The Commando Entrepreneur by Damian McKinney

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The Commando Entrepreneur by Damian McKinney

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Category: Business and Finance
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Lesley Mason
Reviewed by Lesley Mason
Summary: Former Royal Marine Damian McKinney makes the linkages between 'commando' training and leadership and their counterparts in the business world. Nothing particularly new, but a fresh re-phrasing of the principles that makes for an easy and insightful read.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 192 Date: July 2015
Publisher: Urbane Publications Limited
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1909273610

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It always helps to know the bias of anyone reviewing a book for you, so cards on the table: I am something of a "self-help" / "self-improvement" junkie. I use both expressions because it's often difficult to know where the boundary between management text books and teach-yourself-a-better-way-to-live books lies.

To be honest, I'm not sure it is a border as such, more a kind of fuzzy green every-man's-land between the two. Much of the difference seems to lie in the language used and the examples cited, rather than in what they are trying to teach.

I read a lot of these books. I started to read them, when I needed to, because I had "stuff" to deal with… and I continued to, because most of them have something that I can work with. I do say 'most' – there are one or two I haven't bothered to finish.

The point of the background is this: I have evolved a very simple and instantaneous method for assessing how useful a book of this type is. There are three very simple criteria:

  • Do I immediately want to lend it to someone specific?
  • When I get to the end, do I immediately turn back to the beginning to start picking out the useful bits?
  • How many page corners did I turn down on the first reading?

Ok, I know we're supposed to treat books with respect and, yes, I was castigated as child for defacing a book by corner turning… but I make an exception for the books I'm going to keep and use.

Because ultimately that's what my 3-criteria evaluation tells me: am I going to keep this book and actually USE it?

So, to the book in hand, did it pass the test? Yes (but I'm not saying who), yes (but life got in the way) and 9.

The author, Damian Mckinney, unfortunately more famous now for his divorce than for anything else, comes from the kind of background that is on the way out. He had a free childhood in Kenya, before being sent to boarding school in Britain at the age of ten and progressed thence into the Royal Marines. Although he takes his business philosophy from his time in the military, retiring early on health grounds as a Lieutenant Colonel, you can't help thinking that the earlier background will have shaped much of his ability and confidence in both fields.

But let's not get too gung-ho about this. This isn't some life-career marine who's suddenly decided that he'd still rather be in the army and that the military way is the only way and the right way to get the rest of the world to work. In interviews he throws away the fact that he "got a business degree while I was working in the army". He was already playing a long game, and maybe already seeing the links.

I also need to throw in another personal extrapolation here, which might be grounded more in patriotism, and local anecdote, and possibility distorted representation through the media than in in reality, but it seems to me that there are fundamental differences between some military approaches and others. The approach that McKinney espouses for business is one that I am clear exists in (at least some branches of) the British military. It would seem to be less the case in that of our American cousins.

A lot of his theory rests on the premise that marines in particular (he calls them commandos presumably to widen the appeal) have a wider degree of latitude in how the mission objective is achieved.

So that's the first thing to be clear on if you're wondering if the book is for you. You need to understand what he means by a commando. He is talking about what he knows, the Royal Marines specifically, and their equivalent forces around the world. These are generally small teams of highly trained, highly motivated, individuals who are given a clear military objective – which is not necessarily theirs to achieve. Their job is to go in behind the lines and do whatever it takes to make the mission achievable by those who will follow in their wake.

This isn't about driving over the bodies. But it is to a large extent about creating the disruption that will enable the objective to be achieved (driving over bodies or not, being often someone else's problem perhaps).

The second thing you need to grasp (in deciding if its worth reading) is what McKinney means in this context by Entrepreneur. He is not necessarily talking about people setting up and running their own businesses. He is purely talking about the type of people who might do that, the people who have that kind of mindset, and indeed he argues that you need a fair few of those inside your business to keep in growing, developing and thriving.

You need entrepreneurial activity within a business not just in setting it up, for ever and a day thereafter.

So what is a Commando Entrepreneur? Essentially, according to McKinney, it is someone who is

  • Never daunted by risk
  • Loves adventure
  • Wants to make a difference; and
  • Can achieve the extraordinary

Throughout he uses interviews with successful people and case studies to examine what each of these means, before going on to give you the test to see if you are one, and an all too short chapter on how "to make" one. ("How to become one" might have been more useful – but perhaps he feels that if you're reading this it's already too late and the best you can hope for is to mentor the next generation.)

Is there anything earth-shatteringly new in here? No.

So why did it pass my usefulness test?

Firstly, it is very readable. Coming in at 140 pages, excluding the peripheries, it's a short pocket paperback. The language is simple, the studies clear.

Secondly, it is balanced. For every behaviour McKinney espouses as necessary in his Commando Entrepreneur he sets a boundary to it. No behaviour can go unchecked.

Thirdly, he reiterates what we should all know by now: if the mission objective isn't clear to everyone, and if they aren't all "bought-into" it – the rest of it just won't work.

Fourthly: let's be honest, a lot of the business world is still run by "macho types" (of whatever gender) and if cloaking sensible leadership qualities in camouflage is what it takes, hell, why not? The rest of us might choose a different camouflage and be just as effective.

And my 'struck a chord' turned down corners?

Being a Commando involves: the pursuit of excellence; courage and determination; humility and humour; cheerfulness in adversity; no sense of class (be inclusive, diverse and positive). How can you not see how that fits in business.

I loved a quote from Angela Ahrendts: I've never considered it work. It's a natural extension of my life. That gives me pause for thought in terms of perceptions of my work-life balance. Am I maybe creating stress by trying to conform to someone else's boundaries between the two?

Bring all your people back alive – I think the Americans phrase this as No man left behind (in their case I think it means dead or alive)… but the point is: it's your job to look after your people. One thing I often see in business is leaders focusing on the business, where, maybe if they focussed on their people, the business would benefit more. Just a thought.

And so on…

McKinney makes reference to adapt, innovate, overcome as being the US Marine Corps motto. Not exactly. Improvise, adapt, overcome has been adopted by a number of units but the Corps motto is still Semper Fidelis (or Semper Fi!), which can be loosely translated as "Keep the Faith" – not a bad business motto when times are hard, and certainly more useful than the British Royal Marines badge note (which I'll leave you to look up if you're sad enough to care).

It isn't earth-shatteringly new, just refreshingly re-told – and if that means a few more people read it, pick up on it and do it, well, that might be mission objective achieved.

If finding ways of translating extreme circumstance leadership into the more mundane office based kind is your thing, you might also enjoy Keep Walking - Leadership Learning in Action - A thrilling story of a polar adventure with powerful lessons in leadership and personal development by Dr Richard Hale and Alan Chambers MBE.

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Buy The Commando Entrepreneur by Damian McKinney at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Commando Entrepreneur by Damian McKinney at


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