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Podcast: Leveraging Military Skills in the Corporate World

Podcast featuring Dr. Gary L. Deel, Ph.D, J.D.Faculty Director, School of Business and
Joel Beam, COO, SEAL Future Foundation

One of the biggest challenges for veterans is transitioning from the military to the civilian workforce. In this episode, Dr. Gary Deel talks to Joel Beam about his career as a Navy SEAL and the challenges he faced when applying his unique skillset to the corporate world. Learn about the challenges he faced adapting his military experience to match his new corporate environment; how he coped with the shocking differences in leadership style; and how he had to change his own mindset from taking orders in the military to now having open conversations with leadership to share his ideas and recommendations.

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Dr. Gary Deel: Welcome to the podcast, Intellectible, I’m your host, Dr. Gary Deel. Today we’re talking about leveraging military skills in the corporate world. My guest today is Joel Beam. Joel is the COO of a nonprofit called the SEAL Future Foundation. A former Navy SEAL himself, Joel’s focus is helping the SEAL community transition from military service to the civilian world.

Joel has spent the last 10 years in public and private companies in key leadership positions, and most recently left a technology company where he served as VP of Operations with several business units and global responsibilities. Joel, welcome to Intellectible and thank you for being our guest today.

Joel Beam: Thank you for having me on, Gary.

Dr. Gary Deel: Absolutely. It’s a pleasure. Well, full disclosure to our listening audience. Obviously, we know each other from past professional lives working together in Las Vegas for the Wynn and Encore resorts. So I thought it would be great to have you on the podcast, because naturally, our universities lean in affection for the military is strong. Approximately 90 to 95% of our student body is either veteran or active duty military personnel.

So we’re honored to have you on and to talk a little bit about a subject that I know is popular among our students, which is once you transition out of the military, how do you effectively transition into civilian life and specifically into a professional career that is non-military based? So I guess to start at the beginning, I’m curious to know for you, what was your story going into the military? How did you get in? And then how did you make your way into the elite ranks of the SEAL forces?

Joel Beam: So I think like most people who joined the military, I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do as a career with your high school. I had good grades, enjoyed sports, tried my hand to college for about a year. I didn’t hit the mark, didn’t kind of resonate at that time. And I always had an affinity for the military, I always thought it was very exciting.

Get started on your Homeland Security Degree at American Military University.

So after my freshman year of college, I decided to give the military a shot. I’d always looked at the Special Operations community as something that seemed very interesting, very adventurous.

For me joining the military meant giving up a good chunk of my time in my life. And so I wanted to make sure it was a useful time spent well. And shopped around the Special Operations community a bit and landed on the SEAL community as one that really resonated with me.

I think the water is something that can be very frightening for people, myself included. I wanted to kind of jump headfirst into the kind of the unknown, kind of the most challenging, I guess, community and job that I could see. And made the decision at 19 that I would give the SEAL community is shot, go through training.

And so I joined and found myself at BUD/S, which is our training pipeline, and was not disappointed in the level of effort required to go through that training. So a lot of times you go through you, you kind of build up an expectation for an event in your head. And then when you go and actually perform that event, you’re a little bit let down because maybe it was more than you thought it would be. That was not the case with going through BUD/S.

I had built up in my head what I thought would be an extreme challenge and an extreme adventure. And I was not disappointed by that thought as I entered the training pipeline and got exposure to just how far you can push yourself if you just refuse to give in to the desire to quit.

So that kind of started my journey, I think, similar to a lot of people, a little bit lost in where I wanted to go. I saw the military as an opportunity to fill maybe some of that lack of direction with some purpose and found myself in the SEAL community, which I absolutely loved every second of it. Certainly, paid the man substantially for the time served there, but I really enjoyed my time.

Dr. Gary Deel: Excellent. First, I should say thank you for your service. And we appreciate your commitment and your contribution to our nation’s security and our military.

I’m curious, speaking as someone without a military background, I’ve seen movies and documentaries on the BUD/S training program. So that was something I definitely wanted to ask you a little bit about. Is people have a perspective of how difficult it is and I remember reading something to the effect of how many people go in versus how many people are approved coming out as vetted Navy SEALs. Is it every bit as difficult as it seems on the outside?

Joel Beam: I don’t think movies or books can never do justice to the amount of stress and the amount of physical pain and exhaustion that takes place in SEAL training. I think you get to see a glimpse of, from an outsider’s perspective, of what that looks like.

But failing to be there in person, you don’t get to have the sand in your eyes nonstop for the entire session of training for the six to eight months, however long you’re there for. You don’t get to carry that boat over your head and feel your arms kind of be exhausted or whatever that looks like.

Joel Beam: So I think it does a good job of showing the activities that you kind of go through. But unless you’re there in person experiencing the full benefit of what the program kind of entails, I think it does a little bit of a disservice in that people see the activities and they say, well, I could probably do that. But doing that for hours and consecutive days really takes a mental and psychological toll on people’s ability to grind through and have the grit to push through hour after hour and day after day.

