You understand you are no longer in a military command or performing your military duty. You are aware that some of what makes you successful in the military overlaps, and some of it doesn’t. Finally, you should always be gaining a PhD in leadership by studying leaders in your field and outside of your field to discover what makes them effective and successful. Knowing yourself, and being honest about it, knowing your environment and being aware of your situation, and constantly learning from leaders will develop a sense of agency, and, “If something in your life is giving you agency, you will be successful.”
For those who have not decided, or are still seeking advice on making the right choice in transition, Howard offers a very simple rubric:
- If you’re passionate about something, follow your passions. But understand that passion means willing to sacrifice. If you’re not passionate about something, follow your interests, because if you’re interested, you probably are working a little harder to succeed.
- If you’re not passionate or interested, follow your strengths, because while you have to deal with your shortcomings, usually people who are successful in life are doing things that play to their strengths.
- If you’re not passionate or interested or good at something … keep your options open and do things that keep your options open.
- Finally, all things being equal, do something around science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) because that’s going to create options.
- Then, when all is said and done, forgive yourself for not being on one of the other rungs in the ladder.
As the interview drew to a close, I could not help but consider the wealth of knowledge shared in such a brief period of time.
I can only hope that I have faithfully transmitted his thoughts in a meaningful way. For me, one question remained: “How have you changed in your own transition from military to civilian life?”
First, and without pause, he suggested that the better question for transitioners is what did not change: his unflinching belief in integrity. “The military is a special place … your signature is your bond.
You do the right thing because it is the right thing. I say what I do and do what I say … and I’ve retained my bearing and the seriousness of what we’re trying to do … the sense of urgency and integrity remain.”
Howard’s thoughts about what has changed in his experience of civilian life I felt were some of his most prescient and important thoughts. “In the military there was a paradigm of leadership that was pretty narrow … you were expected to look a certain way, sound a certain way, walk and talk a certain way. In the civilian world you discover that leaders come in all different shapes and sizes. There are people who did not look like my conditioned view of leadership … There are other paradigms of great leaders that look nothing like that … and yet they are great people who care deeply about mission and purpose.”
Finally, finding the right fit is about coming to a place that respects what you’ve done in the military and that will help you get to the best 2.0, 3.0 version of you.
The institution you choose should provide a great education for the profession you’ve chosen, and they should also give you the practical experience and exposure to the people who will help you get to the next level. If you decide to take a look at Robert Morris, or any of our Military Friendly® Schools, I recommend that you seek out the opportunity to talk with Howard or his counterpart, as the experience may well be the moment that sets you into the virtuous cycle that will lead to your success in civilian life.