We all admire veterans for their service, but not everyone appreciates their potential as business leaders. As my colleague Jeff Haden has pointed out, some folks view veterans as only good at following orders, or as another Inc.com columnist Bill Murphy, Jr. notes, pop culture portrayals of veterans struggling with issues like PTSD can stand in the way of a full understanding of their potential to become exceptional managers and entrepreneurs.
But there's at least two people who have an exceptional grasp of exactly how military experience can translate into business excellence -- Antoine Tirard, founder of NexTalent, and Claire Lyell, founder of Culture Pearl. The pair have interviewed tons of veterans-turned-bosses to discover just how military experience helps ex-soldiers who turn their hands to business. Recently, the pair shared several qualities that come up again and again in these conversationsin a post for European business school INSEAD.
A military career might not have taught that veteran you're considering hiring much about technical business skills like financial analysis or social media marketing, but it was almost sure to instill a great deal of mental toughness.
Danger in the business world is "losing money versus losing lives and limbs, and resilience is built into our thought process," pointed out UN peacekeeper-turned-CEO Devendra Yadav to Tirard and Lyell. The end result? Your veteran hire is highly unlikely to fall apart when faced with even the worst day the business world can throw at her.
Saying no to a focus-diluting initiative or offering potentially unpleasant negative feedback might make some newbie managers nervous, but can it really compare to facing the enemy in combat or even tackling the rigors of military training? The chances are veterans won't need much coaching on facing -- and making -- tough calls.
Ton de Graaf began his career with the Royal Dutch Military Police, eventually becoming an Air Force captain. Now he's a successful executive coach. "The one thing I notice time and again is that most people are afraid. Afraid to be judged, afraid to give or receive feedback, to ask for help, or to lose their job" he says. With military veterans that's much less likely to be a problem.
We often think of soldiers as tough and self-reliant, but the success of any fighting unit ultimately rests on how well soldiers care for one another. For this reason, veterans tend to become business leaders who are exceptional about looking out for (and inspiring the loyalty of) their teams, the interviews reveal.
"It is all ultimately about how you treat your people, and humility and empathy count above all," Priya Panjikar learned serving in a remote military post in the Himalayas. Now she applies the same philosophy as a General Manager for Marriott.