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A transitioning O-6 was on a Skill Bridge internship in March of 2020 when the COVID shutdown forced his company to go to the remote/hybrid environment. Watching his peer’s reaction to the emergency, he realized he was better equipped to handle the situation than the long-tenured executives. He went to the company leadership, told them what he thought the organization needed, how he was equipped to handle it and asked to lead the team through the crisis. Guess who succeeded?


He learned what the organization needed and translated his military skills into terms they understood and they hired him.


Three principles to help guide your transition


  • Educate yourself on the needs of the organizations you are pursuing
  • Educate the organizations on your capabilities to fulfill those needs
  • Educate those considering you for a position how your leadership skills differentiate you


Leadership is the great differentiator and you have years of experience in high tempo, stressful, environments. Understand how your military leadership expertise and experiences fit the organizations and positions you are pursuing. However, leadership is not enough. Organizations are looking for knowledge and skills relevant to their industry.

Lessons learned from coaching many transitioning veterans:

  • Most veterans do not fully understand how private-sector corporations operate
  • You have to be able to relate your leadership skills directly to the positions you are pursuing
  • Military skills and experiences are often misunderstood and undervalued in the private sector
  • You have to educate those interviewing you that your skills and experiences directly fit the positions you are pursuing

Some corporations have completely mastered hiring veterans. Amazon and General Electric are two. Ask any veteran about Amazon and they will tell you about their Military Pathways Program. General Electric has a Junior Officer Leadership Program that is a two-year development program for separating junior officers.

These are examples of companies fully embracing what veterans bring to the table and make the transition easy. Other easy transitions are companies directly supporting the military. Many veterans will take these paths, putting their well-honed skills to use.


What about those who want to do something completely different than their military experience?


Take control of the process and become a student and an educator; a student of yourself and the organizations you are pursuing, and an educator to those in the organization. As a student build your understanding of first yourself, then organizations that interest you; their culture, how success is measured, and what is needed from you. As an educator, educate decision-makers in the organization on your capabilities and what you will contribute.


Considerations for Your Transition

Consider when to start. The transition takes time. I have worked with veterans who began planning 24 months prior to their transition to several who waited until the end. Two years is not too early. Think of your transition as a one-to-two-year distance learning degree.


Consider how to translate your military skills to the private sector. If you are transitioning at less than ten years of service you have been an operator. Working directly in your specialty applying the military skills of your specialty; intelligence, flying, driving, diving, maintaining, and leading at the tactical level.


The more senior, the more of a generalist you become. Why, because in your leadership roles you are responsible for executing the operational mission. If you are near the twenty-year mark, it is likely you could readily fit into operations roles in the private sector.


Educate yourself on how your skills translate to the private sector.


Consider why a potential employer would be reluctant to hire you? What specific skills do they think you are missing? Often it is specific industry knowledge, skills, and experience. I have seen service members rejected because they lacked specific profit/loss reporting, financial, and supply chain experience required for positions.


Educate yourself on how to translate your military skills and experiences into private sector specifics.



Transitioning is an education. You are in a self-directed education program, learning about yourself, other organizations, and how you are the best fit. The better you translate your value and fit with private-sector corporations, the smoother the transition.


  • Know specifically what you bring to your next organization in their terms
  • Know specifically how your leadership differentiates you in their terms


Your first military to civilian transition gives you the rare opportunity to explore an entire world of options available for you. Prepare for it.

Organizational Fitness: What is it?

We all want to be fit; having lots of energy, less susceptible to illness, resilient, and able to participate in events and activities we choose. To do that we need to maintain a level of health and fitness. Organizations are the same. Think of organizations you have been associated with that you would rate both high and low on the fitness scale. What were their traits?

Fit: Resilient, vibrant, able to adjust pacing, and have the agility to react to unforeseen obstacles.

Out of Shape: sluggish and operating with substantial inertia limiting responsiveness.

