November 11, 2014

Guest Post: Veterans Are the Education Leaders We Need

By Bellwether

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Guest post by Bellwether’s Jason Weeby: 

Less than 1 percent of Americans serve in the military and even fewer go to war. For those who do and return home safely, it is a life-altering experience that is incomprehensible to 99 percent of the people that surround them. And for all the visible and invisible wounds that service members incur, they also bring home valuable skills and a unique brand of leadership that the education sector needs.

About a year and a half ago, I launched the Sector Switcher program at Education Pioneers where we recruited mid-career military professionals for leadership roles in education nonprofits. Many of them were veterans of recent wars. Through the process, I was surprised to see how the skills and knowledge they developed during their military service align with what we need in system-level education leaders today.

Military leaders learn to complete a mission within the structure of a bureaucracy and with the people provided to them, limited resources, and significant externalities at play. They learn to be adaptable in ambiguous situations and think in terms of systems. They analyze situations methodically, put a plan in place, pursue it doggedly, and learn continuously. Many are responsible for the safe return of hundreds of subordinates and millions of dollars in equipment. But more importantly, they’re driven by a purpose larger than themselves.

Almost every single service member I talked to said they were interested in pursuing a career in education because they yearned for a job that provided them the sense of service to others they felt as part of the armed forces.

It’s Veterans Day and I want to challenge you to think beyond the platitudes and caricatures that tend to dominate the holiday and consider the tremendous leadership and management capabilities that veterans, today especially those of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, can bring to the civilian workforce when they separate from the military. I know that I’d count myself as lucky to work alongside one.

Jason Weeby is a senior fellow at Bellwether Education. 

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