How military service benefits leaders and employees

Sitting in a tank or mission control center is a very different experience from sitting in a boardroom or before stockholders. Although the situation and purpose may differ, fundamental principles remain. In both situations, people need to be strategic, have a clear purpose, communicate clearly, and be adaptable.

These critical skills for modern leaders are often developed through military service. Studies have found that 8% of Fortune 500 CEOs have military service in their backgrounds. Veterans are usually among a company’s best employees because of their strong work ethic and commitment.

Not every great leader or employee needs to have served in the military, but there’s much to learn from military service that drives strong leadership skills. Much of it comes back to the Army’s “Three Cs”:

Character: Character is what you do when no one is looking. It’s the cornerstone of your personality and mindset. In a military setting, a person’s character could be the difference between life and death in trustworthiness and reliability. In a work setting, character is what makes a person tick.

When someone has good character, they live and work with integrity and bring out the best of the people around them. You can trust them to do the job well because they do what they say. Strong character shows itself in many attributes of good leaders, including self-awareness, empathy, humility, resilience, and courage. When a leader has a strong character, they aren’t rattled by challenges or changes. Instead, they persevere through roadblocks and help those around them.

Competence: Competence is know-how and problem-solving ability. Someone operating dangerous materials or tools needs to be competent in their skills. But with technology changing rapidly, being qualified in everything is nearly impossible. For modern leaders and employees, competence is critical thinking and problem-solving skills. It means knowing where to find answers and being fearless in putting in the work to ask questions and solve problems. Competent leaders and employees continually learn and put themselves in new situations to develop. They look at challenges as learning opportunities and always take advantage of every chance to learn and share their knowledge.

Commitment: Military service requires a commitment to your country and its mission. Because people in the military are so committed, they put in their best effort and go above and beyond to do their part for the good of the group and its mission. They are proud to serve their country.

In a work setting, commitment often looks like engagement. Leaders must be committed to their companies and live the mission and values. Committed employees put in their best effort because they know the impact of their work. They aren’t flakey or lazy but look for ways to innovate and create new solutions because they care about the company and its mission and customers. That doesn’t mean that employees and leaders have to stay with the company for their entire careers, but they are deeply committed for the time they’re there.

The three Cs work together in both the military and leadership. None is more important than the other, but together, they create strong, professional leaders.

Written by

Michelle Kaiser
Michelle Kaiser

Senior Editor | CEO.com

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