Reflecting on Lessons in Leadership This Veteran’s Day

By November 10, 2019

Three Leadership Lessons Being a Veteran Taught Me

Veteran’s Day is a time for us to honor those who served our country in the armed forces. It is a day that holds special meaning to me. As a cavalry officer in the United States Army, my experiences in both peacetime and combat shaped me as a person and a leader. This period of my life taught me not only how to be a leader, but also the importance of great leadership.

1) The best leaders distribute leadership and decision making to where the work is done

In the movies, military leadership is almost always portrayed as heavily directive or “command and control.” The truth is, the best leaders in the military, as in business, distribute leadership and decision making to those on the front lines (where the work gets done) through vision, communication and empowerment. These leaders are great listeners, humble, flexible and agile. I don’t think there is any leadership training better than what the US military provides to our leaders. Leaders at all levels receive not just training, but also are placed in high-pressure experiences that put classroom lessons to the test in all kinds of different environments. When you are responsible for all that your team does, and fails to do, you learn quickly and often.

2) Diversity is a linchpin to successful teams

Since the military represents an incredible cross section of American society, the diversity of thought and background sets amazing conditions for successful learning and team performance. This environment taught me the necessity of diversity and inclusion. You serve with troops from all walks of life and social, economic, religious and cultural backgrounds, but they can put any differences aside to accomplish the mission. You often see the best results from teams that come from truly diverse backgrounds, as they complement each other’s skills and strengths. That is why I am thrilled to be a part of Waters D&I (Diversity and Inclusion) initiatives. Co-leading the Diversity Circle for veterans allows me to give back to others and share our experiences.

3) Combat leadership provides uncommon perspective 

As a cavalry officer, I was responsible for helping prepare and lead troops in combat and battlefield operations. And no, we didn’t do this on horses as the cavalry title would suggest. We used helicopters, tanks, and other modern military vehicles to get the job done. As a young officer in combat, the tasks were daunting. I spent years training for combat, and when we crossed the line of departure into Iraq in 2003, it changed my life forever. No amount of training can get you ready for what you see, hear, smell, and feel when you enter combat. This experience gave me an uncommon perspective about what it felt to really be under pressure. In today’s fast paced, ever-evolving world, strong leaders are the ones who can stay calm during the storm and inspire their teams to adjust and keep moving forward to deliver results.

Veteran’s Day is always a time when I reflect on what the military has meant to me personally. For me, it has helped shape the person I have become and how I lead teams in business. I continue to look to military leaders for inspiration and guidance. I have Colin Powell’s 13 Rules of Leadership hanging next to my desk in my office and I refer to them often. These rules are true to leadership on the battlefield as well as in every other aspect of life. What I find truly fascinating about leadership is that great leaders represent dichotomies from so many angles… they are complex, yet simplifying… visionary, yet detail oriented… demanding, yet empathetic… flexible, yet unwavering… strong, yet agile.


On Veteran’s Day, I want to thank all the brave men and women who served and continue to serve our great nation. I also want to thank all the military and civilian leaders who influenced and guided me through my own experiences and who continue to inspire me. My military experience set me on a journey of lifelong learning and leadership discovery that I leverage to get a little better every day.


About Adam: Adam leads Waters’ Global Services organization as well as the Company’s Diversity Circle for veterans. He is the father of four amazing girls and shares these leadership lessons while coaching on the soccer field and leading his business team. He is passionate about helping other veterans find success, both personally and professionally.


Categories: General, Leadership