5 leadership principles veterans value in the workplace

Color guard with Navy Blue Angels in the background

Ever find yourself overwhelmed?

Expectations and the deliverables attached to them are closing in. Your team is scrambling to unite and execute. You’re out of time, out of room to maneuver and out of creativity.

Well … so what?

Keep going.

“Even in true chaos, when everything is at stake, you cannot call a timeout or appeal to logic and order,” says Hyland Sales Solution Engineer and U.S. Army veteran Richard Frantz. “You must play the game you find yourself in — hesitation and fear are the real enemy, and you need a goal in the absence of a plan.”

And there we have our first lesson in leadership: Just get it done.

In honor of Veterans Day and Armistice Day, here are the high-quality leadership tactics Hyland veterans remember and value from their years of service.

5 military leadership lessons for the business world

#1: Leaders welcome competing viewpoints.

Embracing diversity of thought is a long-standing leadership tenet. Creating an environment with various viewpoints, capabilities and wide-ranging knowledge from secondary experiences has long been shown to strengthen teams, though short-sighted leaders often forget it. Having a team that can openly discuss differing viewpoints is critical.

For Frantz, an explosive ordnance disposal specialist, a lack of expansive thinking could be just plain dangerous.

“Taking apart conventional and improvised explosives is stressful, and tunnel vision can creep in fast,” he says. “Having multiple sets of eyes and experiences quite literally benefits everyone. But unless you are willing to listen — well, have fun in your tunnel, and good luck.”

Frantz admires leaders with conviction and courage, and he credits a leader for likely saving his life —  “or at least a couple of limbs” — all because that leader had the strength of character to have a with-all-due-respect conversation with a higher-ranking person.

WHAT LEADERS SHOULD TAKEAWAY: Diversity in the ranks strengthens the mission.

#2: Leaders create efficiency by demanding the bottom-line-up-front.

Most civilian employees have been in a time-consuming meeting only to leave wondering, What’s the next step? Or even, What was the point of that?

That doesn’t fly for the military, and it shouldn’t in workplaces, either.

“In military leadership there’s a ‘bottom line up front’ approach,” says Drew Chapin, Hyland’s chief marketing officer and a veteran of the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division. “When I would brief commanders and senior military leaders, we were taught to say exactly what we wanted or to make our recommendations at the beginning of a briefing.”

Chapin says once the must-know information was delivered, presenters used the rest of their time to provide supporting information. But in civilian roles, he notices a tendency for people to beat around the bush instead of simply saying what they mean.

“Many times, if the commander agreed with the recommendation, the briefing was over in five minutes,” Chapin says.

WHAT LEADERS SHOULD TAKEAWAY: Say what you mean or need, up front. And make sure your teammates do, too.

#3: Leaders bring a mission-first mentality.

Too often, Chapin says, people put individual success above the greater good. That can look like taking personal credit for achievements that took an entire team’s efforts — a classic leadership pitfall.

“In the military it is about the mission first and team success, not the individual,” Chapin says. “When good things happen, leaders should look outside themselves to recognize the success. When things don’t go well, leaders should look in the mirror to take responsibility.”

Ever heard the phrase, leaders eat last? It was made popular in the business world by author and organization coach Simon Sinek, but it’s actually a riff on the U.S. Marines’ saying, officers eat last. The idea is that leaders serve those they’re leading, knowing that without a team, there’s no victory.

In fact, in Sinek’s “Leaders eat last” book, he quotes retired Lieutenant General George Flynn of the U.S. Marines, who succinctly describes what leadership takes:

“The cost of leadership,” Flynn says, “is self-interest.”

WHAT LEADERS SHOULD TAKEAWAY: Team first, you second.

#4: Leaders build up the people around them.

In the business world, we often hear about the importance of customer success, and we recently talked about how the best thing you can do in sales is get your clients promoted.

So, who are the “customers,” and how can leaders help them grow in meaningful ways?

“I learned true leadership by watching the bad and experiencing the good,” Frantz said. “While some people are comfortable with the status quo, recognition of and fostering those with higher aspirations can only strengthen everyone.”

Chapin agrees and points to the humble leadership approach of retired Admiral James Stavridis.

“His philosophy is that leadership starts with character, what you do when no one is watching,” Chapin says. “He teaches that leaders need to have empathy, humility and genuine intellectual curiosity.”

And, according to Frantz, building trust, giving respect and fostering personal growth are all leadership tactics that come back to the bestower in multitudes.

WHAT LEADERS SHOULD TAKEAWAY: Strong leadership builds strength on every front.

#5: Leaders find a way to get it done — period.

As Frantz noted above, “you cannot call a timeout.”

Not surprisingly, this no-excuse approach is international. Kevin Dicks, a project manager for healthcare administration services and a British Army veteran of the Royal Corps of Signals, had a similar takeaway from his service.

“You never have the option of not completing something in the military — no matter how hard the task is or what the environment you’re working in is like,” Dicks says.

Chapin confirms this military ethos, saying his favorite part of leadership dynamics in the military was the efficiency in getting things done.

“What I learned during my service is that I can handle a much higher level of stress and a much larger workload than I realized before serving. It helps in my civilian career because I don’t get discouraged when facing seemingly impossible challenges. I learned early on that I can overcome large obstacles and succeed.”

WHAT LEADERS SHOULD TAKEAWAY: Perfect is the enemy of done, and done is non-negotiable.

Hyland’s military veterans and their families are in our thoughts today, especially, and we’re grateful for all who have served in our organization. Thank you, vets, for showing leadership in the office and beyond!

Morgan Kent Molden is a writer and editor in the tech industry. She manages the Hyland blog and helps Hyland's team of experts talk all things content services. Morgan is based in the Des Moines, Iowa, area, where she and her husband raise three smart and curious daughters. Morgan coaches youth soccer and basketball.
Morgan Kent Molden

Morgan Kent Molden

Morgan Kent Molden is a writer and editor in the tech industry. She manages the Hyland blog and helps Hyland’s team of experts talk all things content services. Morgan is... read more about: Morgan Kent Molden