Each day, when we turn on the news, we hear stories of veterans’ valor, sacrifice, and heroism. The men and women who defend our nation – and our freedom – work hard each day to protect our opportunities to enjoy life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. For those of us starting businesses, their example is even more profound, as nearly one-third of all American businesses are owned by Veterans, despite their representing only 8% of the total population. Clearly, veterans have a lot to teach us.
One of the most important responsibilities of any entrepreneur is leadership. All recruits are provided basic training, education, and experiences to enhance their leadership skills. This includes building skills around managing subordinates, communicating well, and acting with integrity, to name a few. As a business leader, it’s hard to imagine a more important skillset we should strive to develop.
The statue of men raising the flag at Iwo Jima at the Marine Corps War Memorial is one of the most iconic images of our military to many people. The status reflects the essence of teamwork: everyone working together, in a spirit of self-sacrifice, to accomplish something great. No entrepreneur can build a successful business without having a good team. Our veterans remind us of the importance of teamwork, self-sacrifice, and the need to subjugate our egos for the good of the whole.
For a military operation to succeed, the goals, strategies, and tactics must be clear. The mission must be clear. As an entrepreneur, it can be easy to get carried away by our dreams for what our companies can be and get distracted. That can be the death knell for companies. Following the example of our veterans, we must learn to prioritize and focus if we want to succeed.
Part of launching a startup is that there are high highs and low lows. During those low points, it can be difficult to find a way forward or even to find the will to move forward. That’s not an option available to the men and women in our military. They must move forward, especially when it’s most difficult. So should we.
It is a common saying that “no battle plan survives first contact with the enemy.” We’ve said it before about business plans and customers. Environments are dynamic: customers have different demands than expected, vendors have longer lead times than expected, systems crash, and so forth. Still, none of that compares to the dynamism of combat. Our veterans remind us that, while we have to be focused on the mission at hand, we also need to be flexible and adapt to change.
I have never had to see battle, make tough life or death choices, or be put in an environment that threatens my survival. I have had the opportunity to start my own company, raise a family, and help others start their own businesses. Much of that is made possible by the men and women who protect our freedoms, often at great personal cost. I have been humbled and inspired by them and am thankful for their great service. Let’s learn from their example and stride to lead lives – and build companies – worthy of their sacrifice.
Image Attribution “The Marine Corps War Memorial in Arlington, Va., can be seen prior to the Sunset Parade June 4, 2013 130604-M-MM982-036” by Adrian R. Rowan – http://www.defenseimagery.mil/imageRetrieve.action?guid=48981ef08de8e9a475b29ef07dd19002e81c630d&t=2. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.