“Yes sir”, “no sir”, and a lot of running around. That’s what the military ‘s all about isn’t it? As former SAS officer Joff Sharpe is well aware, the ‘civilian world’ can default to an inordinate amount of stereotypes when it comes to deciphering what people in the Services actually do. But he warns that the misconceptions arise on both sides: “We have a concept of ‘civvy st’ that isn’t helpful as it homogenises a whole spectrum of people, suggesting they’re all doing the same thing.” With nearly 25 years of commercial experience – with Mars, Vodafone and News International among the companies he has worked for – Sharpe shares how to bring clarity on explaining your skills to the business environment and why having the humility to start from the bottom-up, in an ever-changing career landscape is imperative.
How can you make your high-level leadership skills applicable?
Have an idea about the variety of jobs you want to apply for. Joff says: “In some jobs it’s an absolute prerequisite that you’ll need a technical qualification – for example, if a company needs a chartered accountant they won’t care how great your leadership is, they’ll need the technical skill. Then there are jobs that offer training – for example, Goldman Sachs may have an internship that allows you to develop your skills. However, as Joff says: “There are roles where raw talent may be all you need for a prospective employer – the skills you bring from the military can shine through.”
95% of you think courage facilitates other qualities like decision making
Can you apply courage to commercial situations?
Courage in business can manifest itself in many ways – making brave decisions, audacious take-over bids or defending the company against bids. Joff says: “There are lots of applications of courage in business: understanding, identifying and facilitating the underlying nature of courage is very important – it could be something as seemingly straightforward as persuading managing directors to change their mind on a particular projects.” He adds: “Charismatic leadership is not always imperative either. some of the most successful businesses are run by people who are rather dull but fiercely intelligent, and analytical.”
Common conceptions of the military
Joff says there can be a lack of understanding as to how the military works. “Don’t assume they understand the difference between someone in signals and someone in a technical, cyber-security role. It’s important to help employers understand that a lot of the military is about creating a framework for people to work in, rather than barking order, wearing shiny boots and saluting a lot.” He adds: “I wish people had a sense of how the military ‘get stuff done’.
Do all successful business leaders focus only on the bottom-line?
Making money is the fundamental difference between the military and businesses. Although they aspire to a higher purpose they have to adhere to the people invested in the company and dividends from customers. Joff says: “Commercial acumen is a pre-requisite for success and many good organisations ensure they keep their headquarters.”
The importance of team work and discipline
Joff maintains that many successful CEOs praise ex-military for their team work, being self-directed and reliable. Bear in mind though that being in a team can mean different things and isn’t just referring to a group of people – it could refer to virtual teams with multiple reporting and possibly across time zones.
As Joff explains: “One of the challenges for a leader may be ‘how do I create a team where there’s possible ambiguity and misunderstanding?’ This can be harder than operating in a band of brothers with one common purpose.” He adds: “You may encounter strong teams outside the Services but you will never be in that same situation , of living and breathing alongside your team members.
Can experience of managing a budget really help you in the business world?
If you’ve managed a budget in the Services this is certainly indicative of being giving a certain level of responsibility so do take due credit for it. However, remember to take into account that spending money is relatively easy. Joff says: “You’re moving into a world where sales and marketing are imperative – ie, it’s the ability to make money rather than spend money that drives business success.” He adds: “Increasingly too, businesses are under more pressure and obligation to acknowledge environmental commitments and living wage considerations.”
Don’t be afraid to start again
We have entered the age of a more fluid work world, with people changing jobs more often and applying for internships later on in their career. It’s estimated that the average graduate leaving now will have at least eight different careers in their lifetime. It’s likely that you may find yourself doing a work placement or internship with someone much younger than yourself and it’s important to have the humility to accept that.
As Joff notes: “If you can take the time to earn your stripes, your maturity and leadership will help you surge ahead.” Joff himself started out his civilian career, working in a factory, wearing overalls for a vending company. He adds: “As a former SAS officer this took some adjusting but I was prepared to put myself through the hoops. Besides, there shouldn’t be an age limit on doing what you want or pursuing a different life!”
Joff Sharpe is the author of ‘Who Dares Wins in Business’, available from Amazon