In May 1990, I was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the United States Army—third-generation American, third-generation member of the armed forces. I earned this commission after completing four years of Reserved Officers Training Corps (ROTC) coursework and training during college…and that was just the start of my military education. I learned a great deal over the course of my military career and have been able to apply much of that knowledge to my civilian career.
In observance of Memorial Day this month, I’d like steer away from the topic of buyer agency and share how I’ve applied more than 10 years of lessons learned in the military to my industry experience.
Everybody Is Watching
From that first day of putting on my uniform, I was conscious that everyone—subordinate or superior—was watching and evaluating. The soldiers under my command wanted to know if I had their best interests in mind and if I had any common sense. While being under a microscope can be stressful, I quickly learned what was important to those around me. An old sergeant once told me to know the mission and take care of the troops. If the team understands the goal and is taken care of, they will work until the mission is accomplished. Today, I do my best to ensure my team understands not just what we’re trying to accomplish, but why.
Ranking officers watched to determine if I had the capacity to make good decisions. I’ve learned that in most scenarios, any decision is better than no decision at all. To this day, I take a mindful approach to decision-making that involves asking questions, articulating my proposed decision, then asking for feedback. Asking for feedback is critical as it allows others to weigh in, giving everybody a sense of ownership. Make no mistake: I own the decision and take responsibility for the outcome.
The best commander I ever had shared with me the fact that I need to know his job almost as well as my own. It’s not just a matter of being able to step in, but rather, it’s anticipating the needs of my manager and being prepared with options. I start every day with a plan of what I hope to accomplish, but also think about the immediate priorities of the organization. Understanding the strategy and vision of the organization is critical for long-term success. Anticipating the tactical needs of leadership allows me to focus on what I need to accomplish and quickly fulfill unanticipated requests from others.
Managers want solutions, not problems. In the army, when a subordinate comes to a commander with a challenge, they present the issue and offer three unique solutions for consideration. The recommended solution is presented first and with the most detail, with the alternative solutions following. I’ve modified this format, but always come prepared with at least one solution. Having a proposed solution shows that I’m mindful, and also allows for thoughtful discussion. I ask the same of those that work with me.
Military management doesn’t always translate to success outside the uniform. I had to unlearn some habits, and modify others. Regardless of applicability, my time as a soldier showed me that there are men and women willing to put service ahead of self. This Memorial Day, I hope that our members of the armed forces live in safety and freedom.
Marc D. Gould is the executive director of REBAC. Marc spent 11 years as an officer in the United States Army Reserves in various command and staff assignments. He is a third-generation officer in the U.S. Armed Forces.
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