From Combat Boots to Business Suits
Student veterans share leadership lessons learned while in uniform
“You manage things; you lead people” — Rear Admiral Grace Hopper, 1906-1992
There is an institution that consistently produces leaders with integrity, discipline and courage.
It's called the U.S. military.
“The military is a training ground for great leaders,” said Jared Lyon, president and CEO of the Student Veterans of America, the world's largest network of student veteran groups. “Our country desperately needs great leaders, and corporate America has a pipeline of them coming from our armed forces.”
The SVA provides military veterans with the resources, support and advocacy needed to succeed in higher education and following graduation. Raytheon has partnered with the organization as part of the company's $10 million, multi-year commitment to support members of the military, veterans and their families.
In October, Raytheon hosted an SVA Leadership Institute in Dallas, Texas, for about 100 SVA chapter leaders. They shared some of the roles they filled and the lessons they brought with them as they ended their service and embarked on civilian careers.
Builders of Goal-Oriented Teams
As a young Army lieutenant straight out of college, Bob Williams learned to lead “right out of the gate,” commanding more than 40 soldiers.
“You are given enormous responsibilities very early on, and then throughout your service, those responsibilities just keep increasing,” said Williams, who served 36 years in uniform, reaching the rank of major general.
Williams said he parlayed his military experience, which included serving as the commanding general of the U.S. Armor Center and Fort Knox, Kentucky, to succeed in the private sector. He leads a large team at Raytheon’s Intelligence, Information and Services business, where he is a vice president.
“Great leadership is bringing a diverse group of people with different talents, virtues and backgrounds, and making them greater than the sum of the individuals — all working toward a common goal,” he said. “And when you can do that, it’s very gratifying for everybody involved. They get to witness the benefit of working together as a team to achieve what is often a very difficult task.”
Adaptable In Adverse Environments
Edelyn Peralta had served only six short months in the U.S. Air Force when she deployed with the 820th Red Horse Squadron to Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar. She was the youngest and most junior airman on base, she said.
“I was the first woman in my family to serve in the military, so it was hard for them to understand or relate to my experiences,” said Peralta, who is now in her senior year studying psychology at the University of Houston. “My brothers and sisters in uniform became my new family, and they were there to support me through all of my obstacles.”
Peralta said that her experiences overseas helped prepare her to transition into the civilian world.
“It’s not easy to pick up and move to a new city,where you don’t know a soul, you don’t know the area and you don’t even know where you’re going,” she said. “The SVA became my peer support group, and they’ve been a tremendous help. They’ve gone through the same things that I have, and they’ve taught me to keep pushing on, always go forward and never quit.”
Mature Beyond Their Years
Soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines learn leadership qualities through a sequential series of educational, training and experiential events. Like many, U.S. Marine Corps special operator Pete Kiernan was given great responsibility while still a teenager.
At age 19, Kiernan oversaw $4.5 million worth of military equipment. By age 22, he led 30 men on the battlefield. He grew up quick.
“You are entrusted with certain duties in the military that in corporate America would take you much longer to achieve; it might take 20 years to manage 30 people…and that doesn’t include being responsible for their lives,” said Kiernan, now a senior at Columbia University.
Kiernan, who is fluent in Pashtu, said he learned a lot about being a leader while deployed to Afghanistan, where he supervised 13 local interpreters.
“Leadership is about being selfless and always looking out for your people,” he said. “You have to build rapport with your people; you have to show them that you care and demonstrate your commitment to them.”
DIVERSITY Is In Their DNA
In the Army, there is a saying that “We’re all green,” in reference to the uniform and meaning that they are one, united team.
While a captain in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Jenna Hunt-Frazier found that she was surrounded and supported by a team from different socio-economic backgrounds, different ethnicities, different parts of the country and sometimes, different parts of the world.
“It didn’t matter who you were or where you came from,” said Hunt-Frazier, who is now a Raytheon program manager in Richardson, Texas. “We were in it together, and we were all there to support a mission, and serve that same common good."
One of the lessons she learned involved trust.
“You have to learn to rely on your team in the service, since the military rotates you into different roles every few year, and you really don’t know your job until you start it,” she said. “You also quickly learn humility, because your soldiers know much more than you do. You learn how to build relationships, and who you can rely on and trust. You also learn to work together, learn what makes your soldiers’ tick and what motivates them.”
Officers Eat Last
There is a tradition that the lowest-ranking Marines eat before the officers. The philosophy is that U.S. Marine Corps leaders put the mission first, the welfare of their Marines second and their own needs last.
It boils down to "taking care of your people, first and foremost," said Hunt-Frazier. She still practices this military leadership tenet as a Raytheon program manager.
"I want to make sure my team has what they need to succeed," she said. "I want to ensure any roadblocks that get in their way are taken down. I want them to get the credit when things go well and if there’s any blame or bureaucracy, then let me take care of that burden."
UNFLAPPABLE under Pressure
A tour of duty in Iraq or Afghanistan teaches one to stay calm while all hell is breaking loose.
With three combat deployments with the U.S. Marine Corps under his belt, Willie Floyd is now flourishing as a junior at George Washington University.
“I not only learned to overcome adversity, but I enjoy challenges,” said Floyd, a former combat marksmanship coach and martial arts instructor. “I love being in the trenches. For me, my experience in the Marine Corps makes studying, writing papers and taking tests much easier."
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Last Updated: 10/20/2016