What Military Vets Can Teach Today’s Leaders

As the CEO of Brookdale Senior Living, I’ve had the wonderful fortune to work with a number of extraordinary military leaders who made the transition to corporate America following their time in our armed services. Getting to know these brave and inspiring individuals has helped shape our organizational strategies and given our executive leadership team unique insights into the nature of leadership itself.

In honor of National Veterans and Military Families Month, I want to reflect on the character traits that can set military veterans apart, particularly for today’s leaders.

Resilience: Courage in the Face of Fear

Military veterans have an amazing capacity for courage. What most of us would consider an act of extreme bravery, veterans signed up for on the first day of their service. As such, they tend to have important insights to share.

One of my cherished mentors at Brookdale is seasoned board member Frank Bumstead, whose heroic service during the Vietnam War helped him develop keen insights on leadership.

When asked how he managed under extreme pressure, Frank often recounted that he simply had to move beyond fear. He explained that, at first, he was scared every night, staring out from his hooch (his squadron’s hut). He clarified that he had to process his fear over a period of days to realize that, to be effective, he had to move beyond it. He would tell himself: If I died, then I died—but he would certainly improve his chances of staying alive if he had the clarity of thought to make good decisions.

The lesson, he explained, is the same for any good business leader during a crisis: once you set aside your fear of the unknown, then you can think more clearly and lead more effectively.

Frank overcame his fear and fortunately returned home safely to his family. Frank’s words of wisdom and hope helped me, as CEO, cultivate deeper personal strength, particularly when the pandemic hit, and we were forced into a defensive position to help protect our seniors and associates from an invisible enemy.

Frank’s careful insights also proved instrumental as the board weighed critical decisions that would affect the treasured residents we were charged with helping to protect, along with our associates. His sobering recollections of a genuine battlefield brought a spirit of resolve to the board room during the darkest days of the pandemic.

Strategy: Scouting for Threats and Opportunities

Veterans can also be exceptional leaders because of the rigorous training they undergo throughout their military careers. Many military leaders spend years honing their capabilities as strategists, viewing a given problem through multiple lenses before landing on the best course of action. In my experience, military veterans are specially equipped to analyze a large amount of data quickly and effectively and can be recruited to scout for both threats and opportunities within a given industry.

For instance, as a financial advisor to many clients, Frank spends several hours each morning following current events to help his clients manage their investments. He is quick to identify emerging trends and assess their impact.

Like many military leaders, Frank is also skilled in the art of direct, yet professional communication. During the pandemic, Frank shared his insights nearly every day and balanced the delivery of tough feedback with words of encouragement.

This meant a lot to me on a personal level.

For any organization looking to level up its strategy or communications, employees with military service and training can prove an invaluable resource.

Mission: Uniting Team Members Around a Single Cause

Another key character trait shared by many military veterans is their loyalty to the mission at hand. Leaders with military experience can be uniquely skilled at uniting teams around a single cause.

As Frank has expressed time and again, leadership is best learned through experience. I couldn’t agree more. As he shared, Frank was taught about leadership in the navy but learned it in combat. He explained that the single most important thing he could do was make sure his squadron—the reports working directly for him—understood what he understood. If he could convey a defined picture of the situation, then they could continue the mission even in the event he was injured or killed.

According to Frank, leadership in battle taught him the value of communication with the people you lead—and how it can make all members of a team perform even better. This lesson has remained at the forefront of his approach to business for his entire career, and this perspective has remained invaluable to our board as I lead our Brookdale associates to unite around our common mission.

Leadership means little if you can’t mobilize your team to row in the same direction.

Veterans exemplify the spirit of one of my favorite quotes from D. Wayne Calloway: “Leaders take eagles and teach them to fly in formation.”

Source: https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbesbooksauthors/2022/11/09/chief-character-officer-what-military-vets-can-teach-todays-leaders/