By John Register,
Military veterans often possess unique skills and experiences that make them exceptional leaders in the civilian workplace. Drawing from my journey as a United States Army veteran, I appreciate the invaluable lessons and abilities acquired during my service, particularly during my Gulf War deployment and subsequent role as CEO of the Amputee Coalition.
In the Gulf War, I quickly realized the importance of adaptability and a thirst for knowledge. To thrive in an unfamiliar environment, I immersed myself in learning. I studied Arabic to facilitate communication, delved into local customs to foster understanding, and became intimately familiar with the terrain and equipment at my disposal. Moreover, I developed strong bonds with fellow American and Saudi service members, promoting teamwork and camaraderie.
Years later, as the CEO of the Amputee Coalition, I found myself drawing upon the parallels between my military service and the corporate world. Rapidly getting to know my team, assessing their capabilities, and adapting to the organization’s unique culture was vital. Learning the language of the business, just as I had with Arabic in the Gulf War, and understanding the tools available to me, such as HR and legal resources, proved essential in my role.
This article explores the wealth of skills and experiences that military veterans like myself bring to leadership positions in the civilian workforce. From adaptability and cultural awareness to effective teamwork and rapid problem-solving, the lessons learned in the military are invaluable assets for leading successful organizations.
Let’s begin with strategic thinking, a cornerstone of military training, significantly enhancing workplace leadership for veterans when they transition to civilian roles. Military officers, in particular, receive extensive training in strategic thinking, and many of these skills are highly applicable in the civilian work environment.
One of the courses I attended was the G9 U.S. Army Installation Management Command course. The G9 integrates and delivers Family and Morale, Welfare, and Recreation programs and services, enabling readiness and resilience for a globally responsive Army. The programs are generally outside the scope of battlefield training but are necessary to understand how the garrison works.
Exposure to the complexities of managing installations and supporting military families broadens an officer’s strategic thinking. They learn to consider mission objectives and the well-being and readiness of personnel and their families. This holistic perspective enhances their ability to make informed decisions that balance operational requirements with the needs of employees and their families.
Next, let’s compare a veteran who can effectively transfer her decision-making skills into her CEO role by applying well-informed and swift decision-making principles. The veteran’s experience making high-stakes decisions under pressure can be a tremendous asset in business settings. Here are three ways this transfer of skills might occur:
Rigorous Analysis: In the military, decision-making is often rooted in a comprehensive analysis of available information. A veteran can apply this approach in business by thoroughly analyzing market data and industry trends to make well-informed decisions.
Swift Execution: Veterans are accustomed to making decisions swiftly, especially in critical situations. CEOs can benefit from this ability by avoiding delays in decision implementation and ensuring that strategies are implemented promptly.
Adaptability: Veterans often need to adapt their decisions in rapidly changing environments. This adaptability is invaluable in business, where unforeseen challenges and opportunities can arise, requiring CEOs to adjust their strategies accordingly.
A veteran can leverage her decision-making skills by bringing a structured and analytical approach to her role as a CEO. The ability to assess risks, make swift and well-informed decisions, and adapt to changing circumstances are assets that can contribute to effective leadership in the corporate world.
Finally, the military strongly emphasizes leadership development for veterans. We learn and are trained to motivate, inspire and lead teams effectively, skills that are transferrable to the civilian workplace through training, values and practical experience. These skills are highly valuable for veteran military leaders when leading in civilian workplaces.
Military leaders are taught the importance of leading by example and setting high standards. Military veterans bring this leadership training to civilian workplaces, where they can inspire and motivate teams through their strong leadership skills.
They are also highly attentive to teamwork and camaraderie. Knowing how teams work best when working together and the importance of working as a unit towards a common goal often fosters a sense of connection in their civilian teams, creating a motivated and inspired work environment.
One of the best transferrable advantages a military veteran brings to their civilian leadership is discipline and accountability. As the military instills discipline and accountability in service members, veterans carry this sense of responsibility into their civilian roles, ensuring that tasks are completed efficiently and effectively. This discipline motivates teams to perform at their best.
As the president and CEO of Inspired Communications International (ICI), my professional speaking and training company, I lead by leveraging the diplomatic skills I honed during my military service. A vivid memory from my time in Desert Storm exemplifies the importance of diplomacy and creative problem-solving.
My comrade, Duane Burbank, and I were communications specialists faced with a unique challenge. We needed to establish communication back to the United States using limited resources. Drawing on the military’s spirit of ingenuity and resourcefulness, we devised a solution: a high-powered radio system for long-distance calls. However, we encountered skepticism when we presented our plan to our NCO in charge. He believed it to be impossible.
Undeterred, I recalled a similar situation during which I had spoken with my wife, Alice—who was living in New Jersey—via our improvised system. Armed with this proof of performance, Burbank and I decided to apply diplomatic pressure by demonstrating the effectiveness of our solution. Every night, at a predetermined time, we allowed a few Soldiers to use our makeshift communication system to call home. As word spread, more Soldiers came to our communication rig to obtain a morale call home. Our NCO had to acknowledge the success of our initiative.
In my role at ICI, I often find myself in situations where I must convince clients that our solutions are viable. I achieved this through a proof of performance approach. I host speaker showcases to provide clients with tangible evidence of actionable insights to improve their employees’ attitudes and boost efficiency, productivity and revenue.
This anecdote from my military service underscores the importance of diplomacy, problem-solving and the ability to demonstrate the feasibility of solutions—qualities that continue to serve me well as the leader of ICI.
Officers and enlisted veterans who are now leading organizations tend to foster an environment that promotes collaboration and mutual respect. While officers can provide strategic direction, enlisted personnel can offer technical expertise and on-the-ground insights as they lead.
Head hunters looking for solid leadership should ensure they are not overlooking military veteran leaders and recognizing and leveraging their strengths to lead organizations and create a diverse and effective leadership team capable of addressing various challenges.
John Register, CSP, is a professional keynote speaker. His company, Inspired Communications International, works with business professionals ready to Hurdle Adversity, Amputate Fear, and Embrace a New Normal Mindset to Win the Medals in their Life. Use the QR code to book him for your next event.