Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Thoughts on Transition from Military Service to a Civilian Career by Marshall N. Carter, Chairman of the NYSE Group

Regular readers of The White Rhino Report are aware that I have many connections at Harvard Business School among alumni, faculty and current students. One of the most gratifying aspects of my professional life is the time I spend mentoring men and women who are part of the Armed Forces Alumni Association at Harvard, as well as at the affiliate organization down the river at MIT’s Sloan Business School. Yesterday, Nate Fick, a member of the AFAA, was kind enough to invite me to attend a special gathering of several members of the club who were meeting with a senior executive who had agreed to come to campus to talk with the group about issues of transitioning from military leadership to a career in the private sector. The executive who gave generously of his time to share his own transition experience was Marshall Carter, a West Point graduate and decorated Viet Nam veteran who served as a Marine Corps officer. Mr. Carter is the former Chairman and CEO of State Street Bank and Trust and currently serves as Chairman of the Board of Directors of the New York Stock Exchange Group.

Mr. Carter was kind enough to grant me permission to share with readers of the White Rhino Report some of the insights that he offered yesterday at Harvard. He set the stage by telling the current generation of MBA students that the atmosphere was quite different when he returned from Viet Nam to seek a job in industry. He was turned down by over 80 companies that wanted nothing to do with someone who had fought as an infantry officer in Viet Nam. He was finally given a chance by Chase Manhattan Bank to prove his worth as a leader.

Some of his thoughts on transitioning from the military are encapsulated in this handout that he offered the Harvard students:

Some Thoughts On Transitioning From Military Service to Civilian Careers
Skills You Bring
  • Multi-tasking
  • Ethics and an ethical basis for actions
  • Ability to deal with pressure and stress in you and others
  • Ability to prioritize – to separate critical from non-critical tasks
  • Leadership experiences, building unit accomplishment versus individual
  • Ability to deal with matrix management, i.e. multiple bosses, opcon vs. adcon, task organizations
  • Ability to work long hours without loss of efficiency
  • Quick reaction capability
  • Administrative skills

Summary – you bring a lot to the table, how do you put it forth?

Skills you May Need

  • Interviewing, hiring, firing
  • Detecting “hidden agendas”
  • Dealing with new corporate cultures

Tips On Job Searches

  • Danger points – job changes every 2-3 years. Also you may be older than your immediate boss (es)
  • The most important thing is to get a job in a company even if it’s not the job you want so that you get experience and can prove your capabilities. Also important to get “line” (revenue, profit) responsibility early.
  • Military people have difficulty selling themselves (they wear their achievements, ribbons on their chest, my experience)
  • You should expect some rejection and expect the people to not value your military experience. Our society now has only approximately 1 in 25 people with military service experience.
  • Military people have difficulty asking for things such as business and career development.
  • On balance the military is not a job, but a way of life, and people in industry and business tend to balance more between family, jobs and outside interests.
  • Success is directly related to your ability to give clear instructions, follow up and take responsibility for your actions. This is no different than early military training.
  • Don’t feel bad about leaving the military “early”: Academy graduates especially may experience guilt or have guilt put upon them.
  • Bigger companies may appreciate your leadership experiences best and these companies have processes (HR, career development, planning, etc.) similar to the military.

* * * * *

Mr. Carter also offered to make available a second document that he had compiled over his forty years of observing leadership and management “best practices.” He wanted to be sure to clarify the origin of the ideas, and he did so in this note that he sent this morning as he transmitted the document:

Dr. Al

These are not original but are techniques that I have used for 40 plus years and they work for me--I'm not claiming authorship--just their effectiveness.

Marsh Carter

* * * * *

A 40 Plus Year View of Leadership and Management



  • Be cautious about applying your own successful leadership traits and techniques to different levels of organizations and/or different cultures.
  • Sometimes, the most effective leadership techniques are the simplest
  • A leader must balance organizational mission accomplishment with responsibility to followers.
  • Leaders must balance between near-term and long-term leadership and management tasks.
  • One of the most important aspects of leading change – get some early wins – this makes change irresistible to those that resist change! Getting these “early wins” may involve changing priorities or sequencing of events.
  • Some problems can’t be “solved” (and, hopefully, made to go away) – they must be managed and may require the leader’s repetitive attention and time.
  • When merging or combining two organizations, it has been estimated that 60% of the people will be relatively indifferent, 20% will be strongly supportive, and 20% will be strongly non-supportive. Focus on the 60% and the 20% that are strongly supportive rather than the 20% that are strongly negative.
  • Merging two organizations gives a leader an opportunity to form a new culture / management/operating style. A common mistake is to adopt one or the other, thereby creating winners and losers.


  • Take the high risk / high reward job (at a minimum HR will “owe you”)
  • Hardest task – changing your leadership and management styles as you go up the ladder
  • Learn from bad leadership examples
  • Balance your life – 3-legged stool analogy
  • Watch for malicious obedience. This phenomenon occurs when people in an organization do exactly as their leader says even though they may know in their hearts that the action is incorrect or not optimal. The phenomenon usually occurs in organizations where there’s no honest exchange of ideas, constructive conflict or openness to question authority for the purpose of determining optimal actions.
  • The key to effective consensus management is knowing when to stop seeking consensus, making a decision and moving forward.

    * * * * *

    Many thank to Mr. Carter for his willingness to share his wisdom and experience with the next generation of business leaders, and for his willingness to allow me to pass along his insights to a broader audience of Blog readers.


    Al Chase

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