Young War Veterans Redefine Leadership

Although Veterans Day was celebrated last week, Time magazine ran a great article focused on members of our military on August 29th with a cover story titled: “The New Greatest Generation—How young war veterans are redefining leadership at home.” While November 11th offers us all an important annual reminder of the debt we owe our veterans and the opportunity to say thank you for their sacrifices on our behalf today and in the past, Time’s Joe Klein makes the case that veterans also offer us hope for the future as they bring a new set of skills home—when we need them most. Here are some of the skills veterans offer:

Discipline – “Every military officer was trained to construct an action plan for every mission. We were taught to write a five-paragraph memo…The inevitable military acronym is SMESC…Situation: What’s the problem? Mission: What’s our strategy for solving it? Execution: What tactics are we going to use? Support: What are the logistics? Command: What other organizations will have to be involved?”

Insight/Self-understanding – It is true our completely volunteer military is comprised of individuals who join for varied reasons. Still, common threads of gratitude for freedom, generosity and service run throughout our armed forces. “Public-service warriors” include Seth Moultin, the Harvard valedictorian, who decided to join the Marines because it was the “highest form of service.”

Support – “The First Mission: Taking Care of One Another… Veterans are trained to believe that everyone in their unit rises and falls together. In the military, it’s never about you (according to former Special Operations leader Jason Lewis). It’s always about something larger. ”

Creativity – Military personnel are completely aligned in their speech and action. They create the future effectively with this clarity. “They look you straight in the eye when they talk; they can be funny as hell, but their language isn’t fancy…they don’t mince words.”

Values – Our military has been trained to live a life of values, including hard work, honesty, teamwork, respect, honor, humility, and service. “They tend to view public life through the prism of military values – which are, at times, contradictory.”

As many young veterans come back from war, they return to a country many would say is going in the wrong direction. Economically, socially and politically, it is true we are facing daunting challenges and are in need of effective leadership to turn things around. The article quotes General David Patraeus, who offers a perspective on why these young veterans provide a reason for optimism:

“These soldiers had to rebuild communities and make difficult decisions under huge pressure. They’ve had to show incredible flexibility, never knowing whether they’re going to be greeted with a handshake or a hand grenade. They’ve been exposed to experiences that are totally unique, compared with most Americans. Once they’ve seen the elephant, they surely can help rebuild Joplin. I believe they are our next great generation of leaders.”

Personally, I have never served in the military. I did meet General Patraeus in Iraq and worked closely with military personnel when I was President of Lucent’s Government unit and we installed a wireless communication system to support military operations in Baghdad and other major cities in Iraq. I was always in awe of the leadership skills displayed by our men and women in uniform.

At a time when leadership seems in short supply and high demand, Klein offers a perspective that young veterans are redefining leadership. I am not so sure. Perhaps the military’s definition of leadership has been there all the time and we are just now taking another look at a time when we need it most. Either way, we agree that we can look to our military as a source of pride, inspiration and true

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