As I encouraged my colleagues to celebrate and be grateful to our veterans on the one day a year on which we show them our gratitude, someone asked me how being a veteran had affected my life in the workforce, and specifically, how it had prepared me to run a company. My initial reaction was to say “not very much,” since, after all, I had been an enlisted man who never had command of anything larger than the platoon football pool. But, on reflection, I suspect that my initial reaction was wrong.
The more I think about what I learned in the Army that might have a bearing on my career in business the longer the list gets. A few of those lessons come quickly to mind.
Most importantly, I think I learned how to treat everyone equally. After all, when you are in basic training and it’s twenty degrees and you’re crawling on your belly in the frozen mud trying to stay below the bullets on the live-fire range, it doesn’t make much difference where you went to college or where you grew up or what color you are, you are all in the mud together.
You also get to watch a lot of different leadership styles. And while you seldom had a choice of obeying or not, the enthusiasm with which one followed orders clearly reflected on the skill of the leader. Personally, I learned that I hated taking orders and that I was much more likely to respond to a polite request followed by an expression of gratitude than a direct order. But that may explain why I didn’t make a career of the service.
The military also teaches you how to put up with the bad stuff that happens to all of us in our lives. We learned how to laugh through it and keep ourselves focused on the thing that would bring that bad stuff to an end.
We also learned how to focus on the bigger picture and not let the little stuff get us down. And we learned how to think under pressure.
There’s a lot more that I believe most of us learned while in the service. Maybe it’s stuff everyone learns over time, but in the military you tend to learn it a lot faster, and it tends to stay with you longer. And maybe that’s the reason we like to hire veterans in our company.
Happy Veterans’ Day.