“Service Not Self” – Relevant, Transferable, Powerful

The past few days have renewed our focus on Veterans through seeing the 75th anniversary of D Day celebrations where the remaining few from then mixed with those who serve today. As an ex British Army Officer who has worked in both the commercial and public sector the positive strong sense of general appreciation for those who have served is much appreciated by them be that in the UK, USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand or other nations who served together on D Day and in conflicts since. However, if that does not lead to specific actions which build an understanding of where Veterans have come from, where they want to get to and provides help getting there then its just mere words.

The growth programmes where organisations undertake to give Veterans the same opportunities as their civilian counterparts is a strong statement of intent. But unless your organisation has Veterans in it already and you personally know the benefits they can bring then there is no true understanding of the strong business, as well as moral, case for employing them.

So here are a few pointers for senior leaders and HR professionals to consider and to pass onto others as to why Veterans have significant talents that add real value to any organisation.

First, the assumption that the military is a command and control driven organisation is false. Modern warfare requires the cascade of decision making capability to the lowest possible level to respond to minute by minute events on the ground and maintain alignment to strategic objectives. Levels of responsibility are much higher at lower levels than in comparable sized commercial organisations plus the context within which those responsibilities are exercised. That creates a large number of people under 30 with vastly more responsibility than their civilian counterparts.

They are not only used to responsibility but are highly trained in effective task management, including communication and highly focused on delivering objectives with determination but with the ability to be agile when required.

Second, the assumption that if you get something wrong in the military you are in serious trouble, again false. There is a specific direction that mistakes must be viewed bearing in mind the knowledge and capability of the individual in the situation at that time and whether the action was well intended. This is in contrast to the blame culture in many commercial organisations. Thus Veterans will be prepared to innovate and take risks to find a solution to get things done rather than stick to legacy thinking and take no risks.

Third, the strong teamwork and loyalty that exists creates a “we, not me” mindset which contrasts with the “me, not we” culture of much of the commercial world. This means Veterans coming into any organisation bring that powerful ethos with them which boosts team working through them leading by example and inspiring others to join them.

Fourth, they come from a world where professionalism, trust, and mutual respect is everything. If you are prepared to risk your life for your colleagues then you only do that when that professionalism, trust, and respect is total.

Veterans do have two weaknesses; first that the trust, integrity, and professionalism that is the very basis of their self-belief might be what the military world lives by but not always the civilian world. The first time they are effectively betrayed by a colleague who breaks trust for their own ends is a moment all Veterans remember and can be deeply shocking. However, as you would expect, they will rise above it and go up a gear to deepen trust with others to make the team even more effective.

Second, based on their “we, not me” ethos they will speak out when they see things going wrong or which could be improved. That’s what they are trained to do. In their former world, it stops people being killed. But their openness and frankness in the civilian world are often counter-cultural even if beneficial.

Veteran personnel have given their best for us, we should give our best for them by not only saying how much we value them but also by showing we mean it through actions.


Chris Roebuck
Chris Roebuck
Chris Roebuck is a speaker, advisor and executive coach who has a unique approach that helps leaders, teams, and organisations reach their full potential and be successful in just three steps. This is proven to add investor value, deliver better customer service, build the brand externally, develop innovation and entrepreneurial thinking, optimise risk and boost the bottom line by 10% + at no cost. Chris unique experience as a leader in the military, business, government and as a Hon Visiting Professor of Transformational Leadership has enabled him to develop this innovative, entrepreneurial and highly effective new approach for leaders and organisations to achieve success: I CARE Leadership. It’s simply about you being the leader people always give their best for empowered by authentic and inspirational servant leadership. Chris shows how building on leaders current knowledge via simple, practical day to day actions can immediately deliver real improvements at all levels; individual, team, and organisation. One organisation who implemented it increased the number of staff happy to recommend it as “a great place to work” to friends or family in 2 years from 40% to 82%, an exceptional change, and increased revenue by 40%. When Global Head of Leadership at UBS, 70,000 staff & 100 countries, his team helped the bank transform organisational performance to increase profitability by 235%, market capitalisation by 50% and win awards. This is now a Harvard Case Study. Chris experience spans many sectors and geographies; from having held senior roles in UBS, HSBC, KPMG & London Underground to advising legal firms and construction, from the UK National Health Service of 1.4m staff and UK Government to the Red Cross in Myanmar, from Investment banks in London to Middle East Telecoms, from the Chinese Space Programme to retail in USA and many more. Chris has been quoted as a business leadership expert globally in the Harvard Business Review China, FT, Wall Street Journal, Le Monde, New York Times, Business Week, Time Magazine, Washington Post, Times of India, Straits & Gulf Times and many other titles. He has been interviewed on TV over 350 on leadership and business issues on BBC, CNN, Bloomberg, and other channels and his books have been translated into 11 languages. Chris has been recognised as one of the Most Influential HR Thinkers regularly since 2011 by the HR profession.

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    • Christine, Thanks ! As you know well kind words don’t pay the rent. Also how we support those Veterans who are suffering from PTSD as they trasition out of the supportive environment of their friends into a world where few can comprehend what they have experienced is an even deeper issue.