USAA Tips: Veterans share their business lessons for success

Content provided courtesy of USAA | By Chad Storlie

This week I was overwhelmed from support on RallyPoint and direct messages from veterans on the valuable lessons learned from their U.S. Army service for business and career success. The lessons shared from these U.S. Army veterans that apply to being successful in the business world revolve around discipline, small group instruction, training, and leadership.

Self-Discipline. Self-discipline is the practiced ability to maintain focus, direction and importance to complete a task to an established standard in the face of conditions that impede the successful completion of the task. In the Army, it is a daily occurrence to have a mechanic repair a vehicle in subzero weather, the leader who trains their squad in 120-degree heat, and the leader who checks on all their soldiers even when under enemy fire. This sense of self discipline to meet a standard under arduous conditions translates well into the business world of logistics, public safety, warehouse operations, equipment repair, and oil drilling that require high standards and safe operations. Self-discipline is critical to business when “easy” shortcuts could easily cause a loss of customer service, higher costs, or unsafe operations.

Small Group Instruction. Leaders at all levels in the Army and among all Army military occupational specialties are taught to teach small groups. Small group instruction can range from how to repair a vehicle to how to shoot a weapon accurately to how to offer a greeting in a foreign language. This ability to plan, gather resources, teach, and then test for understanding is universal in the Army. Businesses uses these skills of teaching small groups from healthcare to logistics to office operations to repair and overhaul. The business value of a skilled teacher is immense because it offers a cost-effective way to teach and train within any part of an organization.

Planning Under Short Time Limits. Given enough time and resources, nearly everyone can put together some type of plan. However, what if you are given little time, few resources, and several critical tasks to accomplish – that’s when U.S. Army style planning ability comes in. The U.S. Army teaches the Troop Leading Procedures (TLP) and several similar mission planning processes to leaders at every level. These planning methods provide an excellent foundation to business planning methods because they force leaders to analyze the problem, understand the competition, and then put together primary and alternate plans utilizing their available resources. Next, and most importantly, they take the plan from paper to real life execution. The ability to take a plan from paper to real world execution is an invaluable business skill.

Ability to Present to Senior Leaders. This U.S. Army skill was a great addition that several readers identified. Leaders from government to the military love to “get out of the office” and visit. The ability to have a junior leader prepare for a visit, conduct a visit rehearsal, and then confidently present and answer questions on the site visit instills great confidence in both those presenting and senior leaders. In business, having someone that can prepare, rehearse, and then confidently deliver a site visit speech is a sure sign of an emergent leader within an organization.

Stepping Up to Assume Responsibility. “When in charge take charge,” is a, probably ancient, training adage from various U.S. Army training locations. The whole concept is creating soldiers and leaders to step up and assume responsibility through individual initiative, leadership direction, or a combination of the two. No organization is good enough to fully instruct and anticipate all that needs to be done. For the U.S. Army, that is where training leaders in initiative and reinforcing the need to assume leadership is invaluable. For business, the feature of leaders that follow a plan until the plan no longer works and then using initiative, common sense, team input, and standard procedures to adapt the organization to a successful outcome is not only compelling but required.

U.S. Army veterans can offer businesses invaluable leadership lessons in planning, teaching, on-site leader presentations, and the ability to assume responsibility for both direction and outcomes. The U.S. Army, like all military services, has a unique blend of training and tradition that make its skills invaluable for business success.