What is the level of fitness in your organization and how do you measure it? The following elements are what I see as keys to organizational fitness:

  • Planning – the ability to effectively plan at the strategic, operational, and tactical levels
  • Communication – the ability to ensure all members of the organization have the same message
  • Execution – the ability to operationalize a plan with agility
  • Review – the ability to continually assess and integrate lessons learned into current and future operations

Let’s briefly examine each one.


Plans provide the measuring stick for an organization at every level. Without a plan direction is unclear, success is purely subjective, and confusion reigns. What are some components that are common at every level? First, is the requirement for a clearly defined vision, measure of success, or end state. Everyone needs to know where you are going and what it looks like when you get there. Second, a solid plan requires the right people in the room to create the plan. Regardless of the level; strategic, operational, or tactical, if you do not have the correct people creating the plan, your plan is flawed. Lastly, the plan must set boundaries, metrics and standards.

Ever experience this? You are handed a plan to implement that you had zero input on designing, when your expertise would have clearly helped? The impact on you emotionally and professionally was?


The concept of clear communication is completely understood by everyone at the lower end of an organization. Just ask. When the bottom rung of an organization is left confused by the message, it generates significant discontent and criticism of the leadership. Statements such as “What they should have done is” or “They don’t know how this affects us.” Why is it that leaders are criticized as being unable to communicate clearly throughout the organization? Get feedback from every corner and level to determine what was received. Just because you said it does not mean it was heard.


The heart of every operation; getting the job done, providing deliverables, services, and products. If you missed the mark on planning and communication the likelihood of having consistently smooth operations are small. But what else is required for a fit organization in the area of execution? This is where agility, resiliency, flexibility, and the ability to react to changing conditions make the greatest impact. If those executing the plan are inextricably tied to the plan without a level of autonomy and authority to make adjustments. Your fitness is suspect.

Toyota famously created the Andon Cord that allowed any worker on the assembly line to pull the cord to stop production and correct a problem. Supervisors would huddle with the individual to assess the issue and resolve it prior to restarting the production line. Every industry, company, and small business intuitively knows what fitness look like in the execution of its business. Having the discipline to adhere to the standard is the challenge. This is similar to going to the gym or running every day. Just going through the motions does not provide a quality workout or run. You need to be deliberate about what you want to accomplish.


This is accountability for what was delivered and how. A culture of intentional review develops a learning organization and can be a game changer. Looking at each project or deliverable and assessing: what was the plan, how was it communicated, how well did we execute the plan, is difficult. This challenge provides the opportunity to find bright spots and celebrate successes as well as identifying areas for improvement.

What would this look like for you and your organization? How can this be integrated into the normal way of doing business. Fitness takes discipline, consistency, and the continuous evaluation of results that are fed back into the organization.

Who would benefit if your organization operated at its highest level of fitness possible? Need help assessing your business’ fitness level?  Please contact us today for your complimentary coaching session.

“Adversity does not build character it reveals it” James Lane Allen.

“Her calm leadership under incredible pressure it what made us successful today!” You have heard a statement similar to this before and maybe said it yourself. Reflect on a leader who you are familiar with: a boss, a coach, a political leader, a coworker, who successfully deals with crisis after crisis. How do they maintain their poise and steady leadership while embroiled in a situation rife with challenges, imperfect information, and severe consequences caused by their decisions?

My premise: They are not just great crisis leaders, they are great leaders because they live by and continually practice the values required to lead under duress.

Crisis leaders are decisive, selfless, focused on the mission, the good of the organization, and its people. They communicate clearly, are trusted, and have the courage to speak and stand by their convictions. They do this all the time, not only in response to a crisis. Living and practicing those values with every interaction regardless of its magnitude builds the “crisis leader” muscles.

Core values are the foundation of our being, drive our behavior, and are what is personally most important to us. In times of crisis our personal façade is torn away and our core values are bare for everyone to see. If you feel you are unable to lead in a crisis – maybe it is time to examine how you handle your daily small predicaments. Will the values “muscles” you are exercising serve you in the next major crisis you encounter?

