Among my favorite people I love to interact with are fellow veterans. When I was 22 I embarked on the greatest journey (so far) of my life. I enlisted in the U.S. Air Force and was immediately assigned to be a Radar Technician. After tech school, I was sent to my first duty station Mountain Home AFB, Idaho. I was assigned to an Air Control Squadron (ACS) specializing in being self-sufficient and capable of going to the middle of nowhere and building everything needed to provide a sky picture of 240 nautical miles to identify friend or foe aircraft. This squadron deploys every year, and that is why I was sent to Syria as my first deployment where I completed my on-the-job training while being responsible for Preventive Maintenance Inspections (PMIs) and keeping the radar running as much as possible.
Experiences like that puts things in perspective. I learned how to be ready for anything that came my way, how to work as a team with a lot on the line, how to be a leader, and how to “embrace the suck”.
Why do I hold those who served our nation in such high esteem?
The answer is simple: Military service builds character and character is the primary requisite for leadership. On a personal level, I know that my determination to grow my public relations firm into a national, highly respected seven-figure business stems directly from the resilience I developed while joining the Air Force active duty without being completely bilingual (my english was not the best), two deployments where I got delayed on both of them for a total of 15 months overseas, and while dealing being a leader of projects on multiple occasions.
A fundamental lesson of serving in any of the military’s six branches (I’m including the latest addition, the U.S. Space Force), is learning to rely upon others and being accountable to everyone in your squadron. That means those above you issuing orders, and those in the trenches (or cockpit) beside you. The maxim that “we’re all in this together” has never rung more true to you than when you’re enlisted.
Another axiom which is equally valid is “business is war”. It may seem harsh or a bit theatrical, but it is fundamentally true. Those working alongside you and on the same team are engaged in combat with your competitors, and the objective is not a desolate hill or far-off village – it’s winning the patronage of a prospect and their loyalty as a customer.
A long time ago someone once said that soldiers fight for their country but die for their fellow soldiers. In other words, while a cause will lead a soldier to the battlefield, it takes camaraderie and a great leader to inspire that warrior to throw him or herself into harm’s way and take the hill.
The difference between wanting to win and winning is Leadership. This is the lesson everyone who serves should learn. Most do and those who don’t have missed out on the greatest educational and personal improvement course of a lifetime. My great friend and business associate Michael Jackson (which goes by Mike Jackson) took his service in the Green Berets as exactly this type of priceless learning experience. In this account, he describes his own journey from boot camp greenhorn to seasoned operations professional, first in the Army and now into a successful business career as a Veteran. Today, Mike Jackson is the author of several popular business books and a consultant with the Department of Defense where he is an advisor for Special Operations training in the medical field. Incidentally, he’s also the Director and VP of Sales of the Strategic Advisor Board, the groundbreaking business incubator for the nation’s most driven and innovative entrepreneurs.
Mike Jackson on How the Military Helped Him Become a Leader and a CEO
Lots of people talk about leadership. Business coaches, ‘success consultants’, politicians, talk show hosts – just about everyone with a book to sell, course to promote, or an opinion are happy to talk your ear off on the topic. That’s all fine and well, but as one of the people I admire most, Jason Miller, CEO the Strategic Advisor Board, will tell you “talk is cheap, results matter”.
When I’m invited to address a business group, make a keynote speech, or lead a seminar, I cut right to the chase when it comes to my views on leadership. Unlike many innate talents or abilities honed by experience, leadership is a learnable skill but it’s worthless unless you give it the benefit of character.
Let me explain.
When I enlisted in the Army I was young and probably a little arrogant. Youth often imbues us with a strident confidence which can be useful as you embark on life’s many adventures. Unfortunately, this obstacle is usually tinged with misplaced self-importance. Upon arriving at Boot Camp, I quickly discovered your Commanding Officer and fellow enlistees will happily disabuse you of such misplaced beliefs forcefully and ruthlessly.
As I learned the ropes during my military career, I saw over and over the importance of leadership. In all sorts of situations, both in boot camp and during operations, the power of sure-handed, quietly confident leadership made its presence known.
It’s not something you can see exactly or even put your finger on as you watch those around you do their duty, selflessly and with quiet determination. Leadership does not strut about proclaiming itself. When you’re in the presence of it, Leadership is invisible. It envelops you like a mist on a morning meadow or a gentle breeze on a battlefield at dusk. It’s something you just become aware of like knowing there’s air in your lungs when you breathe. As I grew into the mindset of being a soldier, not simply a recruit wearing the uniform, my senses became heightened in my interactions with my fellow enlistees, my brothers in arms. Detecting leadership was one of the learned abilities which came with the territory.
As the days passed I realized when I was in the presence of true leadership; it made its presence known in subtle, almost indefinable ways. I could feel it emanating from the people around me. It may be pitch dark and not a word is spoken, but those with you are unified by a common mission, a shared purpose. To act as a team, work in unison, often without anything more than an exchange of glances, the silent motion of a gloved hand, you are connected at a base level no one else in the world could possibly understand. Leaders and those under command become one, united by Trust and Belief. Trust in each other and belief in their leader.
