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Why Veterans Make Great Workplace Change Agents

Credit: Dan Thompson via http://photopin.com

Over the years I’ve had the greatest of opportunities to partner with some amazing folks, and as a Change and Transformation consultant and coach, this means that I’ve experienced different leadership and work styles.

It still surprises me, though, when business leaders and managers fail to leverage the “unpolished gems” quite often right in front of them, under-utilized professionals who represent untapped potential.  

I first noticed that veterans made great project team members, and soon thereafter I began tapping vets as my feet-on-the-street change agents. I had more than a few managers roll their eyes at me when I mentioned my plans for reinventing and retraining these valuable resources for helping us drive organizational change.

I focused on building upon five areas that leveraged the existing strengths of the veterans I worked with:

  1. Creative Problem-Solving – Getting the job done within a team setting without getting bogged down with the political agendas and people dynamics that often come from initiating workplace change. 

  2. Self-Disciplined – It’s truly refreshing to work with professionals who hold themselves responsible for completing the task at hand. They ask their questions upfront and don’t agree to deliver something that is unclear or outside of the realm of their capabilities, recognizing when stretch goals are do-able and when they might set themselves up to fail by trying to do it alone. Almost instinctively they know when it's time to renegotiate scope.   

  3. Focused – Along with self-discipline, being able to retain your focus and manage your time amidst dozens of distractions and back-to-back meetings throughout the day can be challenging. Managing conflicting priorities and stakeholder ASKS requires the discipline of knowing when to check-in with your manager to discuss a reset or to validate your priorities.   

  4. Results Oriented – Delivering high quality results agreed upon at the outset. Someone who can partner with stakeholders and decision-makers in navigating sometimes murky waters, while still keeping an eye on the end goal, is a valuable skill to have in fast moving environments. Possessing the discipline to facilitate meetings with published agendas and stated outcomes that continue to move the needle on your objectives is a delight.  
  5. Comfortable with Risk – Veterans, particularly those with operational field experience, understand the meaning of real risk—the life and death kind. Transforming these skills and applying them to today's new world of business, where personal risktaking and leadership skills are required in managing ambiguity, is a relatively easy one.  

The idea that veterans were just “order takers” and not entrepreneurial thinkers really flew in the face of what I knew to be true. My instincts were spot on and over time I’ve discovered the value that veterans bring to the workplace—as employees, contingent workers, and suppliers—and ultimately as agents of change.

Dedication: This post is dedicated to my late father who retired as a Chief petty officer after 20 years in the Navy, to my son-in-law a decorated Marine who recently retired, and to our U.S. military service personnel who serve today and who once served.