I recently returned from a terrific four day trip climbing and hiking with three former Green Berets, two other executives, and a climbing guide, in the canyons east of Moab, Utah. It was a terrific trip, and the team dynamic was really positive. You can read about it here from my fellow travelers. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/near-perfect-team-6-lessons-learned-moab-blake-miles and https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/crucible-team-traits-fluid-fit-fast-jan-rutherford?trk=mp-author-card
Four days in the mountains gave us all plenty of time to visit on topics from the immediate – “step here, not there”, to the profound “can we think of gravity as a pushing force rather than a pulling force?”(I didn’t ask that, but it was a great discussion). The purpose of our trip was to share experiences between the business and military and work on understanding the environment that shapes each one.
The most important point I learned: The US Special Forces have as much training in international management and relations as anyone in the world. I know, I’ve got the equivalent, with both a master’s education and years living and working abroad. These guys are at least my equal in their language skills, understanding culture, and thriving in environments without a lot of oversight and plenty of ambiguity. Green Berets don’t leave the US as part of the larger army, they are deployed in small teams – just like expats are in business. They have language skills, just like my fellow Thunderbird graduates. They have cultural training – different groups of SF teams specialize in specific geographies.
Their culture training is realistic; as students they are put into a six week simulation working with local tribes and groups where they have to discern hidden agendas and loyalties, spend money to make things happen, understand what equipment to order for the local militias etc. I wish I had had a six week emersion course before being sent to South America by myself as the ‘tall American that speaks Spanish and will fix all the software problems.” As you can imagine, when I arrived in country, the software problems were not technical, I spent all my time understanding what the customer and our local teams really wanted and then crafting plans to unify everyone(where possible) and succeed; just like what a Green Beret team faces when they are embedded with locals.
As those of us who have spent years outside our own culture know, it’s impossible to ever understand all the undercurrents in a place where we didn’t grow up. Most people are uncomfortable in these situations, they want to wait for more data, or get advice from headquarters. Not Green Berets. They are expected to deal with it, to make good decisions, to put themselves and their teammates in a position to survive, thrive and complete the mission. My own business experience abroad is just like that, the only difference is I didn’t carry a weapon.
Thus, my big takeaway from the trip was not how great the personal experience was (it was terrific), nor how many connections and networking help I can give to these specific guys (as much as possible), but how to share the message of how talented and skilled these guys are.
Do you need someone to run a complex sale, to understand who the influencers are in a deal? What third parties have impact on negotiations? Green Berets understand this, they have to do this daily, just like a sales team, but their need to understand this is life and death.
Need someone to help understand a complex supply chain and rationalize it? Green Berets get it; they spend a lot of time mapping “ratlines” of communication and physical distribution of weapons arriving in their area.
Hope you can find someone to understand qualitative priorities in decision making and how to spend money? SF guys get it; they often have to spend cash without checking with the “CFO” to pay local soldiers, buy material, or buy information. These actions don’t have a specific ROI, it’s not a tidy math equation that justifies a decision.
Wonder if a veteran will be a team player or only respond to orders and fit into a hierarchy? I’ve heard that worry from business leaders, I think people badly underestimate the modern military and especially the SF guys. You aren’t invited to Green Beret training, what is called “getting selected” unless you demonstrate during times of great physical stress over weeks of drills that you are a team player. And, because of the small team structure of Special Forces, the rigid hierarchy is not there. Sure there is a leader, just like in business. But, they get the team dynamic and the value of small groups. It only took a couple of sentences for me to explain Agile software development for them to understand and relate that methodology to their own experiences.
What makes me so high on Green Berets? It wasn’t just a great trip with guys that bonded very quickly. It was seeing how much their training mirrored my own. Green Berets also have technical skills, using advanced communication equipment, calculating explosive needs, intelligence analysis, and so on. Match those technical abilities with language and cultural skills and you have leaders that we need in our companies. The work world demands technical skills in math, engineering, software, data analysis, accounting and so on, and our schools churn out highly capable graduates with all of that. But until you take that technical skill, and overlay language, cultural understanding and people skills, it’s difficult create a leader for the 21st century. Until my trip, I thought there were only a few places to train like this; Thunderbird, INSEAD, and a few others. Now, to my short list of recruiting potentials, I’ll put Green Berets on that list.