Justin Constantine knows what it is like on the battlefield, and he has the scars and stories to prove it. He also feels that lessons learned on the frontline can be helpful in the office.
Constantine, a retired Marine lieutenant colonel, led a team of Marines in Iraq. Perhaps more importantly, he survived a sniper’s bullet to the head.
“My whole life changed,” he said in what is clearly an understatement.
Constantine was deployed in 2006 to lead a Civil Affairs team in Iraq. At the time, he was a young lawyer who was engaged to be married. Those dreams nearly ended when a bullet entered through the back of his head, exiting though the front of his mouth.
After initial reports that he was killed by the bullet, Constantine’s fiancé and family learned that his life was saved through the heroic efforts of his fellow marines – particularly his corpsman who, at great risk to his own life, performed a tracheotomy.
“I was lucky. It missed my spinal cord and my brain,” Constantine said.
Constantine’s long recovery, life on the battlefield and the efforts of his colleagues are documented in his new book, “My Battlefield, Your Office: Leadership Lessons from the Frontline.”
What lessons can young veterans learn from the book? We asked Constantine for the five most important takeaways from his new book.
Veteran's Skill Sets
“Many of you probably take for granted the skills and abilities you gained in the military, because your peers also had those same experiences,” Constantine said. Those skills include leadership, teamwork, taking the initiative and feeling comfortable working with a variety of people, he explained, but those skills are things veterans should capitalize on in the real world.
“The vast majority of new supervisors across our country don’t have the same skill sets as you, and this should tell you that you have a big leg-up on your civilian counterparts,” he said.
Ask for Help
“One thing I stress is that it is OK to ask for help and lean on others for support. This is particularly true for our transitioning service members or others looking for fulfilling careers,” Constantine said. Like many veterans, he emphasized networking, not only to help you, but to help others.
“To help grow my business, I ask for help from a wide variety of people (at the appropriate time and place). On the other side of the coin, I am always open to helping others,” he said.
Leadership is Leadership
The leadership concepts in Constantine’s book apply to those who lead small groups just as much as for those who lead larger divisions.
“In your new positions outside of the military, you will probably start out in leadership positions of small units and then graduate to larger ones. My discussions about vision, communication and leading from the front should be familiar to all veterans, and are particularly helpful in the private sector, whether your team is large or small. These concepts are critical to success both in the military and corporate America, and implementing what you already learned will really set you apart,” he said.
The Importance of Integrity
Constantine hits the principles of integrity early in his book, he explained, because he believes it is important in the workplace.
“Of course, we all know folks in the military who made some bad decisions and did not live up to our high standards, but overall our military is one of the most trusted institutions in the country. Maintain the high principles you learned in the military, and you will be ahead of the game,” he said.
The Science of Leadership
“Leadership is important, but it isn’t all about giving direct orders and expecting people to do exactly as you say. Leadership in the private sector is a lot more nuanced than in the military, for a number of reasons,” Constantine said.
The workplace, Constantine said, can be a bit trickier in the civilian world.
“Understanding the chain of command can be difficult, accountability is sometimes a moving target and missions often are not as clear-cut as they are in the military. Through this book I aim to demonstrate how to lead in the private sector while relying on the rock-solid principles we learned in the military,” he said.
The last piece of advice Constantine shared is to fall back on the military experience.
“It may take time to further refine your leadership skills in the corporate world, but you already have a very firm base,” he said.