3 Crucial Onboarding Strategies for Millennial Leaders: Veterans


  Over the next decade, millennials will become 75% of the workforce. A much more collaborative, purpose-driven, and connected cohort, they will shape the future of their respective businesses, non-profits, and governments. Perhaps more than any other organizational facet, they will change the cultures of the institutions they lead.

I believe exceptional veterans will be unequaled in their capacity to lead this shift toward mission-oriented organizations with high social impact and people-centric purpose.

Why? The Armed Forces runs on the steam of its history and culture.  Our best young leaders know how to reinforce these cultural expectations and persuasively advance them in the interest of difficult objectives. You can only do the difficult things we ask our service members to do by reinforcing a rock-solid institutional identity, refined over two centuries of subtle iterations. But that identity and cultural experience can also get in the way if left unchecked. Exceptional veterans need to add a few extra tools to their love of transcendent ideals, servant leadership, and unparalleled mission focus.

These three onboarding strategies will accelerate the transition and lay the groundwork for becoming transformational change agents:

  1. Ask the question: Who was I before the military and who am I now?

This one is especially important for anything from writing your college application essay to an executive interview. The main objective is to recognize what pieces of your character, skill set, and story have nothing to do with your military service and which pieces have everything to do with it. The most successful leaders are flexible in the way they see themselves and know they are the sum of their parts, not anyone piece alone. The most successful veterans aren’t so strongly identified with their military service that it leaves those around them feeling excluded, nor are they actively distancing themselves from their military experience and how it’s influenced who they are today.

First, open up a word document or scribble in a notebook whatever comes to mind as you think about your “military self” and “civilian self”. Then, sit down with your closest confidant and ask them the question. See what matches, what is different. Your perspective will continue to change, but the key is to know your story and be able to communicate it.

  1. Beyond Just Language, Change Your Thinking

Having worked with hundreds of Marines and being a Marine veteran myself, I can tell you that “Good To Go!” and “Un-F*** this!” are not commonplace language in most environments outside of the military. Language is powerful and it’s a huge piece of any culture, especially in the military. Rather than simply resisting the urge to swear or use jargon, ask yourself why you’re using it in the first place. Two examples may be that 1) you’re stressing the importance of an idea or task and 2) you’re attempting to connect with shared vernacular. The intent is perfectly fine, it’s just time to change the words. This is a perfectly amazing time to observe the way things are communicated in your new space, get a sense of the tone and quality of interactions, and then add your own unique voice. Follow this strategy for a month and you’ll start to see you’re thinking differently, have a deeper understanding of your organization, and are still able to inspire action and connect well.

  1. Measure the Impact of Your Service

Every experience shapes our character, in and outside of the military. The best team members and leaders are those that are aware of that impact and how it continues to influence the way they do business. You won’t find a single executive who says, ‘I’m better because of my professional blind spots.’ Equally, you won’t find a chief executive who doesn’t have a few extra gray hairs from the wear and tear of their responsibilities. Pick out the one or two most intense, difficult things you experienced in the military and ask yourself: How has this changed me or helped me grow? Thinking more about these questions will also help you bridge the largest gap in experience and culture for most people, exposure to combat or disaster. The more comfortable and articulate you are with these conversations, the more skilled you’ll be with future cultural divides. And if there’s one thing we need most in our society, its people who can bridge the issues that divide us.

These three strategies will be crucial to your transition and ascent in your next venture. They will help build a solid foundation in your growth as a leader and your capacity to not only navigate a changing culture, but shape it. This decade is yours. Own it. Make the organizations and people you lead thrive and generate the greatest social impact imaginable.