I remember a lieutenant telling me during my midshipmen cruise that being a division officer was kind of like coaching a baseball team without knowing how to play baseball. He was trying to tell me that Navy leaders were general managers, expected to lead organizations and people in almost any field and circumstance. How right he was.
Many of us in uniform take great pride in being able to go anywhere, do anything, and deliver with alacrity and excellence. We are confident our finely honed general management skills will continue to be in great demand by the military and, when the time comes, the corporate world. Unfortunately, this is a potentially outdated assumption. Many companies fear that military people, although good leaders, lack the business savvy to contribute immediately.
Today, the corporate world-and even the military-demands that leaders have both best-practice management skills and functional expertise. It is no longer about leadership as an esoteric concept; it is about management as a science, developed methodically through education, practical experience, and regular training. Strategic planning, organizational development, and financial management are not just concepts for the boardroom; they are essential parts of every professional manager's toolkit. You cannot count on developing those skills along the way—you need to take responsibility for your own professional development. Not only will this be useful almost immediately in a military context, but it also will improve significantly your marketability within the private sector.
Learning the science of management has high relevance no matter where you are professionally. MBA coursework no longer is just for corporate types-developing a cursory understanding of the basic principles of finance, organizational design and development, marketing, and human resources should be on everyone's to-do list. Take a close look at the Chief of Naval Operation's reading list: books such as Leading Change, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, and The Psychology of Winning abound. We have come a long way since The Sand Pebbles. In addition, many other books and periodicals are surpri singly digestible and useful in understanding the basics. The best books provide a prescriptive framework for assessing organizations and management situations. The 10 Day MBA by Steve Silbiger is a particularly good book and, in a few hours (not ten days!) you will have a surprisingly good grasp of key concepts and techniques. In addition to Proceedings, consider reading Business Week or Forbes. They not only expose you to the vernacular of business but also provide case studies of managers in action.
With the establishment of the Center for Naval Leadership and the development of a broad-based professional military education continuum, the Navy has taken the first steps in equipping its leaders with solid management training. "We're taking this seriously," said Vice Admiral Al Harms, commander of the newly christened Naval Education and Training Command. "To truly build world-class leaders requires meaningful and ongoing leadership and management training programs." In addition to enhancing on-the-job performance, these "revolution in training" programs are making it easier for those in uniform to translate their training and skills into college credit and marketable qualifications.
Both the Naval Postgraduate School and the Naval War College offer accredited graduate degrees. In recognition of the importance of managerial science to the sea services, the Postgraduate School recently started offering an executive master's of business administration degree in several fleet concentration areas. There also are countless opportunities to leverage your military benefits (G.I. Bill, tuition assistance, etc.) to complete your education or get a graduate degree.
When the inevitable civilian transition comes, it is critical that your resume thoroughly reflect the managerial toolkit you have developed. Your resume and cover letter should, to the extent possible, be customized for the particular job you are seeking. It is important that you research the company and position yourself as someone who can hit the ground running and deliver. Because naval officers have been coded to "go anywhere and do anything," many military resumes emphasize that the applicant can do almost anything if given the chance. Although the sentiment is good, companies will almost always choose someone who brings the skills, qualities, and experience most aligned with the position.
Your resume must "match the hatch" and address the company's needs in a highly targeted and believable manner. Successful job seekers take risk out of their resumes by showcasing their business acumen, practical skills, relevant education, and demonstrated successes.
Today, general managers cannot rest on their laurels. Grounded in the present with an eye on the future, the most successful will embrace the concepts of lifelong learning, professional development, and personal growth.
Mr. Michel is the president and CEO of Military.com, a company focused on connecting service members, veterans, and their families to all the benefits earned in service to America. he is a former naval officer.