7 Qualities the Army Instilled in Me That Helped Me Launch a Business
In December 2013, the U.S. Army launched the “Defy Expectations” recruitment campaign, in which, according to the campaign’s press release, “the U.S. Army takes the audience's expectations about what the Army experience is like and turns it on its head in a surprising but realistic way.”
One video in particular focused on a drill sergeant asking each recruit “What are you doing here?” The first two recruits respond predictably: “To be a soldier, drill sergeant.” It’s the last recruit that flips the audience’s expectations, answering, “Training to be a graphic artist, drill sergeant.” The sergeant is impressed, exclaiming, “Outstanding! Now that’s a man with a plan!”
The sentiment behind this series of ads is fairly clear -- as the director of marketing at the Army Marketing and Research Group James Ortiz succinctly states, the ads allow one to “really consider the Army for what it is -- a unique life-changing career and education opportunity and an incredible foundation for success today and tomorrow."
In May 2011, a study conducted by the SBA Office of Advocacy found that veterans are 45 percent more likely to become entrepreneurs, and according to 2007 census information, veterans owned 2.4 million businesses. With the multiple resources for veterans available today to help make the transition into the private sector, it would be no surprise if such numbers have increased over the past seven years.
In 2007, I made the transition from working for the U.S. Military to owning and running my own business. I started a government-contracting consulting firm, Integrated Finance and Accounting Solutions, which services military and other government institutions and assists them in federal financial management in the areas of internal audits, internal controls, budgeting and accounting processes.
As the CEO of a multi-million dollar company, I cannot help but agree with the Army’s “Defy Expectations” campaign. Working in the military before moving into the private sector gave me the skills I needed to run such a growing and fast-paced business environment.
In honor of Veterans Day, I wanted to share those qualities and skills that we veterans built and developed in the military that translate to running businesses or being exceptional employees when transitioning out of service.
Focus is the ability to concentrate and complete a task, no matter the circumstances or surrounding environments. Veterans excel at this trait. Our training taught us to do what we need to do, when needed to be done and our experience in the field reinforced that training.
When you are running your own business, the stakes are just as high. Your livelihood depends on whether you can get done what needs to be done. The military honed my focus, so that no matter where I am or what surrounds me, I know I can accomplish the task at hand.
The greatest piece of advice ever offered to me was to value my relationships. Making the most of your professional network is the best thing you can do when starting a business.
As a good leader, you have to understand who you lead. All leadership styles are not as effective in all organizations. Learn what motivates the team and focus on leading the team to accomplish a common goal. While the road to a successful business is not always smooth and linear, trust in yourself and your ability to lead.
4. Team building
In another recruitment campaign, the U.S. Military proudly states, “together, we are Army Strong.” The Army works as a team dynamic -- no one in the Army works alone. Additionally, the Army is only as strong as its weakest link. This also holds true for business.
One of the key decisions I made when first starting my company was to develop an internal infrastructure by hiring experts in the areas that I was least knowledgeable in. The consequences of having such a team dynamic allowed me to accomplish the goals I had originally laid out and stick to my timeline. While I might have been the leader of this team, there is no possible way that I could have done it by myself.
When things go wrong in the U.S. Military, whether in the field or in garrison, the nature and structure of the Army forces one to be held accountable for his or her actions. Admitting to a mistake is difficult and usually goes against instinct, especially in business where the appearance of everything running smoothly is so important. Ultimately though, knowing that something went wrong is the first step towards being able to fix it.
6. Strategic thinking
At times, the skills emphasized and taught by the Army might seem contradictory: On the one hand, the Army wants its soldiers to follow orders and take directions, while on the other, soldiers must analyze and react to situations with intelligence and determination.
These skills do in fact work together and such strategic thinking has especially helped me to excel in the private sector. When a business model is working well, it is easy to follow those procedures and get results. When things go wrong however is when one must re-evaluate and determine the next best course of action.
In the Army, you are not just serving out of loyalty to your country, but also to your unit. The Army functions this way so that it can work as a team -- when you are loyal to those around you and those you serve under, you think in terms of the plural rather than the singular. You learn that what is good for everyone around you is also good for yourself.
In business, you cannot just keep the end goal in mind, you must also focus on the everyday activities and the inner workings of your business. You must show loyalty to your team, your clients and yourself.
In honor of Veterans Day, I encourage more veterans to use skills gained in the military to build and develop their business and career goals.