How War Has Prepared Veterans for Startups and Small Businesses

Military veterans are usually described as hard-chargers who can lead teams and execute plans, but veterans also tend to be creative thinkers who thrive in uncertain conditions, such as those found in startups and small businesses.

Why? Today’s veterans have experienced a unique style of war, a counterinsurgency with an ambiguous enemy and a dynamic battlefield.

Here are four wartime lessons that are preparing them for entrepreneurship:

1. Team culture aligns an organization, and the foundations are built from day one.

The strength of war-forged bonds is difficult to duplicate in business, but it is possible. It requires a thoughtful approach from day one and a consistent application throughout the organization. If my next company is half as passionate as the Wolfhounds, it will be a heck of a place to work. 

2. Junior soldiers can handle significant responsibility and take ownership.

Junior military leaders assume considerable responsibility in uncertain environments, just as do entrepreneurs within our startups. We need all team members to take ownership, remain flexible, and press forward with limited guidance.

3. The first step in any campaign is understanding your key constituents.

Entrepreneurial organizations rely on constant, intense immersion in the minds of their customers. This is evident in today’s most successful consumer-oriented e-commerce start-ups. From Zappos to Bonobos, successful companies place a tireless emphasis on the customer. You cannot win a war from the operating base, and you cannot win over your customers from the boardroom.

4. Effective leadership is highly compassionate.

Entrepreneurs will not send employees into combat, but that kind of strong leadership remains just as important. Employees in small businesses do not exist on a spreadsheet; they are the life of the company. If you can inspire them, winning their trust and love, then your business can become exponentially more powerful.

The transition between military life and civilian life may not be perfect. There are also the factors of learning basic business language to adjusting personal leadership style. However, veterans have no problem challenging themselves to help build great companies.

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