Sunday, March 23, 2008

Follow Up to Business Week Articles – The Crucial Role of Captains in Iraq

In the week since the two Business Week articles were published about transition from military leadership to business school, I have received a fascinating tsunami of correspondence and feedback.

(If you did not see the articles, these links will take you there.

Businessweek article

Business Week On-line Al Chase article

A number of comments were left by readers of Jane Porter’s fine article and readers of the companion piece that I wrote. There was a broad range of opinion – all the way from those who clearly understand the special value proposition of military leaders transitioning to the business world, to those who believe the outmoded “command and control” stereotypes of those who have served in the military, to those who are openly hostile towards those who have chosen to serve our country as warriors. In addition, many fine officers have contacted me to ask if I may be able to help them to think about their own upcoming transition from the military to the world of business. Especially gratifying was the call I received a few days ago from a rapidly growing division of a Fortune 100 company. The essence of the call was this: “Hi. A bunch of us here at the office have been reading your recent Business Week article and talking about it. We have a pressing need to hire another leader on our team, and we are looking for exactly the kind of person you described in your article. Do you think that you can help us?”

I will be meeting with this company's senior leadership team this coming week in Florida to learn more about the specific skills sets and character traits they are looking for as they expand their team to accommodate business growth. I anticipate that this development is the tip of the iceberg as more and more companies come to realize that the men and women who have been leading troops in combat and helping to build a nation out of the chaos of war are more than prepared to help to lead a project team or product development group or sales force.

My friend, Dave Gebben, a Ph. D. student at Michigan State, forwarded me this fine article written by Michael Kamber of the New York Times:

Sovereigns of All They’re Assigned, Captains Have Many Missions to Oversee

Sovereigns of All They’re Assigned

Mr. Kamber provides some fine case studies that buttress the argument I was making in the Business Week article about the level of maturity and responsibility attained at an early age by our young military officers on the ground in Iraq – especially those Captains who are the linchpins of Gen. Petraeus’ strategy:

“Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top American commander in Iraq, said: ‘It is the captains who turn the ‘big ideas’ and broad guidance issued at high levels into specific actions geared to local circumstances. Captains plan and execute the operations that often prove the most important, at ground level, where gains are truly achieved in this type of endeavor.’”

It is not much of a stretch to envision how these Captains, upon finishing their careers in the military, can take their considerable and finely nuanced experience of turning chaos to order and use those skills as “captains of industry.” I see that transformation happening among many of my candidates, and I anticipate a growing list of client companies asking for help in reaching out to this uniquely qualified pool of future C-level executives.

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