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The Competitive Advantage of Combat Veterans

Leadership & Management

One of the very gratifying things to observe in our society today is the genuine and frequent displays of public affection and regard for our veterans. At Tampa International Airport a few months ago, I was deeply moved to see all of the passengers in a terminal stand up and applaud loudly as a wounded warrior in a wheelchair disembarked from a flight. The combat veteran was so overcome with emotion that it was a sight that I will never forget for the rest of my life.

As I looked at the applauding fellow-travelers, it hit me that none of the things that politicians use to separate us and classify us as "hyphenated Americans" mattered during this episode. Regardless of skin color, sexual orientation, gender, or any physical or mental attributes we were all ONE, engaged in the display of one of the most human of all emotions - gratitude towards a fellow human being, one whom we did not even know personally!

As a former educator and a long time strategy & business consultant to companies, big and small, I specialize in working with current and aspiring business leaders on achieving their business goals and vision. One of the key concepts that I rely on in my strategic and business planning efforts is that of "competitive advantage." It generally refers to the strengths (including skills) that distinguish a company from its competitors. Not surprisingly this is a concept that came into the business world from military history. It informs virtually all endeavors and enterprises where competitiveness is a factor. When coaches lay out their game day plans, they factor in this notion of competitive advantage - leveraging the team's strengths to exploit the competitor's weaknesses.

Companies that are making concerted efforts to hire veterans, particularly combat veterans, or economic development agencies and investors who are assisting veterans with start-up ventures, need to recognize that combat veterans bring a set of competitive advantages that would be not as easily found within the general populace.

  1. Intensity of Purpose (Single-minded pursuit of goals) - For a veteran with combat experience it is ultimately about survival in a hostile terrain and against a motivated enemy. Concentration of the mind is a pre-requisite for any expected success. I contrast this with the vacillating and unfocused minds that operate in the civilian world as evident in long-winded meetings, exchange of lengthy and pointless memos and emails, etc. Time is a precious resource in the combat arena, not to be frittered away.
  2. Planning & Organizational Skills - Military training delivers these skills in spades. Many of the sophisticated analytical tools used in planning today have had their origins in the military world. If one looks at the hierarchical structures within the U.S military, you can detect the importance that the military attaches to effective command and control structures, span of control, communication protocols, clear job descriptions, etc.
  3. Leadership & Motivational Skills - The military is an extraordinary organization in terms of its ability to develop outstanding leaders and motivators. This is the reason why retired officers have found much success in the corporate world. Military lore is filled with stories of exemplary role-models for leadership and motivation, of troops who were willing to follow their commanding officers into situations of likely death. It is hard to imagine that kind of zealous and unswerving loyalty showing up too often in the corporate world.
  4. Spirit of Collaboration & Teamwork - It is all about teamwork within the military environment. Every one has a clearly defined role, with responsibilities that can positively or negatively impact their colleagues, and everyone is expected to follow established communication protocols. For combat veterans, operating in high performance teams comes naturally because it is emphasized in the training. The more elite the teams, the greater the emphasis on team work and team success. They personify the cliche of "There is no 'I' in the word team".
  5. Ability to respond rapidly to unpredictable events - The United States military would not have had the success in the modern world of asymmetrical warfare had its leadership not been capable of proactive thinking and infused its troops with a rapid response mind-set. Some of the popular movies in recent years, about the exploits of our military personnel, especially members of the Special Forces, convincingly demonstrate this ability to think and act under pressure.

As a society we are fortunate that the best-in-class training made available to the members of the U.S. Armed Forces, and their battlefield experiences, allows us to have a pool of talent, with deeply embedded competitive advantages that can be leveraged to the benefit of all Americans by strengthening our economy, while demonstrating to the veterans that their best days are still ahead of them.

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