I spent nearly four years in the military as a member of the 82nd Airborne Division. During that time, I learned a lot about perseverance, discipline, and determination from the military standards for working as a team.
Little did I realize how much those skills and experiences would shape my leadership during a global pandemic.
In the military, we prepare for a variety of scenarios and rely on our team to play their individual roles to achieve a greater goal. The belief in this process is how we navigate and survive the challenges we encounter. When you have clear expectations of yourself and those around you, it’s easy to follow through, execute a plan, and be accountable.
As the COVID-19 pandemic unfolded in early 2020, my organization, like many, was unsure of what the future held. But what we did know is we owed it to our customers and our employees to ensure there was minimal disruption to their daily lives, especially as we all hunkered down at home and learned to work in new ways.
Nearly two years later, many companies, large and small, are still grappling with the disruptions of COVID-19. Thus making it imperative to maintain a sense of stability and ensure our teams have the resources they need to work effectively against a set of challenges that constantly evolve.
Here are four ways my time in the military taught me how to lead during times of uncertainty, and it’s my hope that sharing these experiences can help you lead when you are met with adversity.
Create a culture of open communication
Leaders can face an uphill battle when it comes to managing unforeseen or unprecedented issues. Being in charge — whether leading a large team, company or battalion — requires that those who report to you buy into the fact that you are the one who makes the final decision. But just like any endeavor, those in charge can lose control of their team if they don’t earn their respect and trust.
Maintaining that respect starts with open and frequent communication, especially in times of uncertainty. Fostering an environment where your team feels connected and comfortable to express concerns will create trust and ultimately lead to respect. Earning respect can also mean remaining consistent in your work, setting clear expectations with your team, and making sure everyone understands the impact and importance of their role.
Know when to lead and when to bring others in
The mark of a strong leader is someone who understands when there are smarter people in the room. There will be instances where it’s the right decision to lean on others who might have more expertise or more insight into the issue you are facing. True leadership can look different in various scenarios, especially when your team is navigating uncharted territory. Knowing when to step back and allow your team members to lead won’t lessen your leadership; in fact, it might do the opposite.
Failure is a catalyst for growth
Failure is an inevitable part of life. In the military, we know failure can mean the difference between life and death. But that doesn’t mean you should completely dismiss failure when the stakes are not as high.
For our customers, the stakes are always high, just in a different way. They are small business owners and entrepreneurs who put their livelihood on the line to realize their dreams. We recognize and respect that they face challenges every day, and our job is to help them solve those challenges. At Verizon Small Business Essentials, we learn from our failures to help refine our strategies. Making data-driven decisions to help our customers compete and succeed, as well as creating an environment for our employees to learn and innovate in their roles, is key to our success.
Build a network of trusted peers
Leading can be lonely. While you might have a team that looks up to you for guidance, the buck stops with you, meaning success or failure falls squarely upon your shoulders. When you go home at the end of the day, it can be difficult to shake the feeling that you have nowhere to turn to vent.
This is when your network becomes vital. Chances are good your network contains people you trust, who may also have served in the military. Our common experiences can be helpful when seeking advice or a sounding board to work through a variety of challenging scenarios. If you can find the right people to bring into your trusted circle, it will make all the difference when uncertainty arises.
I credit my military service for my ascension in the civilian ranks to becoming a leader with one of the largest companies in the country. Everything I picked up along the way has led me here, and I know I wouldn’t be where I am today without that experience.
Leadership is defined as the capacity to influence others through inspiration, motivated by passion, generated by vision, produced by conviction, and ignited by purpose. As veterans, our paths to leadership opportunities are diverse. And I firmly believe we are uniquely suited to lead because of our history of military service and sacrifice.
Chris Wayne is the managing director for Verizon Small Business Essentials. Prior to this, he was the company’s Chief Technology Officer. Chris holds a Master of Business for Veterans (MBV) degree from the University of Southern California and is a certified Data Center Management Professional (CDCMP). Before joining Yahoo Small Business, Chris was a Sergeant in the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division.