To­day’s mil­i­tary vet­eran well equipped to chart new course in civil­ian life

Winnipeg Sun - - FRONT PAGE - MARK TOWHEY Opinion [email protected] @towhey

Each year, about 8,000 fit, healthy, smart and ex­pe­ri­enced lead­ers leave the Cana­dian Forces highly mo­ti­vated to chart a new course for them­selves in civil­ian ca­reers.

Too many of them find it awk­ward to land their first civil­ian job.

Civil­ian em­ploy­ers don’t re­ally un­der­stand what skills and ex­pe­ri­ence new vet­er­ans bring to the mar­ket­place, so it’s some­times hard to un­der­stand how ex-mil­i­tary can­di­dates may fit into their or­ga­ni­za­tion.

This shouldn’t be sur­pris­ing, since far too many serv­ing mil­i­tary per­son­nel and new vet­er­ans don’t re­ally un­der­stand what their own trans­fer­able skills are ei­ther.

When I left the army in 1996, I stepped out of uni­form and into a com­mu­ni­ca­tion man­age­ment job in the bank­ing in­dus­try.

What pre­pared me for my civil­ian role? It de­pends on how you read my re­sume.

If you read my re­sume as a soldier might, I’d spent 14 years as an in­fantry of­fi­cer, lead­ing pla­toons and com­pa­nies on op­er­a­tions and in train­ing to ac­com­plish vary­ing mis­sions.

If you read the same re­sume as a busi­ness leader, I’d spent 14 years in pro­gres­sively more chal­leng­ing lead­er­ship roles, re­spon­si­ble for the train­ing, mo­ti­va­tion, ad­min­is­tra­tion and op­er­a­tions of busi­ness units rang­ing from 30 to 270 em­ploy­ees.

I’d had mul­ti­ple lay­ers of man­agers re­port­ing to me.

I’d man­aged pro­grams to tight, in­flex­i­ble bud­gets and dead­lines and de­liv­ered re­sults un­der ex­tremely stress­ful con­di­tions in a highly com­pet­i­tive mar­ket­place.

For­tu­nately for me, my spouse worked in Hu­man Re­sources at the time and helped me trans­late my re­sume into “busi­ness speak.”

I learned very quickly in that first civil­ian job that all of my lead­er­ship, man­age­ment, com­mu­ni­ca­tion, prob­lem solv­ing, plan­ning and su­per­vi­sion skills were 100% trans­fer­able to the cor­po­rate world.

My abil­ity to an­a­lyze com­pli­cated en­vi­ron­ments, make de­tailed plans, as­sess risks and use my ini­tia­tive later al­lowed me to start my own prof­itable con­sult­ing busi­ness.

While work­ing with busi­ness clients from star­tups to mas­sive multi­na­tional cor­po­ra­tions, I re­al­ized the hard­est peo­ple for busi­nesses to hire were lead­ers.

Most busi­nesses thinned­out mid­dle man­age­ment years ago and few in­vest money on man­age­ment train­ing.

Busi­ness lead­ers rec­og­nize it’s the soft-skills that are the hard­est to de­velop in em­ploy­ees, even though they’re the most im­por­tant fac­tors in suc­cess­ful lead­er­ship.

Most CEOS and boards I know are des­per­ate to find more and bet­ter lead­ers.

Mean­while, every­one in the mil­i­tary is trained to solve prob­lems, work to­gether, man­age or­ga­ni­za­tions and lead teams — pre­cisely the skills so many busi­nesses are seek­ing.

Per­haps, be­cause these skills are com­mon­place in the mil­i­tary, they are taken for granted by many.

They shouldn’t be. Lead­er­ship train­ing be­gins day one in the mil­i­tary. Re­cruits learn how to be a good fol­lower, an es­sen­tial skill in be­com­ing a good leader.

Even in ba­sic train­ing, sol­diers take turns as the “course se­nior” who’s ex­pected to be a con­duit be­tween in­struc­tional staff and other stu­dents, pass­ing on in­struc­tions, fol­low­ing up on tasks and mak­ing sure things get done as di­rected.

They’re al­ready learn­ing to lead.

The av­er­age new vet­eran leaves the mil­i­tary af­ter 15 years of ser­vice. By that time, the mil­i­tary has likely in­vested hun­dreds of thou­sands of dol­lars and thou­sands of hours train­ing them.

Most will have led groups of up to 40 em­ploy­ees un­der dif­fi­cult con­di­tions. Many have been re­spon­si­ble for hun­dreds.

The new vet­eran knock­ing on your door may not know much about run­ning a life in­sur­ance busi­ness, or a pub­lic re­la­tions de­part­ment, car deal­er­ship, non­profit agency or govern­ment min­istry.

But they’re fast learn­ers who’ve been learn­ing, study­ing, train­ing and suc­ceed­ing on cour­ses ev­ery day of their mil­i­tary ca­reers. It’s not hard to learn the tech­ni­cal de­tails of any busi­ness.

The hard part of any lead­er­ship role, is be­ing able to as­sess, in­spire and mo­ti­vate teams to achieve peak per­for­mance. That can’t be taught in a 2-day man­age­ment sem­i­nar, or even an MBA pro­gram. It comes from ex­pe­ri­ence.

And ex­pe­ri­ence is what Canada’s vet­er­ans have in spades. Smart busi­ness lead­ers have be­gun to re­al­ize this and are hir­ing new vet­er­ans wher­ever they can.



Capt. Banan Al-aubiydy dis­cusses a po­si­tion in the Si­nai with a Colom­bian ma­jor in Egypt in March.

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