Seven Reasons Military Veterans Are Great Employees and Exceptional Leadership Candidates

There’s been a flurry of reports in the news lately about our veterans struggling to find meaningful employment after serving our nation.  Not only is this a shame, but it also represents a lost opportunity for employers.  As a veteran of Naval Intelligence myself, I do have a bit of a bias.  Throughout my corporate career I hired many veterans and was never disappointed in the decision once.  At one point, when I was charged with launching a global, technical service business in support of pharmaceutical manufacturing environments, I worked almost exclusively with the service branches’ transition placement teams to fill my ranks.  The people I hired were dependable, trustworthy, and meticulous in their approach to the work, which was mission-critical in this highly regulated market.  Within 18 months we had a team of nearly two hundred field technicians and were generating in excess of $35 million in annual revenue.  Highly profitable revenue.  The presence and bearing of these remarkable young people also pulled through capital equipment sales.  Sales of our specialized manufacturing equipment jumped from 9% annual growth to 17% annual growth in that same timeframe.  Many of those professionals I hired are now in leadership positions in various companies around the country.

For those of you that are unfamiliar with the differentiating attributes our military veterans possess, I’d like to share seven key reasons you should hire veterans and strongly consider them as potential candidates for future leadership positions.

1.)  Accountability.  When teenagers and young military personnel are trained and placed in a position of being accountable for the lives of their sisters and brothers in arms it leaves an indelible mark on their character.  This moral obligation of accountability, in the most serious of scenarios, never leaves you.  At the ripe old age of 19 years, while aboard a Navy carrier and working in mission planning, I was responsible for the lives of pilots and their crews whenever I created a strike mission plan.  I had to find a way to get them in through the enemy defenses, guide them to their target, and get them home safely.  How many civilian 19 year olds would you trust with that level of responsibility?  Being responsible and fully accountable for the lives and success of my shipmates carried over seamlessly in my rise through corporate to the senior leadership level.  Couldn’t we use a few more CEOs that are thoroughly accountable for their actions?

2.)  Obligation of Service.  Our returning veterans made a conscious choice at a very young age; to give something forward to our great nation before they asked anything in return.  They’ve earned a leg up on the American Dream.  While we’ve been home, going about our everyday lives for the past decade, these brave souls have been sacrificing at a level most civilians will never understand.  Leading, fighting, and surviving from a grounded sense of service; to our nation, to our communities, to each other and to our ideals as Americans, sets the foundation for Transformational Leadership to emerge.  These are the types of leaders that inspire and transform companies and entire industries.

3.)  Grace Under Fire.  Things getting stressful at work?  Imagine what a bad day at the office means to a combat veteran.  Someone didn’t come home that day.  When we civilians are subjected to stressful situations our cognitive performance suffers.  What we perceive as threats, even in our comparatively acquiescent world, triggers what is called an amygdala hijack in us.  Our flight, fight or freeze response is triggered as part of our primary survival mechanisms.  This creates a biochemical cascade of stress hormones that can disrupt rational, creative thinking for up to four hours.  How do combat veterans respond?  They maintain their focus on the mission-at-hand, protect each other, and continue to engage in critical, high-speed thinking and the life-endangering action necessary to accomplish their shared goal.

4.)  Highly Adaptive.  Contrary to common belief, military personnel are not trained to be automatons.  They are trained to think fast, think right, adapt and improvise in unprecedented circumstances.  They are encouraged to seize the initiative whenever an opening affords itself to them.  To take it upon themselves, as a unit, to call upon all of their training, experience and intuitive insight to execute their mission while operating under clear, often constraining, rules of engagement.  Throughout history, brief moments of individual creative thinking have turned entire battles, campaigns, and wars.  It is reported that there was a three minute period during the Battle of Midway, shortly after Pearl Harbor, that a handful of aviators seized the moment at their own peril, and not only turned the tide of the battle in favor of the Americans, but many historians concur that if these men hadn’t taken the initiative the United States could have very likely lost the War in the Pacific during WWII.  I don’t know about you, but I want people like that on my team, not working for the competition.

5.)  Team Cohesion.  No other group of professionals understand the mission-critical nature of team work and team cohesion better than veterans.  Our lives literally hinged on the professional execution and attention to detail of our comrades.  We were TEAM.  It became part of our identity, engrained into the marrow of our being.  Our firm conducts pro bono Warrior in Transition workshops around the country and I have continuously seen how deeply engrained this sense of unit esteem is in returning personnel.  Veterans understand their role on the team, check their ego at the door, and work together to surmount inexplicable odds and volatile, rapidly changing challenges.  A few well placed veterans in your organization can shift the entire dynamics and productivity of business teams.

6.)  Diversity & Inclusion.  When you place your life into the hands of another person, the issue of race, cultural background, or gender dissipate in an instant.  Military units are highly multi-cultural and rapidly becoming gender neutral.  When I was in the Navy, everyone pretty much knew there were gay men serving with us.  Did it matter?  Did we care?  Not one, little bit.  First and foremost, they were shipmates, plain and simple.  We all depended on each other and that’s all that mattered.  While the military is a command-and-control environment, we continuously drew upon each other for insights, ideas, and eclectic perspectives when facing a challenge.  Superficial differences evaporated immediately…and it was the inclusion of various perspectives that could be the difference between life and death.  No opinion or insight was overlooked, regardless of the source.

7.)  Authentic Empathy.  During my service we were all, quite literally, in the same boat.  Living aboard an aircraft carrier is in no way a Carnival Cruise.  During my deployment we had a major fire in one of our main machinery rooms, one of four massive propulsion plants for the ship.  We burned for 12 hours that day and nearly every one of us rotated down into the blaze, fighting for our collective lives.  Six of my shipmates died that day at the mouth of the Strait of Hormuz.  One’s perspective towards survival is altered when the closest land is straight down.  We cared deeply for each other, and we weren’t ashamed to express our esprit de corps.  We felt what our shipmates experienced as if it was our own experience.  We learned to relate to each other as human beings.  How important is this in business leadership?  The Center for Creative Leadership conducted an eight year study in which they found the only competency that differentiated mediocre management from inspirational leadership was empathy.

I ask of you only one thing.  The next time you’re looking to hire a new employee or promote someone into a leadership position, roll through this list of attributes and ask yourself if these competencies would contribute to your business success?  The only favor you are doing in hiring a veteran is a favor to yourself and your company.  They’ve earned it.

© 2012, Terry Murray.

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Filed under Health Care, Leadership Development, Team Building

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