While sometimes it may feel like the business world is war, it’s important to remember that, no, in fact, the lack of intermittent explosions and perpetual gunfire make it very much NOT war. But as anyone who has served in the armed forces can attest, nothing prepares you better for the brutal world of business than the even more-brutal world of the military. Not only does this show why hiring veterans is generally a good idea for your business, but how the lessons you learn in the military so greatly prepare you for entrepreneurship.
Unless your company is made up entirely of employees from the planet Krypton, chances are you’re going to need people to work together to get things done. And while your average non-veteran often hasn’t had to care about teamwork outside of little league or JV basketball, in the military the welfare of the team is first, and the welfare of the individual is way down the list – somewhere beneath the welfare of truck engines. Veterans are used to working within a team towards a goal that benefits the greater organization, and working with people they may not happen to like. Which means in business you can put yourself aside so that the organization can thrive.
Think about the last 20 year old you hired. You’d probably have some serious reservations putting that person in charge of a garden hose. But if you enter the military at 18, by age 20 you’ll have had some sort of formal leadership experience. You not only learn what it means to have a task and communicate it effectively, but how to motivate and ensure the welfare of others very early on. So, when you get into the business world and are charged with, say, high level customer briefings, it seems far less daunting after you’ve led a fire team on a bunker raid.
You know that guy who takes out his rage over a slow Internet connection on the poor, hapless coffee mug that was unfortunate enough to be sitting on his desk? He probably never served in the military. In the military you have to maintain a poker face, even when things are hilarious, horrible, nauseating, depressing or just downright gross. So if you’re running a restaurant and two servers (who probably also never served into the military) didn’t show up and a party of 20 comes in, you can lead by example by keeping your cool. Even if inside you’re secretly wishing for a kitchen fire. Similarly, when it comes to making important presentations, tough questions won’t rattle you, because that drill instructor who spit in your face while demanding to know the date of the battle of Iwo Jima never allowed you to flinch.
Yes, business contacts don’t like to have their time wasted. But you know who REALLY doesn’t like to have their time wasted? Drill instructors. Showing up late in the military is literally punishable by law, so the concept of tardiness doesn’t exist. In the business world, where “time is money,” having an appreciation for the value time has gets you a lot further. And if you’re dependable – always getting products delivered when you say you will and meeting people when you promised – clients will love you.
Business owners, much like those in the military, do more with 24 hours than most people do with an entire week. So when you’re trying to figure out how to train employees, meet with clients, finish payroll then order a month’s worth of supplies -all before 5pm – it helps when you’ve had to do similar time calculations in literal life-and-death situations. Military leaders plan their days backwards: Starting with the last thing that needs to be done, thinking how long it will take, starting it at that time, then seeing what has to be done before that, realizing how long that takes, and repeating the process until you’ve figured out what time everyone needs to wake up in order to accomplish every mission that day.
The military has produced some great minds. Is also has produced some people that make Gomer Pyle look like a 10-time Jeopardy! champion. But those people need to know how to do their jobs or the entire unit is put in danger (see #1). What employees don’t know will hurt the company’s efficiency, and having the ability and patience to teach your complicated POS system to a slow-learning employee until he or she has mastered it means you will never lose business because someone was slow at the register.
Skipping a small detail when you’re jumping out of an airplane strapped with a T-10 Charlie parachute might possibly lead to some rather large complications after you’ve left said airplane. So, when getting into business, those who have served understand that even little things like making sure the right bolts go back in the right places when fixing a car, or making sure food is labeled properly in a walk-in, can cost your company big money if not done correctly.
Are you ever completely sure a decision you make about your business is right? Of course not. But if you can’t be confident in your decisions, neither will your employees. In the military, the decisions you make directly impact people’s lives, and you have to make them with confidence and certainty or they’ll never follow you into battle. The decision-making confidence the military instills in you makes a business owner unafraid to take make solid decisions within the company, and even when you’re not 100 percent certain you’ll at least have confidence this was the right one.
No, mopping and sanitizing the floor of your bar after a 4am closing is not how you’d like to spend your Sunday morning. But guess what? You sent the bartender home and now it’s either you do it or people will smell your bar from a block away. The military doesn’t give you a choice of whether or not you want to do an unpleasant job; if your superior says to do it, it gets done. Realizing that in business, there are things that just need to get done will keep you from putting things off, or delegating them to unqualified people.
Image courtesy of stockimages / FreeDigitalPhotos.net