In the professional world, potential is limitless. On this episode of Veteran Led, John Berry discusses the opportunity to advance, and how true qualifications of a leader can only be determined after they are promoted to a position of responsibility. John will showcase his own entrepreneurial journey from his role in the military to taking over his family business, sharing the challenges and successes he faced while climbing the ladder. By providing a space for promotion, businesses can cultivate a culture of growth, empower their employees to reach their full potential, and foster an environment where innovation and leadership thrive.
Welcome fellow veterans. From the tip of the spear to in the rear with the gear, I went from active-duty Infantry to reserve-component logistician. I’m your host, CEO, entrepreneur, trial lawyer, and Lieutenant Colonel Retired, John Berry. The military lessons that I learned helped me grow an eight-figure business that has maintained consistent annual double-digit growth, landing on the Inc. 5000 list of fastest growing companies in America every year for the past seven years, and has allowed me to continue to serve America’s heroes.
Welcome to Episode 15, Potential for Promotion: Consistently and constantly promote qualified leaders.
Promotion potential. As a military leader, at some point in your career, you evaluated the promotion potential of a subordinate leader. You probably wrote something in an Officer Evaluation Report or a Noncommissioned Officer Evaluation Report that said something like, ‘Promote ahead of peers. This individual has unlimited potential.’ Or ‘Promote with peers.’ How many of us know of a first sergeant who never should have had that diamond? How many of us know of a commander who was relieved of command? Why does this happen? Well, because the position really isn’t earned until after the promotion, until we put that leader in a position of responsibility and see whether they can handle it.
I remember hearing the term “branch qualified” and the way it worked was if you were a brand new Infantry captain serving as the S4 and you hadn’t yet had command, you were a non-qualified branch captain. But if you were serving as a company commander, you were now branch qualified. Why? Because you could actually do the job you were promoted to do.
I’ve heard someone say that the reason why maintaining success is so difficult is because the rent on success is due every day. And it seems that as a leader, the price of leadership is paid every single day, and not just in the burden of command and of ensuring that your soldiers are taken care of, but in terms of making sure that your professional development is getting you to the next level and making you a leader worth following.
If we don’t take responsibility for our own personal development, we won’t capitalize on the opportunities in front of us. And look, we all get opportunities. The difference is we don’t all seize those opportunities. And let me give you one example that I’ve been attacked for a lot. And that’s nepotism. My father was the founder of our business. I’m the second generation business owner. My father is very proud of that. The only thing he’s more proud of is that either a Berry or a Stevens has served on the American side of every war since the Revolutionary War.
My father, the founder of our organization, was a famous trial lawyer. He had his own radio show where he was paid to host the radio show. And he’s wrote a couple of books. One of them is, “Those Gallant Men: On Trial in Vietnam,” where he defended members of the 5th Special Forces in a murder case, which was ultimately dismissed and received national attention, and his recent book about his military service in Vietnam, a book of poems called “Foot Soldier.”
So those are some pretty big shoes to fill, and I do have to walk in that shadow, but the reality is that when I took over, we had less than 10 employees. Right now, we have over 120. And so, my father started the firm and gave me a head start. This is nepotism. I would not have gotten this opportunity had I not been the oldest son. This is the tradition. The oldest son takes over the family business and a lot of people look down on that and say, “Well, gee, if my dad would have given me a law firm, I’d be hitting it out of the park too. I’d have grown even bigger than you.” Sure, you would have.
That’s the reality is we all have advantages. Some of us have physical gifts; we’re, we’re great athletes. Other of us are incredibly smart. I have a brother that scored a 36 on the ACT. There are people that have gifts that they use, and there’s nothing wrong with that. We all have met people who have been blessed with skills and blessed with opportunities, but they don’t capitalize on them, and that’s the difference. So, we shouldn’t feel ashamed when we have a gift or an opportunity that someone else doesn’t have. In fact, we have an obligation to make the most of it. And that is what should drive us every single day is that it’s not where we started, but where we want to end up and our gratitude for our gifts must propel us forward to say, “I’ve got something great here. I’ve got a great opportunity. Not a lot of people have it.”
Guess what? Most days, you know, there’s a lot of things that suck, right? When you’re trying to grow a business, trying to build the foundation. Look, it took me 10 years to build the foundation and there was a lot of pain, a lot of suffering, a lot of it was, of course, self-inflicted, but it’s tough no matter where you start. And I’m sure there’s a lot of people that’ll talk, “Well, yeah I would have had Elon Musk’s opportunities, I’d be running Tesla too and SpaceX.” Sure, you would have, right, dude. That’s just the reality is that when you have an advantage there are going to be individuals who will attack you for it and attack your success and not understand the struggles you went through. And the reality is anybody I know who’s successful has gone through struggles.
