Perseverance and the JMO in Corporate America

A couple of weeks ago, my colleague Chuck Alvarez sent me a really good article about perseverance from USA Today and below is the link if you are interested in reading it:

http://usat.ly/kcZAph

As I read the article, it reminded me of a couple of potential career traps that JMOs can fall into when making their transition to business.  I have witnessed both of them since making my transition to Corporate America eleven years ago and I thought I’d share them with you.

The first is balancing ambition versus patience.  While ambition and desire is good, artificially pressing or trying to force career progression can be detrimental.  In fact, it is the exact opposite of perseverance that the article above talks about.  Prior to coming to business, I spent eight years in the Army, and while I have no regrets, I have to admit I was guilty of this first trap.  I entered Corporate America excited but also with the realization that I was starting later than my peers that came straight to business out of college as well as my military year group peers that chose to come to business before me.

When I started at my first company, I immediately immersed myself in my work, trying to do everything I could to learn about my position, my company, industry, etc.  I spent a long hours at work, reading on the weekends, etc. Part of this was my internal drive and desire to do well but the other part was due to this ticking internal clock telling me I was behind my peers and had to find a way to accelerate my development.  After a year or so in my position, I found myself beginning to look for the next opportunity to continue my upward movement within the company.  I soon realized I needed to dial things back in my head and understand that my business career would not be a sprint, but a marathon.  Remember, it takes time to learn a whole new industry and launch a brand new career, and you can’t win a war without first winning several smaller battles.

Our client companies hire candidates into developmental positions so they typically have a long term growth strategy in mind; and when you artificially try to accelerate that, it can create issues.  I personally know of several examples where someone’s ambition and desire has put them into situations where they got in over their heads. They pressed and pressed and when they were promoted, they found themselves in a role they were not adequately prepared for and ultimately failed, thus significantly affecting their careers.  Additionally, if you press too hard, you can very easily create the impression that all you are after is the next promotion.  When this occurs, your teammates and bosses see you as being self serving and not focused on the job at hand or on the organization.  My advice to you is simple, but it isn’t always simple to follow – take your time. Learn your craft, your company, industry, etc. and let the landscape develop over time.  If you do your job well and show some patience, opportunities will present themselves and when they do, you will be ready.

The second potential trap is having a false sense of entitlement.  Some JMOs look at their experience and what they have done in the military and they have this artificial inflation of self worth. They see themselves as someone who can come straight to business and command a certain status, salary, etc. or, in some cases, be above doing a particular type of work.  As I stated above, all of
the opportunities our companies represent are developmental, but that doesn’t mean that you don’t still have to roll up your sleeves and “chop some wood” for a bit while you establish your track record in business.  Remember, for the vast majority of you, you have not had any previous work experience in commercial business.  Companies are hiring you based on your track record of success in the military and for the potential that success will translate into their business.  In other words, you are a proven entity on one hand and somewhat raw on the other.

Think of it like this.  You just finished a tour of duty where you’ve done well and earned the respect of your peers, subordinates, and seniors and you are now PCSing to another duty assignment where no one knows you.  When you arrive, you automatically command the respect due to your rank but you must now rebuild your reputation as the person behind the rank.   The same goes for business.  Your experiences and accomplishments and how you communicate them get your foot in the door, but now you must build your reputation, not as a JMO, but as a business leader.  That requires a willingness to do what is needed to get the job done and approaching your new opportunity with a sense of purpose and humility and not entitlement.

In my last company, we manufactured concrete building products.  How difficult can that be you might ask?  I mean, it’s concrete right?  Not so fast.  The product itself may be a commodity but the process and the business is far from it. I was challenged in ways I never was in the military and even though I had eight years of military leadership and an MBA, I had a lot to learn.  In my last position as VP of Operations, I was responsible for all manufacturing operations within my company to include production productivity, costs, quality, safety, etc. but that didn’t mean I wasn’t one to pick up a broom now and then and help with housekeeping or do quality control on a production line.

The bottom line is any success in business, like most anything else, requires perseverance.  Just like on a battlefield, wars are won by strategically lining up the pieces and sometimes that means making a lateral move or even a half-step back to advance.   Even as a developmental candidate, you must invest some sweat equity with a company and build your new reputation as a business leader and that comes by doing the daily, weekly, monthly things well and approaching your new career with a long term strategy in mind.

Rob Davis