By: Mike Thompson, author of The Anywhere Leader: How to Lead and Succeed in Any Business
We owe veterans a debt of gratitude for their service to America, but that’s not why we should hire a veteran. We should hire them because they have what it takes to lead in an ever-changing, ever-disruptive global economy.
Frankly, it’s disturbing to feel the need to make that point. But the facts are even more disturbing.
The unemployment rate for vets who served since 2001 is 2.6 percent higher than the general population, according to a report in September from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s about 235,000 veterans who want a job but don’t have a job.
We say nice things when we pass military personnel in the airport -- “Thanks for your service … Sure do appreciate you …”-- but then we dismiss them when they drop a job application on our desk -- “Sorry, your skills don’t translate … You’re just not qualified.” They are losing out on opportunities to feed their families, but it’s corporate America that’s really losing out.
In The Anywhere Leader, I make the case that the one thing we can count on in business is uncertainty. Most of us, however, aren’t trained to lead through uncertainty. That’s just not a class you find in many business schools.
But the military teaches it -- and it teaches it extremely well. There’s never been a greater need for leaders who are capable of leading through the unknown, and I’ll argue that no group brings more experience or is more prepared to lead through uncertainty than veterans. They are amazing Anywhere Leaders.
Anywhere Leaders are Driven for Progress, Sensationally Curious and Vastly Resourceful. Which of those traits do you not value in your employees? Today’s veterans bring all these job skills to the workplace -- here’s how.
Veterans: Driven for Progress
Veterans didn’t join the military just to earn a paycheck; they’ve got an emotional commitment to a country that they love. They are dedicated to a purpose or mission that’s greater than self. So they are daring (but discerning) in the name of progress. And they are determined, especially in the face of adversity. That’s what I call Driven for Progress.
Veterans: Sensationally Curious
You might not think of veterans as Sensationally Curious. They are known for following orders, not asking questions. But my research and my own experience as a veteran taught me that it’s the behaviors associated with curiosity that make the difference.
If you are curious, you are reflective, receptive and perceptive. Those behaviors allow you to relate well with others, even foreigners, so that you can build strong teams internally and with those who are very different from you.
The veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, more than any veterans before them, have taken on the role of cultural bridge-builders. They fight the enemy while trying to win over communities. They know how to build trust in teams and communities that aren’t like them in any way, shape or form – without sacrificing the mission.
Veterans: Vastly Resourceful
They’re also Vastly Resourceful. That’s always been the case in the military. They are trained to make do with whatever resources are available. Today’s veterans come from a pretty well-equipped military, but war is the great disrupter of shiny, new equipment.
The enemy is literally trying to kill them, and they constantly -- and quickly -- have to counter that enemy’s tactics. So they figure out on their own how to reinforce the armor on the bottom of a Humvee or make a replacement engine pulley from a Meals Ready to Eat (MRE) box and some Duct tape.
This resourcefulness, curiosity and drive for progress give veterans the traits needed to figure out the skills they might be missing for most jobs; these traits make them great leaders regardless of the job.
But don’t assume they don’t have skills. Veterans have played a number of roles in a military that’s trained them not just to fire weapons, but with specific, transferrable skills in technology, media, communications, medicine, logistics, management, leadership and countless other areas.
Fighting the Battle of Uncertainty
The business case for hiring veterans is simple: You battle uncertainty every day in your business and it will only get more intense and extreme. There’s nobody who has battled uncertainty more than these soldiers.
Maybe you don’t have bullets flying by your ear at your office, but don’t you want somebody who’s been under that kind of pressure and intensity and shown a resolve, commitment, aptitude and skill to succeed?
The victories, small and huge, in Iraq and Afghanistan are amazing, and the sacrifices by the men and women fighting there are enormous. We can, and should, thank them when we see them -- with words and with jobs.
Mike Thompson is author of The Anywhere Leader: How to Lead and Succeed in Any Business Environment (Wiley, 2011). He is founder and CEO of SVI, a leading organizational development company whose clients include Wal-Mart, Mercy Health, Sam’s Club, Dillard’s and Tyson. Previously he was founder and president of ThompsonMurray (now Saatchi & Saatchi), the leader in in-store marketing. He is a regular contributor to industry trade publications.
Learn More about Hiring a Veteran