Boot camp is the endless brunt of jokes for troops who made noob mistakes and endured drill instructor hell. But it's not just the way you earned the title of soldier, airman, sailor, Marine or Coastie. The life -- and civilian career -- lessons you took away are pivotal to your success, whether you enjoyed the push-ups that helped you learn them or not.
Here are five lessons learned in boot camp that can help veterans achieve extraordinary success in any career:
1. Active listeners make the best communicators.
In boot camp, recruits have a singular focus on the instruction drill instructors dole out. They know their lives and the lives of their brothers and sisters in service may some day depend on their knowledge and skill, and those skills are put to the test when they must work together to accomplish night navigation or firefight maneuvers. This requires communication and the ability to work together for a common mission.
While listening skills in business may not be life and death, they can mean success or failure. As it turns out, humans are not very good at listening to others at work. A study by global management company Accenture found that 96% of people surveyed believed they were good listeners, yet 98% said that they also multitask, which prevents them from being good active listeners. Additionally, the study found that 64% say that the digital workplace prevents them from being able to focus on any one thing and that constant distractions cause distracted listening.
According to a study by the Harvard Business Review, good listening doesn't require you to be a sponge. It requires you to listen and actively engage with the speaker by asking questions, requesting clarifications and offering suggestions in a positive, supportive way. When co-workers do this, they are more likely to be deemed credible and their advice or suggestions considered constructive.
2. Appearance matters (even in the age of sandal-wearing techies).
In boot camp, you made sure your uniform and appearance were immaculate. In the civilian world, workplace culture often dictates the dress code. So, while a suit and tie might not be what you wear to work every day, do make sure you are neat and tidy. Keep your shoes clean (or shined if they are leather) and be sure you are always presentable. In other words, don't look like a slob. Bosses aren't going to make you scrub your workstation with a toothbrush if you don't, but they will take notice.
3. Be a problem solver, not a problem maker.
Critical thinking skills allow soldiers, airmen, sailors and Marines to be problem solvers. While it may seem an oxymoron to say critical thinking and military in the same sentence, the military does, in fact, teach men and women to be outstanding problem solvers.
The same skills that allowed you and your fellow recruits to devise a solution to cross a ravine with only three planks of wood are the same ones that will help you excel in your career.
According to the Bloomberg Job Skills Report, the less common, more desired skills are leadership, communication, strategic thinking, and creative problem-solving.
Problem-solving, while closely related to critical thinking, is about delivering measurable results toward an end goal or mission. Critical thinking is the process by which those results are produced.
In your career, take the initiative when you see a problem. It's an opportunity to show your ability to create solutions.
4. Teamwork is about strength in diversity.
In boot camp, most recruits try to be their best and to survive. The few who focused on differences to angle for superiority were either shut down by the team or they failed to graduate and were processed out.
Boot camp is designed to break down all barriers and show that, by relying on each other's different strengths, the platoon as a whole would succeed.
According to Gallup's Strength-Based Leadership, "conflict doesn't destroy strong teams because strong teams focus on results. … Strong teams embrace diversity."
While every individual does indeed have a voice, the most successful teams focus on solving problems to achieve mission success. They don't let ego or seniority get in the way.
5. Lead without lording.
Leading without lording, similar to servant leadership, is a simple concept but one that is in scarce supply in the civilian workplace.
In boot camp and subsequent stages of a military career, leadership mentoring is built into the structure of advancing in rank. It's the reason why senior officers eat last in the field -- this is servant leadership in action. Put the needs of the group (or the mission) ahead of your individual needs.
The civilian world could learn a few things from military culture. For example, more than 50% of employees leave a job at least once in their career because of a bad manager, according to Gallup's State of the American Manager report.
Movies like "Office Space" make light of a pervasive real-world problem, but it wouldn't be funny if it weren't true and relatable. The internet is filled with anecdotal employee stories of bad bosses. Some even make Lumbergh, the boss in "Office Space," look competent by comparison.
To complicate matters, American companies are also failing their employees in regard to choosing who they put in managerial positions. Gallup finds that companies fail to choose the managerial candidate with the right talent for the job 82% of the time.
The lesson? Remember to be a servant leader, even if you have a boss like Lumbergh.
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