You might be surprised by the number of former military service members in the ranks of management at Amazon. The number is an astounding 50–60%. And it’s not just Amazon. There are many companies that are realizing that veterans make great managers and business leaders.
That is because veterans are actually bred to be business leaders. Here’s why.
A four-year liberal arts education (which many veterans and almost all ex-officers have) is impressive, but a degree doesn’t mean that the individual picked up the right work ethic during their schooling. In the military, it isn’t even an option to slack off (without consequence) or learn a different work style.
The military structure is an absolute. You must serve before you lead, and I’m a big believer in that. Unless you understand the concept of how to follow somebody, how can you ask people to follow you? You must be a follower before you can be a leader. In the military, you start in the bottom ranks and you work your way up. You are largely going to be recognized for your skills and you will move up in the ranks if you are an effective subordinate.
Someone with no experience in following may think that leading is about yelling, barking orders and telling people how to do things. If this is the case, the “leader” will be ineffective in gaining emotional buy-in, training the team members, building loyalty, and movement of the team towards any stated goal.
A leader with no experience as a follower might also think they are the most important team member, or the most important person in a room. Veterans know that wars are won with effective supply chains and top-notch logistics that insure combat forces are always properly equipped and fed. The decisive factors are the people who make sure that the equipment is there on time, all the preventive maintenance and checks on vehicles have been completed satisfactorily and the team is never short on food, water and ammo. These are the people who win the wars in the end because they’re playing the long game of sustainability. This concept of logistics is ingrained into every veteran and every member of the military.
The ongoing focus on training never stops. Most service members train constantly for a job they hope they never have to do. This doesn’t stop them from training, big scale or small scale, every single day. That gives everyone a sense of perfecting their art and constantly improving. In the military, there is also an after-action review, which takes the emotion out of the picture and the agreed to plans are discussed terms of what actually happened and how they can get closer to executing an improved plan the next time.
While these individual characteristics can certainly make a veteran a great business leader, one other key attribute is the ability to work cooperatively in a team and with others. There is no cookie cutter veteran, which means that there is a necessity in the military to work with a very diverse group of individuals. In most schools, students rarely have an opportunity to work in such large and diverse groups and develop intense relationships amongst one another. This isn’t even a choice in the military — it’s a requirement. The ability to deal with a diverse workforce, diverse people and to understand how to motivate a diverse group of the population towards a common goal is something that carries over so well into the workplace.
Throughout all of this training and experience, veterans are bred to make great business leaders. The skills they learn are adaptable across industries and management positions. Providing veterans with upper management jobs isn’t just look-good politics — it’s great business.