Trained to Lead: Why Organizations Want Soldiers for their Workforce

In the global race for workforce talent, American organizations are tapping into one of the deepest pools for potential leaders — U.S. military veterans.

Many major corporations prize the leadership skills instilled in America's veterans

Fresh from the front line, officers and veterans of the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force and Coast Guard are successfully making the leap to the boardroom. Organizations such as Amazon, GE, Safeway, Deloitte, MGM Resorts and others are hiring and training thousands of veterans for management and supervisory jobs.

Why? Because military leaders and soldiers possess dozens of traits and skills that organizations like to see in their managers and executives.

They’re disciplined, action-oriented and calm under fire. They’ve led small teams and large-scale operations under great pressure. They instill deep trust and confidence in others. They’re innovative and analytical, excelling at engineering, communications, logistics and other military-related jobs and functions.

‘Leadership, problem-solving and teamwork’

Veterans have “leadership, problem-solving and teamwork” skills that organizations find valuable, U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez said in a speech saluting veterans. Former Labor Secretary Hilda Solis calls veterans “peak performers in today’s federal workforce” and “a proven source of talent.” They provide “an immediate bottom-line benefit” to organizations because their skills have been tested under fire.
Military officers take an oath of duty, self-sacrifice and honor, says Col. Tom Kolditz, founding director of the West Point Leadership Center. In the Harvard Business Review, Koldtiz writes that officers view leadership as “a moral obligation” to place the needs of their followers “before those of the leader.”

This willingness to serve builds a powerful trust between officers and troops, and the same can be accomplished in the workplace between executives and their teams, Kolditz says.

Military leaders know how to take the offensive. They forge ahead past fear and indecision, says Mark Divine, an entrepreneur, former Navy SEAL and New York University MBA.

Discipline and self-mastery

In an excerpt from his leadership book “The Way of the Seal,” Divine recommends “making a habit of excellence” and embracing “a disciplined approach to learning, training and self-mastery.” Leaders grow stronger by “driving passionately toward our targets and facing hard challenges, (by) never quitting when the going gets unfathomable.”

John Durfee, a former Marine gunnery sergeant who served three tours of duty, admits in The Daily MBA blog that “entering the civilian work world was a shock at first . . . but thankfully, my Marine training took over.” Durfee points out that Marines are taught many leadership values and principles that also apply to the civilian world, such as:

  • Setting a good example.
  • Knowing one’s self and seeking self-improvement.
  • Gaining technical proficiency.
  • Making sound and timely decisions.
  • Looking out for the welfare of others.
  • Taking responsibility for one’s actions.
  • Making sure that tasks are understood, supervised and accomplished.

More organizations hiring veterans

At the urging of the White House, Labor Department and Defense Department, more U.S. organizations are beefing up their workforces with veterans, with many receiving management training.

  • Amazon, the e-commerce giant, staffs its massive warehouses with hundreds of former officers skilled at logistics and other operational talents.
  • General Electric employs more than 10,000 U.S. veterans and offers a two-year leadership-training program, in which officers rotate among GE business units.
  • Deloitte employs more than 1,000 veterans as consultants and has trained 50 current and former officers in its CORE Leadership Program.
  • Safeway has trained more than 150 former military officers for management and supervisory jobs in supermarkets and warehouses.
  • MGM Resorts’ “Boots to Business” management-training program will place veterans into leadership positions at MGM properties.

About 1.5 million veterans are expected to enter the workforce through 2017, according to the U.S. Labor Department, which offers dozens of programs and resources for veterans and employers.

Edward Iwata is a freelance journalist and editor in Silicon Valley, California, and the author of “Fusion Entrepreneurs: Cross-Cultural Execs & Companies”.

Learn More: Click to view related resources.