A Veteran's Perspective on the People Journey

Photo of Ryan Guzman

Before Caiman, I served in the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division as an infantry paratrooper. This was an adrenaline-filled role which entailed many jumps from airplanes and helicopters, as well conducting complex tactical missions on the ground to find and engage the enemy. I loved the job and the soldiers with whom I served. Nevertheless, I’m sure there are many people that wonder how my military experience aligns to what I do today as a consultant.

Over a year ago, fellow Caiman and veteran JP Patiño described some of his lessons learned in his military career and how they transitioned to practices that he uses in his consulting career. I completely agree with all the points that JP touched on, and I wanted to dive deeper on one very valuable skill that veterans gain through their experience: understanding people and how to lead them.

ryan armyAt Caiman Consulting, one of our key practice areas is People – helping our clients with their “human capital”. In today’s business world hyper-focused on digital transformation, Caiman is dedicated to working with and guiding people through this journey: from human resources to change management. The military brings together many people from diverse backgrounds and experiences – and learning to be part of these teams and lead them is part of the military experience for all. Veterans bring these experiences to the new teams they join, whether they stay in the military or enter other fields. It’s important that recruiters and hiring managers recognize the assets that veterans bring to their teams. Throughout my military experience, I learned that the following three 3 characteristics were imperative when working with and leading people: understanding diversity, taking ownership, and applying perspective.

Understanding Diversity

Every branch of the military is made up of individuals from all over the U.S. with different ethnic backgrounds, childhood upbringings, political beliefs, religious beliefs, strengths, weaknesses…the list goes on. Additionally, many service members gain exposure to other cultures through deployments to foreign countries.

Many companies today promote and celebrate diversity, and applicants look for companies and teams that share these values. However, the military is different in that you don’t get to pick and choose where you fit in and feel most comfortable. Sure, you can choose a certain career path and express your preference of where you’d like to be stationed, but signing up to serve your country means the military gets the final say of where you go and what you will ultimately do. And until your contract is fulfilled, there is no leaving for other opportunities if you find yourself unhappy or surrounded by others who don’t share your same viewpoints.

This type of environment provided me with an exclusive opportunity to grow and develop into a leader who truly knows how to work with a diverse group of people – wherever I am, whatever team I’m on. From the beginning of my military career, I was taught that the mission always came first, and I learned quickly how to work together with others to successfully complete that mission. For this reason, I have gained the ability to collaborate with many kinds of people and grasp an understanding of their viewpoints, regardless of whether they were like my own. This kind of experience allows veterans to approach problems with an open mind and capture all points of view to find the best solution and keep their teams moving forward towards achieving their goals.

Taking Ownership

People often have a difficult time confronting when they’ve made a mistake. Furthermore, it’s even harder for people to accept blame for something they feel wasn’t directly in their control. I believe a leader needs to accept all things that happen within their team as their responsibility.

In my military experience, especially my time in a combat environment, I gained an understanding of ownership within leadership. This is a concept that is greatly defined in depth within the best-selling book “Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALS Lead and Win” by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin. Explained by these proven leaders, “extreme ownership” is the action of taking full responsibility of all things that happen within the team INCLUDING failures. In war, hardly any missions will ever go completely according to plan. Regardless, it is the leader’s responsibility to do everything in their power to ensure that the team is prepared, fully understands the mission, and understands their role in that mission; otherwise, it could lead to severe consequences. Therefore, everything a leader does must be done with the team in mind to ensure they are given the greatest chances to succeed.

When things go well, it is easy to admire the work that your team has done. In times where things go wrong, a true leader must put aside their ego and take full ownership of their team's failures to ensure they learn from it and prevent it from happening again. Blame cannot be passed on to anyone else on the team because it was ultimately the leader’s responsibility to communicate and ensure that every team member understood their task and had what they needed to deliver. This is the type of ownership that I learned through my combat experiences, and it is a trait that earns the trust of those with whom I work with and lead.

Applying Perspective

Perhaps one of the most valued lessons that I took away from my time in the military is the concept of perspective. Tight deadlines, constant changes, lack of time, and disgruntled co-workers can all contribute to the stressful work day. Even with all of this piled on my plate, I can smile knowing it’s really not the end of the world. It doesn’t affect whether myself or my loved ones will wake up tomorrow morning. In fact, this perspective helps me to drown out these things that cause stress and focus on completing deliverables in a more effective manner.

I have found this ability of maintaining perspective to be very helpful to other team members. It’s not that people don’t understand or don’t value more important things outside of what’s going on in their lives; it’s just very easy for a person to narrow their perspective to focus on their specific circumstances. Sometimes, just observing calmness in what feels like a storm can clear the mind of a person. Maintaining this unique perspective in a busy fast-paced environment has often lead others to ask me, “How are you like this right now?” My reminder to them to think about what’s happening in perspective helps bring their anxiety and stress back down – and the entire team benefits from being a more functional and effective unit.

The world is rapidly evolving through technology and this is a scary thought for some. People are hesitant towards things that they don’t understand or that they perceive to be a threat to their way of doing things. Still, technology will continue to progress and change the way that we as humans go about our daily lives and how we conduct business. With all this change, I am certain that people will always be at the center of the journey and they will always be the driving force in this transformation. As a veteran, I am proud and thankful for my military experiences and the lessons they have provided me – and I’m grateful to Caiman for recognizing the contributions and value veterans like me can make. I am excited to continue applying these lessons to serve the teams I am on.