There are few things that irk me more than when people misrepresent or otherwise unjustly disparage the quality of the people serving in uniform. MSNBC recently published an article that typifies this a form of subtle disrespect, even if it was written in good faith.
Apparently, in business, former members of the military are often typecast as perpetually angry people who manage as authoritarians and can get people to do what they want only through yelling and the threat of force. Not only does MSNBC report on this inaccuracy, it helps perpetuate it. Veterans can be, in fact, some of the most clever, loyal, and courageous employees you could hope to hire.
It’s true that in the military, there are a few specific situations where yelling as a leadership tool has a legitimate purpose. Certain types of training fall into this category. So does combat. There are other times when yelling is just necessary to be heard, such as when trying to speak to 120 people spread out over a wide area at one time, or when trying to be heard over the piercing whine, roar, and rumble of an aircraft engine.
The MSNBC article snidely informs us that not only is saying “Yes, sir,” a detriment, but so is the entire mentality that motivated it. Additionally, the author claims that servicemembers’ most admirable universal qualities are confined to being reliable, having the ability to follow orders and being able and willing to fight for their lives. But, the author goes on, “Can they write a resume, network for a job or master the interview process?”
Without a doubt, resume writing and networking are very important skills in business, but far more useful, in my mind, are the ingenuity required to get a broken Humvee running again using only boot laces and the courage required to navigate a minefield.
Specifically to the author’s point, a little politeness and respect never hurt anyone, and instead of trying to get people in the military to conform to a society where decorum seems to be a lost art, one should have the decency and self-respect to acknowledge and return this respect in kind. It truly boggles my mind that anyone would believe otherwise.
Second, members of the military are required to do more than just “follow orders.” Besides being required to know the difference between a lawful and unlawful order, leaders are customarily given objectives, but not instructions to achieve them. They must determine the best way to accomplish that objective. Specifics are pushed as far down the chain of command as possible. As such, conveying intent and purpose often carries a greater weight than giving a specific set of operations to accomplish. In sum, they are not just encouraged, but required to think for themselves, not just follow orders.
Third, it is not just one’s own life people in the military are fighting for. Everyone has their own reasons for joining, but once the bullets start flying, they fight for each other. That demonstrates an admirable loyalty. Of course they want to stay alive, but to boil it down to self-preservation is terribly — if not maliciously — misleading.
Furthermore, consider this dramatized conversation based on the real-life experience of Eddie Trumble, Jr., who, after retiring from the military, where he earned his undergraduate and master’s degrees, he had difficulty finding a job:
Sure, Eddie. I see that, while you were serving your country for twenty years, facing the constant threat of unexpected and frequent deployments, living in some of the most stressful environments imaginable, you managed to finish your bachelor’s and get an MBA.
But what I really want to know is, can you write a resume?
Let me give a quick message to the hiring managers who passed on Mr. Trumble: The next time someone with these qualifications comes by your desk, and you decide to pass on him, please send him my way. If you lack the imagination to find a place for him in your organization, I’d be glad to take him off your hands.
See my bio for a full disclosure.