#BestAdvice: From Barracks to Boardroom, How the Front Lines Made Me a Better Leader

Levi Strauss & Co.
February 3, 2015

The following is an excerpt from an article originally published on LinkedIn, where LS&Co. leaders periodically share their perspectives and expertise on business trends, industry issues, careers and the workplace.

In this particular series, professionals share the words of wisdom that made all the difference in their lives. Follow the stories here and write your own (please include the hashtag #BestAdvice in the body of your post).

Have thoughts or reactions to this piece? Head on over to LinkedIn to share them.


As the CEO of Levi Strauss & Co. and a 28-year veteran of Procter & Gamble, I tend to be known as a “brand” guy, a businessman, someone who launches brands and strives to build talent and strong global businesses. But my “formative” years were spent as a U.S. Army Officer fresh out of college in a combat unit in Germany during the peak of the Cold War.

In many ways, it was my military experience that shaped who I am and how I think about leadership. Even though those days in Germany were 35 years ago, the lessons have stayed with me all of these years. In fact, the military may have given me the best advice and taught me the most valuable lessons I’ve learned in my career.

1. Always eat last. One of the first things I learned as an officer was that officers always ate last. The principle is simple: to be a good leader, you take care of your people first. Officers are the last to sleep, the first to wake, especially in the field. And though “servant leadership” may sound like an oxymoron, taking care of your “soldiers” means they will take care of you.

2. Never ask a soldier to do something you wouldn’t do yourself. A corollary to the “always eat last” principle, real leaders will never “order” or even ask someone to do something they wouldn’t do themselves. In most cases, the best leaders never ask their soldiers to do anything they haven’t already done before.

3. Take the high ground. A key principle in combat is that the “high ground” is always the most important piece of real estate – and many famous battles were fought over an especially important hilltop. In business we must also always fight for the “high ground.” Whether that is owning the category benefit (e.g. Folgers coffee owning the benefit of “waking up” or for Levi’s, the idea that you wear other jeans but you “Live in Levi’s”), or being on the moral high ground. One of the great joys of being at Levi Strauss & Co. is knowing that we have always stood for what is right, and have led for progress. Leaders determine the “high ground” they want to own, and then fight for it.


Want to read the rest of Chip’s #bestadvice? Click over to LinkedIn for the full post.