The Indispensable Professional: Why We Hire Veterans

By John S. Berry, Jr.

One of the best lessons I learned as an infantry officer at Ft. Benning, Georgia, came from a mandatory reading of Elbert Hubbard’s classic essay, A Message to Garcia. This short but brilliant work captures the powerful mindset of the American service member, and how empowering a capable team allows for efficient delegation.  Many small business owners struggle to delegate because they think that in the time required to explain how to do the task, they could have completed it themselves.  This not only saps their precious time, it incentives subordinates to slack off “because the boss will just do it anyway.”  In a combat situation, this is not a viable option.  Instead, the military emphasizes the idea that effective Command is describing the “what,” and allowing well-trained personnel to determine the “how.”

The Mission

Prior to the Spanish-American War in 1898, President William McKinley wrote a note to General Calixto Garcia, leader of the Cuban Insurgents. President McKinley ordered Lieutenant Andrew Rowan to deliver the hand-written message.

The Challenge

President McKinley was focused on the completion of a relatively simple task—deliver a message to Garcia.  He was not concerned with how LT Rowan would complete the task.  In fact, no one told LT Rowan where or how to find Garcia in Cuba. No one provided LT Rowan with an itinerary, budget, or a deadline. President McKinley expected Rowan to travel to Cuba, evade enemy forces and deliver the message promptly. The danger, lack of resources or complex planning were not President McKinley’s concern. Ultimately, McKinley did not care how LT Rowan would accomplish the mission, he just wanted it done.

LT Rowan proved an indispensable professional. The particulars of Rowan’s journey: traveling to the coast of Cuba in an open boat and disappearing into the jungle for 3 weeks, are unimportant to the story. He delivered the message.

The Skill to Execute

The best team members never ask how to do something; they figure it out. Sure, smart people ask clarifying questions to understand intent or constraints, but the best never return to the boss to ask how to complete the mission.

Veterans develop the skill to execute the moment they arrive at basic training. Those who never served often mistake the ability to follow an order as being a sign of mindless activity. Most of the time, it is just the opposite. Veterans understand what must be done without question and focus mental energy on how to do it, not whether it can be done. Similarly, Veterans are taught to be clear about “what” needs to be done without dictating “how” it should be done. The adage is “If you tell them what to do, you will be amazed at the efficiency in which they do it.”

Lieutenant Rowan’s resourcefulness came not from Google, GPS, or Uber, but by his own grit, commitment and focus – the same qualities instilled in all members of the United States Armed Forces, present and past. We hire Veterans because we owe it to our team and clients to hire people who will get the job done, whatever it may be.