operating Partner at Bessemer Venture Partners.

Fick is a Marine Combat veteran of Afghanistan and Iraq, and New York Times bestselling author.

Nate Fick: I worked for a guy in the Marines who boiled his leadership philosophy down to three words:“Officers eat last.” Being in charge in his unit wasn’t about privileges and special treatment; it meant sleeping less and carrying a heavier rucksack than everyone else. I thought that was a great way to look at the world, and people really respond to it.

Trust yourself. My favorite writing on leadership is Emerson’s essay “Self-Reliance.” You need the courage of your convictions to make unpopular decisions, and the sense of self to admit when you’re wrong.

The K.I.P.P. charter schools have a simple motto: work hard, be nice.  It sounds trite, but both of those things are incredibly important. So much of business and life really is about following the rules we try to teach our children.

In a services company, all your assets go home at night. People matter most. I can’t possibly be the subject-matter expert in everything we do. My job is to hire the best team, foster a culture that helps them flourish, and resource them well. The right people in the right environment with the right resources can do anything.

Don’t treat your clients better than your friends and family. When someone first told me this, I denied that I was doing it. Then I reflected on the number of times I had accepted a Saturday client meeting but failed to be home for dinner on a weekday, or had returned a call from a customer but not from my college roommate. So now I really try to keep my priorities straight.

Finally, never lose your willingness to walk away. The best managers I’ve seen have their resignation letters already written. There’s a psychic wholeness that comes with being willing to push your chair back from the table and say, “I’m outta here.” It helps you maintain a true moral and ethical compass, great negotiating power, and a healthy sense of perspective.