I have been reading Simon Sinek's book, "Start With WHY." I have also watched many interviews, speeches, and TED Talks he has given. I am in huge agreement with what he is communicating and teaching, especially around the subjects of purpose and leadership. As I was reading "Start With WHY" this morning, something occurred to me. Simon Sinek has spent a lot of time with our US Military, and much time with my beloved Marine Corps, studying their leadership philosophies. Much of what he is communicating and teaching are already in practice in today's US Military.
So, I ask this question:
Why do so many civilian organizations discredit military philosophies around leadership, when presented to them from veterans, but are so willing to accept them from a civilian? Simon Sinek has taken tried and proven leadership philosophies that our military practice, and has eloquently communicated them to millions of people and businesses. Those people and businesses have willingly embraced these philosophies, and I hope that all of them end up practicing them.
Is there a subconscious, cultural discrimination against veterans as well as their age?
As I mentioned, there is nothing new or innovative about what Simon is teaching people. Thankfully, however, he has sparked an awareness to something that has been in existence for a while. Simon Sinek's "Start With Why" book has been taught in the Marines for many years. We call it Purpose, Method, End State. It has been a practice for communicating commander's intent and reasons for accomplishing and achieving mission objectives. Simon has been teaching Why, How, What in what he calls "The Golden Circle."
If the philosophies are practiced and taught to a young officer, and that officer leaves active duty before the age of 30, even when under 40, why are these philosophies and many similar, dismissed as "That works in the military, but not in the business world?" And I even had this said to me recently after ten years consulting and leading teams and clients through process and cultural change: You led people in the Marines, but how many people have you led in the civilian world?" As if the Marines I led did not count? As if to suggest it's some how easier to lead Marines in life and death situations vs. civilians in a profit and loss situation?
Could one reason for this be the lack of understanding for what is actually taught and experienced in the military? I do see retired generals get their due respect, as they should. I don't see the younger veterans get the respect, they deserve in regards to the leadership abilities they have not just learned but experienced. We have men and women who have led as many as 200 people in combat before the age of 30. They have learned and applied, in life and death situations, everything Simon Sinek is teaching high level executives. They have learned, while under intense situations where the consequences for their mistakes could result in the death of someone they were leading vs. losing money and productivity.
Cultural divide and lost in translation:
I have written before about "Leadership Language." It is a theory I have studied, and continue to study around how the very core of effective leadership is the same, no matter where you go, and which culture you are in. Where the difference is, culturally, is in the languages used to teach it and practice it. I discovered this theory when reading books from John Maxwell. Much of his teaching are very similar to what I was taught in the Marines. The difference resides in the language in which he communicates leadership. Just as people from different countries and cultures have similar messages, it's the languages that tend to be where understanding, or lack-there-of is rooted.
I believe our military is, very much, a culture that is foreign to the majority of Americans. Unless you have served, you do not understand what military leaders, especially young military leaders have already experienced. The military culture around leadership, what I call "Leadership Culture" is one of higher expectations, responsibility, and accountability that many civilians do not experience until much later in their careers. The military puts young men and women in leadership situations that advances their leadership maturity beyond comprehension for the majority of civilians and businesses.
What I see as the answer is in two parts, which one is in motion as we speak. Veterans must, and many already do, take part in transition programs. Frank Gustafson, a fellow Marine veteran has a program that helps transitioning military adapt to the civilian world (https://oneboldmove.com/). Many veterans take part in programs like these and work hard to become productive employees, entrepreneurs, etc... after their service is complete.
The second part to the answer is that the civilian/business world needs to become deliberate and intentional in learning more about what our veteran leaders have to offer their organizations. The business and civilian community should take the time, and invest in getting to know what our young military veterans truly bring to the table. Have the curiosity to dive deeper into their experiences. Resumes and war stories are just the tip of the iceberg. There is much more to what they offer, beyond the discipline and work ethic. Military leadership is too often misunderstood leadership culture. It is not drill instructors screaming and yelling orders that cause troops to jump and follow blindly. Any leader worth their rank, puts their troops first, as Simon Sinek wrote in "Leaders Eat Last," of which he also studied military style leaders.
Our society can stand to grow and capitalize off our veterans and their leadership. Amazingly, there are more similarities and commonalities than you may perceive. The only differences are often in the age of our veterans, because our military raises them to their highest leadership potential, and expects nothing less. We must all strive, on both sides of this divide, to learn and understand the "Leadership Languages" both sides are speaking and build a "Leadership Culture."
Leadership Coach & Owner
Agoge Leadership Development LLC
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