By Carolyn Gray Anderson
Dr. Robert McCann teaches executive communications within UCLA Anderson’s management and organizations area. His courses include Leadership Communication for Executive MBAs, a component of which entails practicing persuasion techniques in team settings.
Students rehearse team presenting techniques by making five-minute pitches to their classmates, imagining the audience to be HR staff at major corporations. The exercise trains students to structure a memorable message, frame data effectively and navigate representative bias. Classmates evaluate each other’s delivery and content to cultivate greater persuasiveness — for instance, in presenting their credentials for employment. McCann incorporates a specific exercise in which students make a case for why a company should consider military veterans as top candidates for leadership roles.
McCann says, “It has been my pleasure and honor to work with so many veterans during my six years at Anderson. From what I have observed, veterans are trained to be flexible, adaptive leaders, possessing skills that get tested and enhanced among those who have served in combat capacities.” He adds, “I am the son of a World War II U.S. Navy veteran, who, incidentally, is still actively working in a printing company at age 90. Some employers may also be motivated to hire veterans, in part, for reasons of pride in one’s country and a desire among employers to reward service.”
However, in some presentations — delivered by veterans as well as civilians with no military service in their backgrounds — it becomes apparent that there may remain competing stereotypes around the transferability of skills veterans may or may not possess: One or two veterans have cautioned the audience not to assume that former military personnel are rigid and inflexible in their approach to work or that they require orders before they can take initiative.
The possibility that employers might be skeptical of veterans’ adaptability surprised the class. They had more often heard a refrain from others that veterans are among the most nimble employees, precisely because they are accustomed to changing tactics quickly as circumstances require. More important, the EMBA students experience first hand the value of military backgrounds among their team. There are 28 active military and veterans among UCLA Anderson’s EMBA classes of 2017 and 2018. This means that roughly one in five EMBAs bring military service experience to their cohort, in which study groups are built to resemble a board of directors. Each group generally includes an engineer, a finance or accounting professional, military officer or veteran and a marketing professional, among others, such as M.D.s or Ph.D.s.
But if insidious stereotypes about veterans as job candidates mean some will face major obstacles to corporate employment, McCann’s class is designed to equip executives to anticipate and then outwit biases.
Carmen Moch (EMBA ’16), senior group VP at Target, made a compelling case when she described her own professional relationship with an Iraq war veteran she said stood out among candidates because of his work ethic. She confronted her audience by saying, “In our hearts we all agree that we should hire veterans, but it’s not always a simple proposition in a corporation.” She assured them, “Hiring a military veteran will get you someone who has a vast array of translatable skills — in leadership and tactical.” She described the man she hired as a person who learns quickly about things he knows nothing about initially, who humbly started at a level beneath his qualifications and moved up within the company to become district team leader.
The upshot of her presentation was that people with military training and experience expect to advance — and they expect to earn it along the way. The class responded by telling her that talking about the candidate’s career progression was an effective persuasion technique. Veterans among them concurred that having executives vouch for them among peers bridges gaps between them and corporate hiring managers.
Personal testimonials rated well among the mock HR audience. Victor Joseph (EMBA ’17) told a simple yet dramatic story of his father’s resilient attitude in the face of business pitfalls. In Joseph’s youth, he asked his dad how he could remain unfazed by negative PR, becoming “a lightning rod for criticism” on behalf of his company. Unruffled by any of it, he explained that, relative to what he had seen serving as an Air Force navigator in combat during World War II, no business obstacle would ever seem insurmountable.
Former U.S. Marine Corps logistics officer, founder of DeFi Technologies and artist Jeffrey Kausek painted a vivid picture of receiving a corporate Christmas care package while stationed overseas, describing his gratification from personal messages and photos from caring strangers, the transportive effect of clean socks and familiar American candy. He said it means a lot to people on active duty to know the leaders of a major corporation are aware of their service and are thinking of them while they are deployed. But he said they need to know they will not be forgotten when they come home and have to make a living. “Do it again,” he said. “Show how much you care about veterans. This time, put a face to those individuals and bring them on to your organization.”
Alumnus Randy Trosper (EMBA ’16), principal flight test engineer at Modern Technology Solutions Inc., served in the Air Force for 21 years. He recalled his final homecoming after an overseas deployment, nearing U.S shores and hearing an air traffic controller quietly say, “Welcome home.” Trosper said he teared up and, he remembered, “It makes you aware of how far away from home you can feel.” He went on to tell the class, “(Veterans) are eager to be home and eager to contribute to your team because the team they’ve just been a part of really meant something to them.” Irrespective of whether their military career was short or long, he said, they’ve probably already done anywhere from five to 10 jobs by the time they enter civilian life. They are resourceful, he said — jobs are left in their hands well after someone else vacates and they have to figure out a lot on their own. The bonus may be how good you’re going to feel to say “welcome home” to a veteran.
U.S. Marine Corps Special Operations officer Brian von Kraus (EMBA ’17), now security strategic advisor at Nuru International, a social venture committed to ending extreme poverty in remote areas by offering locally-led training in agriculture, household savings, health care and education, co-presented with U.S. Air Force veteran Kyle Anderson (EMBA ’17), a production superintendent for the California Resources Corporation. They focused on the value proposition of veterans, pointing out that the U.S. invests tax payer capital in their development of intellectual and physical skills — all of which go to waste if not used following their discharge. Anderson described the U.S. military as “its own diverse ecosystem with multiple industries and professions built in.”
Deputy director of the U.S. Marine Corps motion picture and television liaison office Abe Sipe (EMBA ’17), now also on the staff of Nuru International as philanthropy manager, corroborated the value of veterans within the private sector. He said private sector hiring managers want to know they are bringing on talent that they can delegate to and not have to micromanage to get the job done. He called it the “fire and forgive” method, recalling a “visceral experience” while serving in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. The Pentagon press corps needed a live satellite feed for an interview with a general within six hours. Sipe took a chance assigning the complex setup — outside in 100-degree weather in a war zone — to a much younger colleague, who accepted the assignment with perfect alacrity and proceeded through his own resourcefulness to deliver what was needed. Sipe told the class, “If we know veterans have been able to achieve that kind of success — mission accomplishment in the most austere and challenging environments — it stands to reason that we as hiring managers can look at those veteran candidates and think, yeah, they’ll probably do a great job for our organization, too. Because what we’re looking for are genuinely talented, trustworthy veterans.”
Von Kraus summarized the case for hiring veterans by drilling down to the three main reasons to regard these job candidates as particularly well qualified:
- Every service member is a team player; it’s “in their bones” to collaborate.
- They exercise sound judgment they implement quickly, essential in fluid environments.
- Most important, he said: “Veterans bring context. Especially those who’ve been deployed in combat situations overseas, they’ve seen the whole spectrum of human experience. They’ve seen the best of humanity and the worst. That lens is a result of their experience. It provides tremendously healthy context to any problem they might face. They learn to prioritize and truly see what is most critical or essential given the problem at hand.”