We recently released a series of industry trend research reports — using our flagship 360-assessment tool, Benchmarks® for Managers — showing that great similarities exist among leaders across industries including healthcare, pharmaceutical, financial, tech, energy, and government (civilian).
The data show that every industry values the same 6 leadership competencies. Of these top competencies, bosses rated their leaders highest at “taking initiative,” but all cited a lack of preparedness when it came to leading employees, building collaborative relationships, and change management. In short, the data showed that “leaders are leaders,” regardless of the industry they work in.
But as veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces look for employment after their military careers, many industries don’t immediately recognize the great potential that leaders from the U.S. Armed Forces can bring to their organizations. In a June 2017 report, the Center for a New American Security noted that one of the main barriers to hiring veterans is that businesses struggle to understand how military skills translate to increasing their bottom line.
Though the business case is clear to many, we know others may need more evidence. That’s why we decided to use our Benchmarks database to see how a sample of U.S. Army leaders would stack up against industry leaders.
After analyzing the data, we found that the bosses of both U.S. Army and industry leaders share similar beliefs about what competencies are most important to the success of their organizations. Out of 16 competencies on our Benchmarks 360-degree assessment, the same 6 rose to the top in both the U.S. Army and major industry sectors:
- Building collaborative relationships
- Leading employees
- Strategic perspective
- Taking initiative
- Participative management
- Change management
These results make sense. While industry leaders need to build collaborative relationships with their peers to fulfill key business objectives such as launching a product, Army leaders must do the same when executing key mission objectives such as coalition-based peacekeeping. Though the work contexts may differ, both types of leaders must deal with competing priorities, conflicting vested interests, and rival centers of influence and power.
And leaders from both contexts take these competencies with them when they go on to their next challenge. Research has also shown that veterans are particularly effective at applying their skills in new contexts.
U.S. Army leaders also had significantly higher proficiency ratings on these competencies compared to average U.S. industry leader ratings.
Given the extensive leadership development training that these leaders already undergo to deal with the harsh realities they face on the job, this shouldn’t be surprising either. These data suggest that many industries may enhance their leader bench strength by recruiting and hiring more veterans for key leadership roles. Hiring veterans may represent a strategic advantage for companies in many sectors where there continues to be a serious shortage of competent leaders.
Just being proficient is often acceptable, but most organizations — including the U.S. Armed Forces — demand the very best. Leadership development programs that focus on helping leaders comprehend and apply the competencies they need most to bring about results will have the greatest impact on both the mission and the bottom line.
Though leaders from the U.S. Army (and the entire U.S. Armed Forces in general, for that matter) have a clear head start when it comes to the skills it takes to lead, even these leaders have significant room to develop across their careers, according to our data.
What can you do with the data we’re sharing?
Our research has consistently found that leader competencies can be developed using 3 strategies:
- Challenging assignments that offer opportunities to practice new skills in the workplace.
- Relationships with other people who can provide feedback and support, including bosses and trusted colleagues.
- Coursework and training focused on leadership competencies needed by your organization.
Once you understand the competencies needed for success in your specific industry and where the gaps are greatest, you can begin to design leadership development initiatives that deliver effective results for your organization to make the most impact on your leaders.
There are a number of reasons why organizations “harvest” their future leaders by assuming that the best candidates will naturally achieve success with some development (such as challenging assignments or coaching) and can then be picked up and placed into leadership roles, according to a recent McKinsey article.
Though harvesting is critical to growing a strong leadership pipeline, organizations should also “hunt,” “fish,” and “trawl” for future leaders who remain hidden. A more proactive approach to looking for leaders who don’t make the regular list (hunt), encouraging leaders to identify themselves (fish), and finding new approaches to tap into the contexts where people live and work (trawl) would help organizations find veterans — and other great candidates — who too often remain hidden from the reaches of conventional processes.
Learn more about how military training translates to civilian service or about hiring veterans.
Kristin Saboe is a contributing editor with expertise in military psychology, leadership, motivation, talent management, and occupational health. She is passionate about enacting evidence-based organizational change, policies, and programs that enable employees to be their best everyday. As an Army officer and the co-director of the Society for Industrial-Organizational Psychology’s nationwide volunteer effort aimed at facilitating HR and senior leader understand how to best leverage our veterans’ talent, Kristin is excited to team up with CCL to highlight the unique abilities veterans bring to the civilian workforce. Kristin is a graduate of Austin College and completed both her Masters and Doctorate in Industrial-Organizational Psychology from the University of South Florida.