Why I believe Veteran Mentoring is important

I’ve been mentoring on Veterati for a month or so now. I’ve spoken to a U2 pilot, Army Rangers, Pararescuemen, and multiples of line Army soldiers. I met with a female AF Captain that recently transitioned and had already secured a fantastic gig. My first mentee was Army and he wasn’t sure which path to take after recently graduating from Berkeley. Seven days and 9 hours after we spoke he took a position at Siemens.

It’s been interesting to see how positive an outcome we arrive at together Mentee and Mentor in just sixty minutes.

I’ve found that by collecting a list of experiences, lessons learned (taught to me by my mentors) and by highlighting my mistakes – I can turn 30,000 hours of consulting and business experience into a checklist that I can hand over the phone.

My mentees all show drive, hustle, and a hunger to learn. They motivate me to do more. I want to thank them for reaffirming, very personally, why it’s so important to get this right.

I feel like the best advice I can give all transitioning veterans at the moment is this:

Know your value. Own yourself first. Think entrepreneurially.

There’s a reason why a long list of non-profits, for profits, private universities, colleges, and corporations are actively creating veteran intake and transition models. You are valued. Your skills are valued. Your dedication and commitment and integrity are valued.

Forward thinkers see you as a valuable untapped commodity and the “machine” is creating a funnel to bring you in. Do the work to find the right fit. Do not take the first opportunity that arises. Rest easy and know that there are groups out there that are fully committed to your success. They are driven to support Veterans for all the right reasons. Some aren’t. Your first test is to see if you can figure that out. It’s important that you do.

The COMMIT Foundation, The PJ Foundation, Exbellum, and Veterati are all examples of groups that are committed and engaging for the right reasons.

I’ve asked hundreds of successful entrepreneurs what their number one advice is based on their experiences; the two most common answers are: “always be learning” and “don’t give too much away, too early, in an effort to get started.” Both of those are intensely relative to a successful transition.

Think of the jobs you’re looking at as investors in you. Understand the differences between bank, venture, and angel funding model logic as it relates to the opportunities you are considering. Know what you’re worth, do the work to brand and sell that value. Be smart on what you sign.

In most cases, you’ve just completed a 4-20 year commitment as a service member. It takes time as you hang that uniform up to decompress. You’ve probably never owned yourself before. Your parents owned you, and then your college buddies owned you, or if you’re like me, you jumped from High School and a sweet gig at Kentucky Fried Chicken straight into the Cold War.

Rank structure, military culture, and professional military mindset all take time to go back into solution. It’s like nitrogen bubbles in your blood after a deep dive. You need time in a chamber to be able to surface safely. Take stock. If you trust your competencies and you weave them into your brand as you transition – you’ll stand out. In the military, you had a mission, and you served – that defined you. On this side of the fence, your brand defines you.

Don’t worry about what you don’t know. I’ll say that again, do not worry about what you don’t know! Focus on you. That’s the answer.

As a successful Sales professional, I can tell you that if you act too hungry, and you’re confused about what your value is, and you don’t do the work to understand what business leaders need today in the context of the work at hand – you are more likely to find the wrong opportunities.

Don’t be too quick to go from Serving to being an Employee. Take some time to own yourself. Invest in you. Learn. Read. I’d highly suggest creating your own LLC.

Pay the extra money for the leather-bound case and set that behind you up high on something so it’s always watching. Have the name of the LLC you created bearing down on you. That potential energy should be part of your future. It will help you. By owning a business – even one that’s all potential energy – it will help you better own yourself.

Consider all possibilities before choosing one. That’s important.

Be very choosy about whom you work for if you do decide to enter the business community. It should be an innovative company that’s boldly led. It should be chasing over the horizon goals that are hard to get to. Those leaders and project teams are already in the fight. It’s hard going. They need you. There’s an empty chair at that innovation table, trust me. I’ve been working with Cisco for nearly three years. I can tell you this is one of those companies you should be focusing on. Salesforce is another one.

You were protecting the free world in your last job. It’s important that you chase something with a similar gravity. If you don’t, there will be a void. That void will cause problems. Learn about what you can do to bend the cost curve in our Healthcare expenditure as a Nation. That’s an example of an enemy you can continue to protect us all against. There’s exciting work being done in that arena. Be part of it.

Learn about the Entrepreneurial Mindset. Find groups of Entrepreneurs in your community and introduce yourself and tell them you are there to help. Find Veteran entrepreneurs that are on the march. Learn about what they do, and find a way to help.

Look at TRX, Halfaker and Associates, and The Hard Yards for examples of successfully led Veteran Entrepreneur companies.

I noticed one mentee I spoke with chose not to list any of their military background on their LiN Profile. I found that strange. I suspected it might be an industrious young person looking for free business advice via Veterati to help them in their early career. I guessed they weren’t military. I kept the appointment. This mentee was in the finance vertical in NY. Within the first few minutes of the call, I could tell they were military. Army. Polite, respectful, and smart. No doubt. They proudly shared their assignments with me. I waited until the end of the call and I casually asked why they chose not to list any part of their service history.

The answer was chilling. On several occasions in multiple conference environments, they noticed that positive momentum in early conversations took a different turn once the Veteran history came out. There was a bias.

DON’T hide your Veteran history. There’s no reason to. Not today. You don’t necessarily have to “lead loud” with it either.

Give it the space it deserves and then prove that it matters.

Max Lujan at Oracle, Greg Call at Amazon, Florent Groberg at Boeing, and Jim Sherriff at Tech Qualled all have a bias. They understand your value. They #bias2veteran

Special thanks to Diana Tsai and the Veterati team for introducing me to my mentees.

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Written by Brian Stephens
An entrepreneur with a proven record in large-scale Workforce Digitization efforts, Business Development and Sales.A skill set born in a Boston-based start-up (Knowledge Impact) as the Western Region Services Director in their Silicon Valley office. My skills were then fully tempered by 10 years of Healthcare IT Digitization (and 4X growth) at Cerner Corporation. I am a Veteran, a natural problem solver, and connector. I have an eye for talent and enjoy being a mentor. I am a team focused leader with a larger sense of humor than ego. I'm equally at home in early Start-up and Fortune 100 environments. With Synthesis-level experience in Digital Adoption and Change Management, I've developed models for millions of end users in the UK, Malaysia, Canada, Australia, Berlin and in the US. Each digitization project was culturally unique, fiscally sensitive and go-live driven. Successfully selling and executing hundreds of multi-year digitization projects gives me a vast experience base to draw upon.I make connections and create successful B2B opportunity and mutually beneficial sales relationships with my partners.
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