The Washington Post

Honoring Veterans Day with leadership lessons from the military

View Photo Gallery: From the Osama bin Laden mission to senior leadership changes in the Department of Defense and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, 2011 has been a dynamic year for military leaders.

Veterans’ Day holds special significance for me because my dad served in post-World War II Germany with the Army and my uncle died in combat during World War II.

Whether or not you or your family have a personal experience serving in the military, all of us should stop to thank our nation’s veterans this Friday.

Because imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, I thought it would be timely to share some lessons learned from our best military leaders and how they can be applied to the civilian side of our federal government.

In part, these lessons come from the insights and experiences of such military leaders as Eric Shinseki, a former general and now secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs; Ret. Gen. Colin Powell; former Coast Guard Commandant Thad Allen; Ret. Gen and now CIA director David Petraeus; Ret. Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf; and the late Gen. George S. Patton.

•Build teamwork above all else.

•Create a clear vision for your team and stay focused on the goal at hand.

•Lead from the front and take personal responsibility for the success or the failure of your team.

•Never put yourself before your team.

•Have the back of your employees. Defend them publicly, and if you have a problem with an employee’s performance, deal with the issue privately.

•Stay ahead of the competition.

•Learn to take risks.

•Have a “can do” attitude. Find ways to work around obstacles that may get in the way of achieving your mission.

•Be a continuous learner. Create a personal development plan and seek out opportunities for professional growth.

•Find a mentor.

If I’ve learned anything from friends and family serving in the military, though, it’s that laughter can help alleviate the burdens that come with such significant responsibility. My dad’s stories from serving overseas always remind me that you can still have fun while working hard.

If you have any lessons learned from your time in the military, or your time around those serving in the military, please share your stories by adding a comment below, or by sending an email to me at

Government leaders, mark your calendars for November 16th! In just one week the Partnership for Public Service will be releasing its highly-anticipated 2011 Best Places to Work in the Federal Government rankings. An important tool for federal leaders, the rankings are the most comprehensive and authoritative rating and analysis of employee satisfaction and commitment in the federal government. Agency leaders use the BPTW rankings in their recruitment and retention efforts, as well as to provide managers and leaders with a roadmap for boosting employee engagement. To learn more, visit

More from On Leadership:

We don’t reward top military performers — and it’s costing us

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Tom Fox, of the Partnership for Public Service, explores workplace issues and provides advice for federal managers through analysis, interviews and reader Q&As in his Federal Coach blog for On Leadership.



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