You cannot show up on game day and expect to win without preparation!

Veteran Leaders: Win $10,000 and World-Class Business Coaching with Gary Slyman, USNA ‘81

Veteran leaders, listen to the Service Academy Business MasterMind Podcast at:

You have the opportunity to win $10,000 to assist you in developing your leadership to lead your social enterprise. The deadline is 31 August 2018.



On December 6th Gary Slyman of Great Transitions Strategies will be co-hosting an event with Dvorah Graeser of KissPatent. The event is focused on how to make the transition from corporate employee to Startup Launch. It will held in Washington DC at WeWork Dupont Circle. For those who do not live in the area or who are unable to attend they will also host a live webinar, on Dec 8th. 
Get the details and sign up here:
WeWork Event:
Learn more about KissPatent and Great Transitions Strategies here:

Ryan Lotche is the latest high-profile victim of poor decision making or more simply “himself”. One night of bad decisions influenced by one, or a combination of the three elements – sex, alcohol, and/or “after midnight.” derailed his success story. Rather than celebrating his Olympic successes that he worked daily over the course of years to achieve, he is dealing with the fallout of one night lying on camera, embarrassing the United States, and losing endorsements.

Of course there are other missteps such as greed and power that bring down leaders. However, those elements have a more premeditated and long-term process of destruction. What I am referring to here are individuals who in one night precipitate their world crashing down around them. The disaster is preventable and caused solely from decisions that were made after midnight, and influenced by sex and/or alcohol.

I contend that an individual not only has the potential to have their judgment clouded by sex, alcohol, and after midnight, but as you combine the elements the risks increase exponentially. My evidence is purely anecdotal however; you may have anecdotes that also support my point. Think of several people you know that had a good thing going such as a career, family, relationship, or business venture derailed by a one-time event. What were the causal factors? Were sex, alcohol, and a decision “after midnight” part of the equation?

To be clear here are my definitions to fit the context:

  • Sex: merely the act of pursuing the opposite sex qualifies as sex in this context
  • Alcohol: being under the influence and over the legal limit to drive
  • After midnight: making decisions after 2400 hours local time

Lets look at an example: It is Friday afternoon and the group you lead decides to have an impromptu celebration. Your announcement that the company was awarded the contract that consumed the team for two weeks was greeted with cheers. The celebration starts at happy hour, the drinks flow and everyone is having a good time. Those that try to leave get pressured to stay for dinner. There is plenty of wine and toasting at dinner and as dinner ends the group starts coming up with ideas for what is next that night. It’s getting late, many have had too much to drink, and someone says: “Let’s go across the street to that bar with the band and dance floor.”

Have a picture in your mind? What happens next is up to your imagination or experience. Some possibilities:

  • Nothing negative occurs everything works out fine.
  • A drunken coworker gets in their car and drives home.
  • Someone says something to a coworker that is inappropriate.
  • Someone misses an event with a significant other?
  • Photos of the group and individuals are posted on Facebook and Instagram.
  • Someone streams portions of the event on Periscope.

So what’s the big deal you say, your team is just celebrating a professional success. You are right and a well deserved one. But as a leader what are your roles and responsibilities to yourself, your team, and the organization?

Leaders manage many risks to ensure success, to navigate challenges, and to meet high levels of performance. As professionals they constantly prepare for contingencies, they know their responsibilities, and are ready to fulfill their role 24/7. If that is true, how is it then that leaders from the lowest levels to CEO’s have fallen prey to poor judgment outside the confines of daily routines?

Do decision-making, risk management, and training for scenarios outside of the confines of daily routines have the correct priority in your leadership training and education? Leaders’ decisions 24/7 have an affect at a personal, a professional, and an organizational level. Just ask the Ryan Lochte and the US Olympic Committee.