I started out in the Infantry and ended up in Special Operations. Back in the day it was called the Light Infantry. Historically, Light Infantry is a designation applied around the world to foot soldiers. This typically refers to troops with lighter armaments, making them able to move quickly and gain a strategic advantage from their mobility.
In war movies and actual battles, the infantry includes scouts and actual infantrymen. These are the soldiers who forge ahead of the masses of men behind them to gather intelligence about the location of the enemy and even cause disruption to supply lines and challenge the scouts sent out by the opposition. In the U.S. the first light infantry was decreed by General George Washington in 1780 when he sent out orders to deploy a corps of light infantry under the command of General Marquis de Lafayette, a French aristocrat and military officer who fought in the American Revolutionary War.
In my experience in the light infantry in the modern U.S. Army, we moved without the benefit of vehicles and set out on foot, carrying our weaponry, ammunition, water, batteries, other gear and supplies, accounting for roughly 70 pounds of personal cargo. When combined with the average weight of personal protective equipment of 27 pounds, ground combat troops are burdened by 90 to 140 pounds or more as they walk mile upon mile.
Taking these experiences in consideration, I think you will understand when I say that all of what I learned in my adult life was at least based on my time in the military. Most, if not all, of those lessons were learned due to my favorite technique: blunt force learning, also known as the school of hard knocks. Some of those were figurative, and some were literally hard knocks. Those hard lessons kept me alive in Somalia, 1992 – 1993, all the way to my last combat deployment in Iraq in 2010.
After I was injured for the second time overseas, I realized that I would no longer be able to continue fighting for our country. I had to transition to teaching Special Operations medicine to the next generation of warriors. Due to the recuperation time necessitated by my injuries, I was forced to consider my future. Honestly, I had no idea what I was going to do with my life after the military. I figured out early on in my career that I was really good at being a soldier and not much else.
A few years later, I was talking to a very good friend of mine, Jason Miller, about that problem. About 14 years prior to that conversation, Jason and I were assigned to the 1st Squad, Reconnaissance (Scout) Platoon, 3rd Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division. Both of us were sniper-qualified and had a lot in common, so we got along well. He worked for me for several years, doing everything from training missions in the deserts of California and the swamps of Louisiana to fighting wildfires in Montana. While fighting wildfires, Jason and I actually lived in a two-man tent for three months.
Fast forward to the conversation in question. Both of us were coming to the end of our careers, and I had a future which stretched out without direction. Jason was always smarter than me and he had planned better for his upcoming exodus from service. He was already a successful businessman and owned several businesses. He explained to me the correlation between being a successful leader in the military to being a successful leader in business. Initially, I was not sold on the idea. While he was convincing me, he said, “The only difference is that no one is shooting at you. If you can lead men in combat, you can lead men in business.” I realized that I might actually be capable of becoming a successful businessman myself. Years after that conversation, I am the CEO of my own business and now I work for Jason.
Some of the leadership lessons I learned while in the military seem very simple but will serve you well in your own chosen career path:
If your people are carrying something, you should be as well. Do not have your people doing something that they have not seen you do or do with them. This will build trust and a cohesive team.
Sometimes seconds equal minutes, and minutes equal tears. Time truly is money. In the military, sometimes money equals blood, sweat, or tears. Sometimes speed is security.
Likewise, ounces equal pounds, and pounds equal tears. Weight in the Infantry is absolute. If you distribute the weight across your entire team, then everyone is carrying something, and the load seems a little lighter, whether it is or not. If everyone is suffering together, you are strengthening your team.
People use the word “no” because they either do not know the answer or that they are unwilling to do something. There are a very few questions where no is the appropriate answer. Most of the time, it just takes someone to do some critical thinking to solve the problem. Trust your team, and they will solve those problems.
The maximum effective range of an excuse is zero meters, so don’t use them.
If you mess something up, own it. Mess-ups do not get better with time.
These lessons may not seem like they have a direct connection with business, but they definitely do. I would like to think that I was a good leader and taught Jason a lot back in those days. However, he has taught me so much more while I have been working for him.
Michael Jackson, Director & VP of Sales of the Strategic Advisor Board
I trust you have found Michael’s experiences and his recounting of how he grew from a naive recruit to a capable soldier and then to an entrepreneur as inspirational as I do. As I’ve gotten to know Michael and his tireless work on behalf of clients of the Strategic Advisor Board, I’ve seen him in action leading others and advising organizations large and small on revenue cycle management, systems analysis and design, staff training and development, and, of course, leadership. It really is true that great leadership inspires others to do extraordinary things. Michael provides evidence of that with every client engagement.
Also Read: What does it take to crush it as a CEO?