When you’re 18 years old you not only know everything but you are also physically invincible. For most young people, especially young men, it can take many years and usually a near death experience before they realize that they don’t know everything and they’re not invincible. I came to this realization while I was still 18. I had just been sworn in at the recruiting station in Los Angeles and boarded a bus headed for the Naval Training Center in San Diego (NTC). On the way our bus had to stop at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot (MCRD) to drop off our Marine recruits.
When the driver brought the bus to a stop he stood up and said that “all you Navy guys just sit quiet and don’t move and you’ll be alright”. A chill ran down my spine as the biggest, meanest and ugliest drill sergeant I’d ever seen boarded the bus and removed all the Marine recruits in a scene that today I still try to blot from my memory. I was never so glad to be leaving anyplace as when our bus pulled out of the MCRD. I knew then that I was going to make it through Navy boot camp, nothing could be as horrifying as what I’d just witnessed.
That was many years ago and is now a distant memory. I not only served in the Navy but recently did a stint in the Guard. I have found that the skills and training I acquired during my military service have helped me to run my current business and to start others. Of course you don’t realize it at the time, when you’re using your skills. They’ve become second nature.
Motivation – Military veterans have always been highly prized in American industry because of their leadership abilities and their capacity to achieve. We’re trained to fight, to overcome, not just the enemy but also ourselves. I’ve stood watches on the deck of a ship when I couldn’t see 5 feet and it was so cold I thought my ears would snap off. I’ve seen soldiers who were too exhausted to move who stand up and march on when ordered to. We’re trained to succeed and trained to never accept defeat. That kind of drive and motivation is powerful and oftentimes lacking in business. In business no one dies if you call in sick one day or take a personal day to go surfing. No one sneaks inside your defenses if you’re playing solitaire on your computer instead of working.
Leadership – I’ve also found that my experience as a Senior NCO has helped me in dealing with employees. The communication and mentoring skills I learned in the military were crucial to developing and training my junior staff back when my business had employees. I used the same mentoring and soldier development methods to train my junior staff. Key among these was making sure that I was teaching my skills to my juniors. Sure it might take hours or weeks to teach an employee to perform a task that I could just do myself in a few minutes, but then they never learn. Learn the job of the person above you and teach your job to the person below you.
Honor – One thing that you learn as you progress in the military is ethics. You learn to always do what’s right, even when no one is looking. I’ve found this philosophy to be very beneficial in business. Truth is easier to remember than a lie. Doing what is right is almost always harder that doing what is easy or convenient. But there is no honor in doing what is easy or convenient. This is a quality that is sometimes lacking in business. I believe that if you have no honor that your business will not succeed and will not survive.
Compassion – I’m sure that there are those non-priors reading this who are thinking that compassion and military would be a contradiction in words (nope, that’s military and intelligence), but it’s not. We call it “soldier care”. It isn’t any one program or initiative, simply an ideal that we always take care of each other that we look out for one another. For leaders it means that we put our soldiers first. I have carried this over into my business. Sometimes it meant working an employee’s schedule around their school or daycare issues, letting someone store some of their furniture in the warehouse while they moved their apartment, or giving them an advance on their pay when their car breaks down. I took care of my employees because they were taking care of my business.
Of course one need not have served in the military to open their own business, or to succeed in business. But I believe that practicing these same ideals, adhering to these philosophies, be you prior service or not, will help you to succeed in starting your own small business. I know they have mine.