This article was updated on September 17, 2018.
Looking at my resume is like looking at a coin. One side is filled with details of my time serving in Iraq and my combat duties in the infantry. The flip side tells of my ongoing attempt at entrepreneurship.
Through these experiences, I've come to realize that skills and characteristics learned in the military can also help make successful entrepreneurs. In my experience, there are five that stand out:
1. Strategic Planning
General Eisenhower said, "In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable." I agree. I've never seen or heard of a business plan that worked out 100 percent according to plan, but that's no surprise. I never went on a mission in Iraq that worked out right, either. But the drilling, rehearsals, contingency planning and identification of good maps, communications and commander's intent was critical. The end result is having the muscle memory to act correctly without checking a field manual or text book.
Business operates the same way, but through a different lens. As an owner, you need a firm understanding of your market, your customers and what differentiates you from the competition. You'll never anticipate every question a customer might ask; however, you can rehearse the ones you expect and prepare your team with tools and resources they need to be successful.
2. Tactical Patience
My company commander in Iraq coined this phrase. He was referring to the patience to wait, but not hesitate. Timing in business is a critical and ambiguous thing. Whether it's a product release, making a new hire, opening a new location or even timing a customer call — everything requires tactical patience. Rush in and you could ruin everything. Fall victim to analysis paralysis and you'll miss your chance.
Being decisive isn't always about making snap decisions. It's about commitment and confidence in decision-making. In the military, I've seen a lot of people pull off the impossible, even when they doubted themselves. Likewise, I've seen a lot of very successful businesses start off with a promise to a customer that was quickly followed by a Google search to see how to fulfill that confident promise.
4. Mission First
Putting the mission first is a much-used saying in the military. It's also an underrated skill that transfers. Focusing on your new organization's mission is critical in driving success as an entrepreneur. In my organization, that means putting the customer first. For example, although this may sound strange, we prioritize processing returns over sales. Returns are a negative experience for customers, so we focus on those things first. Trust me — I care a lot about sales, especially when they are down — but I know that putting them first often means customer care goes last.
This may sound like a noncritical skill, but I know a lot of entrepreneurs that have lost business because of cluttered desks and inboxes. I believe that your office is a reflection of your mind, and when it looks like a grenade went off, you waste precious time and energy looking for what you need. Efficiency doesn't mix with being sloppy.
Although I've named five traits, there are certainly others. For example, I've seen that veteran entrepreneurs don't talk and flaunt their skills — they are quiet professionals who calmly and consistently perform at high levels regardless of who is watching. And that brings me to my last point.
My favorite compliment is not someone thanking me for great service. Rather, it's when people suspect I'm a veteran and ask. When I confirm their suspicion, they're so excited to have figured it out, and I can't help but grin. Everyone appreciates great service and professionalism, but I find it more impactful when they experience and recognize it themselves, rather than my telling them.
For veterans reading this, use the skills you spent so much time developing during your military service to your advantage. And for non-veterans in entrepreneurship, these skills can be learned, and they'll make a difference for your business too.
Know a veteran entrepreneur or someone else who might find these points helpful? Please share this post.
Sam's Safety Equipment is a client of ADP, LLC.