This Veterans Day, IvyExec decided to ask veterans-turned-executives what qualities and skills they attained in the military that other business leaders can learn from.
Veterans’ Secrets to Business Success
A successful military revolves around teams. According to George Randle, EF Overwatch Managing Partner and co-author of the book The Talent War: How Special Operations and Great Organizations Win on Talent and US Army veteran, having a deep understanding and appreciation for teamwork and team operations is a quality that has served many veterans well in the corporate world.
“I tend to build relationships better – am able to consider what my role is in the team – and at the executive level, that really stands out,” Randle said. “The military requires players in all kinds of support positions to pull off the things they make movies about, and executives who are veterans understand that better than most.”
Jeff Clark, United States Space Force Manpower and Personnel Programs Consultant and US Air Force veteran agreed.
“The military is all about teamwork and you have to get your men and women united behind a single endeavor,” Clark said. “Bringing those skillsets to the civilian sector when you’ve been working on them in military is directly translatable.”
Leave your ego at the door
With teamwork being such a main tenet of the military, veterans often exhibit qualities such as humility and humbleness. This allows them to focus on company goals over their own.
“So many people bring ego into the equation and military people don’t generally do that,” Randle said. “What I owe to my boss is to execute to the best of my ability even if it’s not my idea and in the corporate world that has served me exceptionally well. It’s all on you, but not about you. We care about the mission than we do ourselves. I have found that is not a trait that is common with people who don’t have a military background.”
Leadership through culture
Clark said one of the most transferrable skills he learned in the military was how to understand what culture is, and how to use that to manage others.
“When we all walk into a place of business to work there, we understand there is a culture,” he said. “It is simpler to pick up on now, because when you are on active duty, when you walked into your squadron or battalion immediately there was a whole culture identity.”
That culture identity is bred through the collective mindset of very different people.
“Life experiences help form how you are going to lead people,” Joshua Skule, Sr. Vice President, Allied Universal®-Risk Advisory and Consulting Services and US Marine Corp veteran said. “Everybody has a different set of experiences, so as a young soldier or sailor you learn to figure out what motivates them at a young age. You learn how to take care of and respect the trust for which you’ve been given on the resources that have been provided to you and that translates into how to propel a company forward.”
Results-based strategic planning
A lot of work in the military involves strategic planning followed by tactical execution. Business can be viewed as operating similarly.
“Often the military operates on concept, these high level objects to achieve, and then allows you the latitude to figure out how to achieve that goal,” Skule said. “Each person or squadron along the way has a piece they need to achieve, so you need strategic planning in which you consider what you want to have happen in order to achieve those objectives.”
Randle said vets acquire a solutions-based mindset in the military.
“We operate under principal of the best idea wins, no matter who’s it is,” he said. “You have to have the humility, wisdom and confidence in yourself to say, ‘OK, let’s run with that.’ You care most about solutions, you care about winning, you care about capturing revenue, you care about having the best product.”
Randle also said a skill he learned in the military was to always approach his superiors with a solutions-based idea.
“One of the things [civilians] appreciate that I learned in military is you learn to professionally disagree with your bosses,” he said. “Along with that, you learn to always present solutions.”
Resilience and flexibility
Clark said there are plenty of times in the military where people are deep into working on a project or task and then something comes up to change the mission.
“There’s not a lot of discussion about it,” he said. “But a lot of times you’ll see in the civilian sector people will get upset; they are invested in the project and get upset.”
Skule said the cost of failure in the military is general loss of life, so it puts things in the corporate world into perspective.
“That is a big responsibility versus a loss in revenue,” he said. “Certainly with what our men and women have gone through in the past two decades, it teaches you to be resilient.”
All three said veterans are advantageous hires for companies to make.
“Veterans are very loyal,” Randle said. “Their attrition level is lower than average, they tend to work harder, they are flexible, adaptable, used to change, and quick studies.”
“They are going to have powerful things to say,” he said. “Veterans are a very diverse people and if you can find a way of tapping into that and find out what they are capable of doing, you have such a huge asset on your hands.”
If you’re a veteran looking for your next challenge, be sure to check out our curated job boards!