Finding Tomorrow’s Leaders in Today’s Armed Forces
Every day, 550 American service members leave the armed forces and return to civilian life. When it comes to active duty military transitioning to the civilian workforce, many are quick to point out the unique technical and tactical skills that veterans have (we detailed this in a previous blog post) and how these skills translate into the business world. Were you a mechanic in the armed forces? Then working at a factory that builds vehicles makes sense. Did you work in cyber operations in the military? Then a job in IT is for you. However, by focusing on these tactical skills, are we missing out something even greater that veterans have to offer?
The 2018 Global Leadership Forecast surveyed more than 1,000 C-level executives and 10,000 high-potential employees. The top challenges vying for leaders’ action focused on their own leaders. Developing “Next Gen” leaders and failure to attract/retain top talent were rated in the top five by 64% and 60% percent of respondents, respectively. Company leaders clearly indicated that top talent and effective leaders will be needed to not only address the myriad current challenges but also position their organization for future success.
The same research study also found that organizations with effective leadership talent outperform their peers. However, even after spending countless hours and resources on developing their leaders, most companies don’t have the bench strength to meet their future business goals. Common business challenges mentioned in the survey include: acting decisively; navigating through complexity; responding to the competitive environment; understanding and acting; and anticipate and react.
Those business challenges sound a lot like a military operation.
There are numerous myths about hiring veterans. The “civil-military divide” is well documented and characterized by a widening geographic, demographic, cultural, and social gap between the nation and those who serve in the all-volunteer military. However, according to a 2012 study by the Center for a New American Security, there are several important and beneficial reasons for hiring veterans, including character, structure and discipline, and leadership and teamwork skills.
Pat Burns is a MAPI member and corporate strategy executive in Chicago. He attended the United States Military Academy at West Point before serving as a platoon leader, executive officer, and company commander in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. For Burns, there are innumerable skills and lessons learned from the military that apply to manufacturing.
“The more experience I get, the more I realize the things I learned at West Point and the military and how much it applies,” said Burns.
According to Burns, members of the military aren't just taught a skill or trade. The military is on the forefront of developing leaders, teaching them skills such as leading through respect, reading and understanding the battlefield (or, in the civilian world, marketplace), strategic decision making, delegation, and how to inspect.
“This translates into manufacturing and doing your daily walk and going to the gemba,” he said. “That is a skill that most people in the military don’t know they have because they don’t know the value of it in the workplace. Many employers appreciate military leaders and their aptitude to get out from behind their desk and get out to gemba.”
The unique skills that are possessed by veterans are very strategic and can often be difficult to teach, such as integrity, leading through respect, and a hands-on approach to leadership. As companies search for the next generation of leaders, they should recognize that veterans can bring valuable competencies beyond what appears on their resumes. Veterans, like any employee, require investment and training. But in return, companies are getting people and skills that are incredibly valuable to raising the overall performance of an organization.