Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Mental Balance And A Growing Trend

It has been a while since I have posted. What can I say? I have been busy. I don't mean to sound like one of those people who always say they too busy to do something, but in actuality whatever they are too busy for just is not that important to them to begin with. I think my commitment to blogging over the past year or so has demonstrated how important writing, learning, and introspection are to me. I must admit that I have consciously chosen to not be committed to consistent posts. I like to think that I am fairly tough mentally, however being put through adversity always does wonders for the psyche as it both builds confidence and strength while simultaneously reminding you just how fragile you actually are. My day to day life over here in the desert has been hard on me. By all accounts I feel fairly blessed to have the deployment set up that I have. There are others who have it much worse. However, working fourteen hour days with a few meals and a workout thrown in for good measure leaves limited personal time to work with. I have found that I have to consciously monitor my mental well being out here much more closely than my normal life. You have to take care of yourself mentally. You have to let loose a bit at night through simple activities taken for granted stateside. Whether it is watching a World Cup game with the boys, playing an hour or two of guitar, or just reading in silence for an hour before bed I have felt the heightened importance of decompressing activities that counteract the increased life tempo I am experiencing in Baghdad. Couple that commitment to a balanced mental state with a strong commitment to dedicating time to the ones I love back home and there just isn't much time I am willing to sacrifice for consistent writing. Life is all about choices right?

With all that being said I have made a commitment to writing when something ignites that spark within and gets the gears churning upstairs. I was forwarded an article today that inspired me to sit down and get back at it. The article I am referring to was published on the NPR website at the end of last month about corporate America's growing appetite for recruiting junior military officers. You can read the article or listen to the podcast in its entirety here.

There are many things that frustrate me about being a junior military officer. I am often frustrated by the bludgeoning bureaucracy of the military. I am often disenfranchised with a system that has limited options for which to distinguish great performers from the average and poor. However, as I look back on my relatively short career I cannot help but be grateful for the incredible opportunities I have been afforded during my service. I think of all the other 27 (28 tomorrow) year olds I know that never served and the great majority just aren't put in the leadership roles that junior military officers are at such a young age.

KAUFMAN: From Amazon to Unilever, dozens of other Fortune 500 companies are also wooing these officers. Rene Brooks recruits military talent for many of them.

Ms. RENE BROOKS (Recruiter): They say there is no room for a failure. And they feel like these junior officers who have immense challenges under their belt, who understand accountability, mean you must get results, these are the kind of people that they prefer to hire.

KAUFMAN: In the military, young officers hone their decision-making skills by making lots of tough calls, sometimes with life or death consequences. Even Zadack, who wasn't in combat, made recommendations about who in her unit would be sent to Iraq or Afghanistan.

Mike Useem who teaches leadership at the Wharton School says the young officers have their decisions scrutinized all the time through after-action reviews. They quickly learn what works, what doesn't and why. And says Useem, they have a strong sense of mission.

Professor MIKE USEEM (Leadership, Wharton School): And people do acquire this amazing ability to cut to the chase and say, look, here are the steps in this order we really have to take to make this happen.

Obviously I am excited in that I am currently a junior military officer, but I am also excited that corporate America is beginning to recognize the value that I see in so many of my peers. I love the fact that the military focuses so intently on character and leadership. I have seen why this approach is so beneficial first hand. People who have good character and leadership skills can always learn new jobs and skills. The military environment is full of uncertainty and ambiguity. Military leaders are often thrust into new jobs, new positions, new areas of responsibility and are forced to adapt quickly. I think military leaders are used to dealing with change, and change at a high operations tempo. When you have the ability to successfully navigate new challenges rapidly and have a solid base of character and leadership skills I think you are a valuable member of the team no matter what that team is.

KAUFMAN: On a recent afternoon, Zadack was conducting an employee team meeting at the Wal-Mart store in St. Helens, Oregon. At 27, she's one of the company's youngest store managers. Ordinarily it takes years to become a manager, but
Zadack did it in just six months, this in spite of the fact that she knew nothing about retail when she was hired.

Ms. ZADACK: No. I'm not even one who really shops very much. And honestly, I had never even set foot in a Wal-Mart.

KAUFMAN: But she had overseen training missions involving hundreds of soldiers, making sure transportation was in place, meals were hot and that everyone from cooks to intel officers learned what they needed to know. She kept tabs on millions of dollars of equipment spread across eight different sites and often had to show that she was in charge.

Ms. ZADACK: People assume that in the military you would just say jump and they'd say, how high? That's not the truth. You have to buy in, no matter what organization you're a part of. So it's different, of course, but it's not tremendously so because people are people.

KAUFMAN: Junior military officers learn to accomplish a variety of assignments quickly. In the process, they learn flexibility, responsibility and accountability.

Mr. GARY PROFIT (Former Brigadier General, U.S. Army): Each of these young men and women has benefitted from a large national investment in his or her leadership capabilities.

KAUFMAN: Former Brigadier General Gary Profit is in charge of military recruiting for Wal-Mart. He describes the junior officer corps made up primarily of captains and lieutenants as the largest, diverse, talent-rich pool in the world. And two years ago, the giant retailer launched an aggressive effort to recruit the young officers.

Earlier this month I read a similar article that garnered the cover story of March's Fortune Magazine. The article, titled Meet The New Face Of Business Leadership, cites some interesting statistics that certainly caught my eye. According to the article in 1980 59% of America's large publicly traded company CEO's had military experience. By 2006 that number had decreased to 8%. The large representation of board room veterans in the 80's was attributed to a WWII generation that learned valuable lessons in leadership during a time of war. Could the resurgence in junior military officer recruitment today be attributed to a new generation of leaders whose skills were honed in two wars? The Fortune article seems to present that argument. However, the article also attributes the recent aggressive recruiting push to the nature of American business itself. With the prevalent character and ethical voids visible for all to see many corporations are looking for people that can handle today's fast paced environment, and can do so with integrity. Seeing as the military is consistently one of the institutions that the nation has the most confidence in, 82% according to Fortune, the junior military officer recruiting play seems like a natural fit

I think everyone has experiences that are unique and valuable to a team, however there are many military experiences that just cannot be replicated in other environments. Does this make military veterans more valuable than the next person? Not necessarily, but the transcendent skill sets that many veterans possess would certainly make them unique and valuable members of many of the high performing organizations the nation has to offer. Judging by all the articles I have stumbled across lately it looks like I am not the only one who holds this sentiment.

1 comment:

Marshall said...

I sincerely hope that things do turn in favor of greater recognition of the absolute validity of the very issues you're referring to in this post. It's abhorent to me that this country seemingly ignores the service that so many provide! The very fact that so many people/employers tend to take for granted military service and the education which it provides is to me, well stupid.. There really needs to be a substantial push for better reintegration practices and a far higher level of value placed on service. Perhaps that would help with some of the PTSD that seems to be so prevalent. I couldn't do what you're doing and for that I say thank you, for providing me and my family a sense of safety at the end of the day!