Unemployment, poverty, even homelessness are only a few of the problems our military veterans face upon returning home. What many of them have discovered, however, is that they bring with them a powerful new ability: leadership. As a result, veterans are 45 percent more likely to be self-employed than non-veterans.

There are some valuable lessons all business owners can learn from military veterans who have become entrepreneurs, according to veterans Mark Rockefeller, co-founder and CEO of veterans-focused social lending platform StreetShares, and Evan Hafer, co-founder and CEO of crowdfunding platform TwistRate. Here are five of the biggest ones.

1. Leadership

Veterans have the ability to lead and follow, take responsibility, and possess an attitude of being the first in and last out. "In the military, you develop an attitude of truly putting others before yourself while simultaneously becoming flexible problem solvers out of necessity," says Rockefeller. "You learn to quickly make the best decision you can with the given information available."

Due to their work environments and experience, veterans are particularly adept at getting to the heart of an issue to resolve it quickly. "As the saying goes, we 'improvise, overcome, and adapt.' It's the ability to do just that under pressure and in extreme situations that really sets vets apart as entrepreneurs," Hafer says.

2. Making decisions with incomplete information

In the same vein, veterans are familiar with a concept called the "fog of war," in which one must make decisions with incomplete data, in an unknown environment, and sometimes even amidst confusion, according to Rockefeller. "One time, a convoy I was riding in came under attack in downtown Baghdad. As shots hit the Humvee, the driver had to quickly determine the best route out of the dangerous situation, without knowing whether greater risks lay ahead down his chosen path," he recalls.

Such quick thinking and decisiveness is also required in business when facing a similar "fog of business," in which the necessary data and metrics are unavailable to provide a complete view of a situation.

3. Team building

When it comes to life-and-death situations, extraneous issues tend to fall by the wayside and bring people together to accomplish a particular goal. Veterans have been through life-changing experiences together, and out of necessity have had to learn to collaborate, appreciate diversity, assemble a team from diverse individuals, and focus them on a common goal.

4. Knowing the terrain

Veterans know that they need to understand the layout of the field of battle. They look for the key advantages and disadvantages to a certain position and understand who has the high ground and the most important strategic areas. "In business, the concept of terrain has obvious implications for knowing the marketplace: What are the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, or threats to a given business model? What are the substitute products and who are your competitors?" adds Rockefeller.

Having a strategic mindset on and off the battlefield helps veteran business-owners think one step ahead and have a contingency plan should something go awry. What is your contingency plan?

5. Efficiency and time management

As in the private sector, members of the military also have to deal with office politics, bureaucracy, and inefficiency. Veterans can spot these things and work to avoid them, preferring instead to concentrate on the tasks required to meet specific objectives. For example, most veterans have had a "basic training" experience in which trainees are given more tasks to do than can be accomplished in the time allotted. "Learning how to quickly prioritize, focus, and tackle the most important tasks is a hallmark of military training," explains Rockefeller.

In the business world, veteran business-owners apply the same skills. There are hundreds of things that require a business owner's attention in a given day. Prioritizing those "critical path" items--those tasks that most directly bring the business closer to its ultimate goals--requires a focus akin to that honed in military training.

Published on: Aug 25, 2014
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