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Could Veterans Help Uber?

A leadership consultant says Uber -- and companies like it -- can benefit by hiring more veterans.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017
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Uber has been in the news a lot lately for all the wrong reasons. The cycle began with the allegations by former employee Susan Fowler that she and other female engineers at the company suffered from discrimination and sexual harassment by top managers, and continued with the release of a video showing co-founder and CEO Travis Kalanick's outburst at an Uber driver. Now come reports -- courtesy of the Financial Times -- that Uber employees are looking to exit the company in the wake of the scandals and bad press.

What could help Uber and companies like it make it through scandals such as this -- and make it less likely they'd happen in the first place? Try hiring more military veterans into leadership positions, says leadership consultant Andrew Wittman. Wittman, the author of the 2016 book Ground Zero Leadership: CEO of You, says vets can bring restraint and unit cohesion to companies with troubled cultures. Thanks to their military training, he says, veterans understand how to take care of others while navigating through stressful situations. In the following Q&A, Wittman -- a Marine Corps veteran and managing partner of the Mental Toughness Training Center in South Carolina -- explains why he believes vets should be on recruiters' radar screens.

How do you think a company like Uber could benefit by having more veterans in its corporate ranks?

The things Uber is trying to train into its employees now requires leading by example, and veterans are going to model those behaviors. From their first day in the military, veterans were thrown into a mix of incredibly different people and had to figure out how to get along. They understand how to get along with people with very different backgrounds from themselves, they understand that they're not entitled to anything and they've got a monster work ethic. If Uber brought more vets into its corporate ranks, it'd have a ripple effect. Companies spend a lot of money on training people in these soft skills, but veterans already come equipped with them. The great John Maxwell says leadership is influence -- nothing more, nothing less. For vets, being a team member is part of our DNA -- we've already experienced that in unit cohesion, which is a commitment to each other, the company and to the task at hand regardless of stress or adversity, and that tends to rub off on other people. You know how moms tell their kids to hang out with the good kids at school, not the bad kids, hoping that the good kids' behavior will rub off on their child? When you hire veterans, you're bringing the "good kids" into your organization and your other employees will benefit from that.  

You cite veterans' experiences overcoming "desirable difficulties" as one of the factors that make them great employees. Can you explain what that is?

A desirable difficulty is an experience that you wouldn't necessarily wish on others but is something you're grateful to have undergone yourself. Boot camp is an example of a desirable difficulty -- it's unpleasant while you're' going through it but afterward, you can say "This helped make me who I am, it helped me beat this other obstacle." After you go through something like that, whether it's combat or boot camp, then suddenly life doesn't seem that difficult anymore. It's an experience that makes you stronger.

What is it about military culture that might help a company like Uber? After all, the military has had its share of sex scandals.

That's true, but if you're a vet, you've been trained in teamwork, adversity and self-restraint. You've had practice in dealing with pressure-cooker situations. I'm not saying a scandal wouldn't happen, but it would be less likely to happen and, if it did, would probably be dealt with quickly if vets held leadership roles in the organization. As for helping the company get through the current situation, people who are just out of college haven't been under this kind of stress before and just don't know how to deal with it. Vets aren't entitled -- they've had to earn everything they've gotten from day one. Vets have already been through their trial by fire and they're ready for anything that comes down the pike.

Silicon Valley companies, and start-ups in general, are known for their freewheeling cultures -- would veterans, particularly those who've served for a long time in the military, tend to have a problem adjusting to this environment?

No, I don't think they'd have a problem. They probably like that fast-paced culture. It's easier to adjust to a flexible culture than to one that's more regimented.

What are some of the biggest frustrations veterans tend to encounter when searching for jobs?

The biggest frustration tends to be that they can't get their foot in the door -- that companies won't even look at you if you don't have a four-year college degree. For example, they'll take on someone with a marketing degree as a pharmaceutical salesperson but not someone who has four years in the service. Seriously? That's a huge source of frustration for veterans. If you have a candidate with a liberal arts degree, do you really think you're going to get someone with the combination of critical thinking, resilience, emotional intelligence, team-building experience and mental toughness that comes from spending four years in the military?

What are some of your own military experiences that you believe helped you become a better leader?

I was in combat as a corporal in Panama and as a sergeant in Desert Storm, and in every one of those crucible situations I was responsible for taking care of other people and keeping them safe, not just myself. That's an example of a desirable difficulty -- you don't like that it keeps you up at night while you're going through it, but once you do get through it it's like, "Hey, I can do this." It builds confidence.


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