What do the CEOs of Johnson & Johnson, FedEx and WeWork all have in common? They’re all leaders, of course. But there’s another commonality in their training that may surprise you. Each of these very successful, now-private citizens is a military veteran. As a matter of fact, some of the most well-known companies—companies like Sperry, Walmart and GoDaddy—are veteran-founded or veteran-led.
And it’s not exactly a coincidence that so many veterans have found success in the civilian world. Studies have shown that veterans tend to out earn their civilian peers. Now would probably be a good time to tell you that the founder of Lucas Group, Art Lucas, was a veteran, too.
I transitioned out of the Navy in 2014, and I can easily say that some of the best leaders I’ve ever worked with and some of the best leadership lessons I’ve picked up in my career have been a product of my military service. So what is it exactly that makes veterans so successful? Here are a few of the qualities they usually bring to the table.
Unmatched work ethic
When you decide to serve in the military, you make a commitment that is tested and deepened through months (sometimes years) of conditioning. The result is an unwavering work ethic that’s hard to find in the civilian world. Veterans are used to working for months on end in very hostile environments with few breaks and limited resources.
Not only do they respond well under pressure, they’re also pretty hard to shake. They show up early and stay late. They understand the mission and they attack it. No matter the problem, it’s always full speed ahead!
Discipline that has become a habit
The day-to-day activities of military service members include routines and rituals that help to unify the team and maintain a focus on the mission. They start the day at a scheduled time; they dress according to the instructions of their commanding officers; they even keep their bunks in accordance with specific rules. This instills a discipline veterans don’t forget upon entering the civilian world.
And that certainly pays off in the workplace. Veterans show up on time. They take pride in their work, and they stay until the job is done. Because the truth is, in the military, rituals and routines mean more than just proper etiquette. If you don’t show up at the right time, if you aren’t prepared for the task at hand, people can lose their lives. It’s that serious. Punctuality and preparation, even in the small details, are how you show your colleagues you can be counted on, and the significance of discipline is ingrained in the minds and hearts of soldiers, sailors and marines from the moment they enter boot camp. It stays with them long after they decide to leave the service.
Versatile, effective communication skills
The ability to communicate and lead effectively can be a tough lesson for anyone to learn. But in the military, the stakes are too high to miss a beat. Learning to communicate and lead in everyday and tense situations is imperative.
In the service, decisions need to be made quickly and communicated with precision. Naval Officers, for example, are charged with driving multi-billion dollar ships and submarines in tight quarters. One wrong move can result in costly property being damaged—or worse, people getting hurt. You’ve got to make the right move (and quickly) to avoid disaster. The ability to effectively communicate while leading a team is essential to ensuring everyone’s safety. This is why members of the military are regularly exposed to communication and leadership training.
A growth mindset
With all of the changes and challenges military personnel face, there’s not much time for resting on laurels. Instead, they are trained to always look for ways to improve and grow. So you can count on a veteran to enjoy constructive feedback, and regularly act on opportunities to grow and improve themselves and their teams.
With this kind of growth mindset, it’s really no wonder so many military veterans find themselves in executive leadership. Often, military personnel transitioning to civilian work are equipped with skills most hiring managers screen for. They are hard-working, adaptable, responsible and strong communicators. So once they’re placed into the right role, the sky is the limit for how veterans can grow their careers.
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