Five things I’ve learnt as a ‘civvie’ working with veterans

Three years ago, I was part of the team which helped found WithYouWithMe. We started WYWM with the mission of helping make the transition from military to civilian life easier for veterans by helping fix veteran underemployment. I’m not a veteran myself, but I was motivated by the personal experience of seeing how rough the transition was for my best mate, who despite being one of the smartest guys I know, struggled to get a job worth his time.

Prior to that I’d spent my working life in corporate and studied an MBA. I thought I knew a lot about business, certainly more than most of the veterans I was working with who were trained in shooting guns, not balancing budgets. 

How wrong I was.

At WithYouWithMe, more than 70 per cent of our employees are veterans, and I’m just one of two in the senior leadership without military experience. Working side-by-side with these guys and girls every day has taught me a lot of lessons about business, leadership and life. 

Here are a few:

Decision making

Decision making isn’t something you think about in corporate life. You get given information and you the just make a decision, right? Wrong. I’ve realised that often in corporate life you’re dissuaded from making a decision. There’s a lot of ‘collaboration’ and discussion, but ultimately decisions are typically made at the upper echelon of a company. This is extremely unproductive.

Veterans are not just natural decision makers, they have practiced it over years and have systems and processes in making it possible. 

I love the ASDA cycle (the Aussie Military’s version of the OODA Loop, but a lot better in my humble opinion), which encourages action first. At WYWM we’ve also introduced the concept of ‘two-way doors’ and ‘one-way doors, being that if a decision is reversible – a two-way door you can go back through – everyone should be encouraged to back their judgement and make it. But if it’s an irreversible decision – a one-way door you can’t go back through – you should probably get more data points and a second opinion. 

These models have been able to let us move fast and taught me a lot in the process. 

Compassionate Directness

This is a term I heard Ariana Huffington refer to and I immediately thought of veterans.

Hear me out here. I’m sure we’d all agree that veterans are direct – the perception of the hard-nosed general telling his troops exactly how it is. 

But what many probably don’t see is the deep compassion most veterans have. 

Leaders in the military are some of the most compassionate people I know. They care about their troops at a level which goes far beyond their work life, they want to make sure they know their team’s family, their kids, how their finances are, pretty much anything which keeps their troops up at night, keeps their leaders up at night.

When you combine this deep compassion with the straight-talking veterans are known for, you create an environment of openness and transparency, but it’s an honesty which comes from a good place and is focused on improvement, rather than bringing each other down.

Serving the mission

WYWM is a mission driven organisation. We only hire people who are driven by a mission first approach, but often this can be forgotten when you chuck revenue targets and sales into the mix.

Veterans more than anyone get the mission. They serve a purpose far higher than our company, and its super infectious.

At WYWM we have a hierarchy which we focus on – Candidates before ourselves and the team, team before our client, and our clients before our shareholders. We honestly believe that if we get the first one right, it will flow on through. It’s a self-fulfilling cycle which makes every level better.

Being able to pivot

A lot of our business’s success can be tied to our ability to move fast and take advantage of opportunities that present themselves. This often requires a change of tact at short notice. Veterans are awesome at this.

They’re driven by a mission and will do what’s required to get there. When this means throwing the playbook out the window and doing something wacky and different, they’re the first to throw their hat in the ring. 

They just make sh** happen.

Being on time

Veterans are punctual. We all know that. 

I wish this was a lesson I’ve taken on board, but this one may take me a few more years!

This is just a small snapshot of some of my lessons – there’s literally thousands more. If you get the chance to work with veterans or bring some into your organisation I say take it.

Here’s to many more years and humble lessons from a great team.

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