The reality is anybody who is doing more than you is not talking trash about you. You want to know why? Because they don’t have time. They’re worried about the dent they’re going to put in the universe. They’re worried about making sure that they show enough gratitude and do the things that need to be done to harness their gifts, to make those gifts into something great that they can share with the world, that they can use to help others, and most importantly, to lead others.
And so, if you’ve had one of these advantages, the question is, how far will you go? How far will you take it? Because it’s not where you start, it’s where you end. I can remember there was this study, and I believe it was a Harvard study, they watched children all the way up into their 40s, and they found that it didn’t really matter where they started, most successful people became successful by the time they were 40. Whether they went to boarding schools and started off with all the advantages, or whether they started off poor and in the inner cities without all those advantages, generally by age 40, they were either successful or they weren’t.
And that’s the reality of life. Some people have great head starts. They have great genetics, they come from great wealth, but that does not guarantee success and that doesn’t make them a leader. You don’t have time to listen to all the trolls. I’m sure we’ll see some trolls making comments on this very post, this blog, this YouTube video, whatever we turn into, there’ll be trolls talking trash, you know, saying, “Hey, John Berry. Yeah, that guy was Infantry, but then he was a REMF, and then he was in the National Guard.” You can throw stones at me all day, but Winston Churchill said, “If you stop to throw stones at every barking dog, you will never get to your destination.” And the reality is there are a ton of barking dogs out there.
When you get promoted, it’s your job to show, demonstrate that you are qualified, that you have what it takes to do the job, that you actually earned it, that it wasn’t just given to you. Because reality is every single opportunity that you get must be earned to get to the next level. And it may not be earned when you get it, but once you get that opportunity, you’ve got to do something to earn it to get to the next level. Otherwise, it’s nothing. It’s vapor. And as a leader who has capitalized on an opportunity, one of the biggest questions that I have to ask myself is, where am I going to stop? At what point will I be tapped out?
There are individuals who were great battalion commanders who never became brigade commanders. At some point, our leadership potential taps out unless we develop ourselves to be at the next level. And I can remember the moment I decided to retire from the reserve component. I was a battalion commander, and I was talking to my boss who was telling me about going to Joint Force Headquarters to be the G3 and then going on to become a brigade commander. And I thought, I’d seen a lot of brigade commanders and that’s not the leadership role that I want.
One of the questions we have to ask ourselves as a leader is, how far are we going to go? If we’ve been given the gifts, we certainly have an obligation to develop them and grow them. But to what level of incompetence? We all know the company commander who never became a battalion commander, that squad leader who never became a first sergeant, and probably for good reason. We all have a limit on our potential that if we don’t decide that we’re going to crush through that limit and develop ourselves, we’re never going to surpass it. And that’s just the reality.
The most difficult question we have to ask ourselves as leaders is, where does the promotion potential end? We all know the company commander who never got battalion command. We know the squad leader who never became a first sergeant, and probably for good reason. But as a leader, the question you have to answer is how far am I willing to go and what am I willing to do to get there?
So, when we look at life in that context, it really doesn’t matter where we started. What matters is where we take our team. Because on that journey, we will be developing leaders, we will be affecting lives, we will be changing lives, and hopefully, as leaders, we will be improving lives.
After Action Review: Number 1. We all get opportunities, but we don’t all seize them. Number 2. The rent on success is due every day and the price paid for leadership is daily, and it’s expensive. Number 3. You have to pay your dues and build the foundation before you scale, regardless of what advantages you have in life.
Three Down: Branch qualification does not happen upon promotion. Not everybody you promote will be qualified. Number 2. You don’t have time to listen to the trolls. You don’t have time to throw rocks at all of the barking dogs. Number 3. Promotion is just the beginning; it is just an opportunity to prove you belong there.
Thank you for joining us today on Veteran Led, where we pursue our mission of promoting veteran leadership in business, strengthening the veteran community, and getting veterans all of the benefits that they earned. If you know a leader who should be on the Veteran Led podcast, report to our online community by searching @veteranled on your favorite social channels and posting in the comments. We want to hear how your military challenges prepared you to lead your industry or community, and we will let the world know. And of course, hit subscribe and join me next time on Veteran Led.
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