Military officers spend their time in service leading men and women in high-stress, high-stakes situations, and they earn their titles after rigorous, specialised training. It would be a waste not to transfer these skills to the business world upon returning home.
The University of Southern California noticed several years that many veteran officers were enrolling in its Marshall School of Business Executive MBA program, and found that there was a demand for help with transitioning into civilian life.
So last year, after three years of development, USC launched a Master of Business for Veterans (MBV) program. It’s a one-year course with biweekly weekend sessions, and there are 50 students enrolled this year.
Its program director, James Bogle, has served in the Army and the office of the US secretary of defence. He says that the MBV program is a traditional business education with an emphasis on assisting vets with the transition from the structure and rigour of military life into civilian life, which includes building upon the skills they already learned. USC has been developing relationships with companies that have embraced MBV graduates, including the Walt Disney Company.
We asked three MBV students what leadership lessons they learned serving in the military that have prepared them for the corporate world. Here’s what they said.
You can only become a military officer if you are incredibly sure of yourself, says Jennifer Baker, who served as staff sergeant in the US Army’s 82nd Airborne Division. “Remaining calm under pressure will ensure your coworkers follow your lead and remain calm as well, which will keep morale and motivation high,” she says.
“When faced with problems, you must be persistent until a solution is created; you cannot quit when the answer isn’t obvious,” Baker says. Her time in the Army taught her that a team is as dedicated as its leader, and this requires “getting your hands dirty every once in a while.”
The Ability to Follow
The military is, of course, regimented, and Baker finds that this dedication to following orders develops better leaders. It’s a skill that translates well to the corporate world, keeping managers humble and adverse to micromanaging.
“Strong leaders can understand that people have different experiences and backgrounds, which enables them to bring valuable ideas to the overall mission. The worst thing a leader can do is to let their position or power prevent them from reaching their goal or meeting the bottom line,” she says.
“When I assume a new position, the leadership skill I focus on most is taking ownership of the responsibilities and mission set before me,” says R. Alex Urankar, an active-duty captain in the US Marine Corp. “I approach everything with the mindset that my reputation is attached to the end result.”
Bias for Action
Urankar tells us that being a Marine has taught him to use a stressful situation as an opportunity to run toward obstacles and overcome them rather than lingering in indecisiveness.
“When the mission becomes difficult or overwhelming, a leader must take action and calmly guide their team through the challenges. Effective leaders do not get overwhelmed by a challenge, they develop solutions and take action,” he says.
“Upon entering the Marine Corps Wounded Warrior Battalion Head Quarters aboard Camp Pendleton, the words, ‘Have compassion, for everyone is facing their own internal struggle’ are featured on the wall,” Urankar says.
“A great leader recognises that the needs of their people are just as important to mission success as accomplishing tasks,” he says. “This means having genuine compassion for your team.”
Mark Fetterman served as lieutenant commander in the US Navy. He says it taught him that a position of power is not sufficient for holding authority over a team, but rather it is the “willingness to accept responsibility” and commit to it that makes a leader.
Fetterman says that the only way to maintain the respect of your superiors and reports in the military is to remain consistent.
“There are many ways to lead, but whichever path is chosen the true value lies in consistency,” he says.
Fetterman learned that being a leader sometimes means “bearing the burden of solitude.”
In a speech to an incoming West Point class in 2010, the essayist and critic William Deresiewicz said, “The position of the leader is ultimately an intensely solitary, even intensely lonely one. However many people you may consult, you are the one who has to make the hard decisions. And at such moments, all you really have is yourself.”
True leaders know that they cannot handle every challenge on their own and that they can employ others to make up for their deficiencies. “Knowing we are imperfect gives rise to empathy, a key to true leadership,” Fetterman says.
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