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Thursday July 29, 2010


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Military Experience Means Proven Leadership
Bill Gaul


With all of the emphasis on the extensive technical training done in the military, some companies, when presented with a candidate fresh from the armed forces, say they don't need "technical" people; they need sales people or business leaders. When looking at it from this perspective, the hiring company's question is, what has someone in the military really sold? Or, what business operations experience do they have? The answer is probably not what is on a "militaristic" resume, but in the character and experiences of the person.


Look at the example of a VP at Pacific Bell who was presented a resume of an Academy graduate who was responsible for much of the logistics required to keep an aircraft carrier running smoothly. "That's all well and good, but I don't have an aircraft carrier; I need a sales candidate," he exclaimed. This was before he had a chance to meet the candidate in person. Within minutes of meeting him, it was quite evident that this applicant was a prime sales candidate, having the people skills and determination necessary for those in sales positions. In another instance, a pharmaceutical district manager, adamant in his demand for someone with prior sales experience, was face to face with a young captain who fought in the Gulf War. During the interview the captain began to sense the manager's bias and asserted, "Sir, I had to lead a platoon of 20-something year olds across a live mine field, in the middle of the night, in the heat of battle…THAT WAS SALES!" Needless to say, the young man was hired and has done well in his sales career.

Many military personnel want the opportunity to demonstrate leadership, as well as practice the team-building skills so often needed in corporate organizations. Military applicants are prime prospects for supervisory and management positions. Granted, the idea of a command-and-control "SGT Carter"-type, barking orders to a group of middle-aged women in the production area, makes one cringe, but that style is far from the reality of today's armed forces. In fact, most situations demand a leadership style that empowers and motivates. A 1998 article written by U.S. Army Colonel Lloyd Mathews in the Military Review reveals that traditional military leadership ideals require that "leaders must always respect the innate human dignity of each subordinate. Leaders must recognize the status of US service members as thinking individuals rather than mindless automatons, giving them opportunity wherever feasible to exercise initiative, shoulder responsibility and employ their native ingenuity in accomplishing assigned tasks."

Military leaders are taught, from the beginning of their training program, to respect those under their charge. And the general content of recent training sessions in leadership courses like Deming's TQM or Covey's "Seven Habits..." is not anything new. In fact, these ideals and values date back many years. For example, over 110 years ago, on August 11, 1879, Major General John M. Schofield delivered a speech to a group of West Point cadets suggesting, "that to gain respect and willing obedience from US servicemen, the leader must reciprocate that respect in his manner of delivering orders."

Many military candidates are leaders who can demonstrate that they can get the job done, under stressful conditions, and with limited resources. Could you use someone like that in your organization?



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