So I do think it gives a good perspective of the activities, but I don’t think it represents the level of effort or the level of commitment that’s required to actually endure or get through some of those blocks of training.

Dr. Gary Deel: Sure. It’s hard to imagine how difficult that must be. Just watching it looks painful. So I have tremendous respect for anybody who makes it through that. So how long were you in the service in the Navy before transitioning? Was there a period of time or was there an immediate decision to go directly into the SEAL route?

Joel Beam: So I went directly into SEAL training. At that time, they had a program where you could try out specifically for BUD/S training. That did require that I obviously went through boot camp and I went through kind of the initial school set. So I was a corpsman by training and I went to Great Lakes for that.

And I probably spent a year going through that training and waiting to class up for BUD/S. And so I never really got any, and I kind of regret it, I never really got any experience or exposure with the broader military or the Navy in general.

I kind of was after boot camp carved out into this pipeline where all these sailors were in a position to go into these special programs. And so it was a little bit of a unique experience in that the pipeline wasn’t really concerned with formal military structure as much as it was getting guys ready for their programs.

So my days didn’t involve learning about military history or being formally part of an organization where there’s that rank structure. I really was with a just kind of hodgepodge group of guys, about 35 of us, that would wake up three times a week at 2:00 in the morning to do workouts and then continue those workouts the entirety of the day.

Get started on your Homeland Security Degree at American Military University.

And spend about three to four months just doing that exclusively before what’s called classed up with a BUD/S class. So I went directly in. That path was a little bit lengthy as you kind of go through the process and wait for a class, but I went specifically to be a Navy SEAL.

Dr. Gary Deel: Absolutely. Well, I can imagine it’s something you have to take a lot of time to prepare for just to be mentally and physically equipped to get through the training and hopefully, obviously successful. I’ve realized we’re here to talk about the transition into civilian life. But it’s fascinating to me, because I think that our elite Special Operations military personnel, specifically the SEALs are venerated as probably the closest thing we have to real-life superheroes in terms of their training and abilities.

And so is there anything you can tell us about the work that you did? I recognize that some of it may be classified, or that you may be unable to talk about in terms of missions. But what’s it like, once you get through that, and you’re a Navy SEAL, and now you’re on the payroll doing this work. What’s a day in the world of a Navy SEAL like?

Joel Beam: So it’s not like the movies may be portrayed or some movies. I think the most rewarding part of being in the community is the guys that are part of it. And so a day in the life could mean a number of different things. We spend a tremendous amount of time training, and that’s across the US or even abroad. So we’re always out, always working.

The days are usually pretty long. I’d say during blocks of training, 18-hour days are not unrealistic or not uncommon. Obviously, the goal there is to perfect the craft. In the SEAL community, we do just about everything. So that broad kind of scope of work requires an immense amount of training.

So a lot of the time is spent training until you get to go and deploy. And then on deployments, I think similar to most of the military community were then targeted with specific mission sets that are meaningful to the nation. I think that means different types of missions in different theaters.

And so without giving specifics, a day in the life as an operator overseas when you’re actually doing the work that people see in the movies, is waking up probably around four o’clock in the afternoon, looking for the next kind of intel or mission set that has been identified. And then preparing for that mission, and then doing those raids or whatever that looks like in the middle of the night while everybody else is sleeping. Really kind of what you would expect that job to entail. And then coming home and going to bed, working out and waking up and doing it again.

So the day in the life is anything but typical. I think as you get into deployments, it becomes a little bit more predictable and the mission set gets narrowed. But as you prepare and as you train, that mission set as is very, very broad, and so that the days are fairly unique, and the training is always changing as tactics change.

It’s a very rewarding experience, because you rarely do the same thing twice. And the things that you do twice, so assaults are things that are a little bit more probably common in the eyes of society about what we do, those things progressively get harder and harder and harder.

So there’s never a day where you’ve succeeded. There are only days where you can learn how to do something a little bit more precisely or perfectly.

Dr. Gary Deel: Sure. You mentioned waking up in the afternoon, and it just occurred to me maybe something that I just hadn’t thought about, but is it fair to assume then that most of the missions and the work is done at night for reasons of surprise or cover of darkness?

I think about, obviously, the vast majority of the general public is unaware of probably the vast majority of work that the SEALs do for reasons of confidentiality and secrecy. But thinking about one of the most famous recent missions, which of course, was the Osama bin Laden raid, which was done at night by SEAL Team Six. So I’m just curious, is that pretty typical that most of your work is done nocturnally?

Joel Beam: Yeah, it is. I mean, I think things change, and the mission set changes as well. So geography or the territory that you’re operating in kind of dictates what makes the most sense. Oftentimes, there are national-level agreements on when things can happen.

But from my experience, when I was in the teams, we did almost everything exclusively at night. And the reasons are pretty straightforward, it’s a lot easier to have freedom of movement if everyone’s asleep. And so we did everything primarily at night.

I think as we’ve broadened our geographies, things have changed and the mission set has changed a bit. But, typically, we want to take every advantage that we can go into an operation and that usually includes working at night, if at all possible.

Dr. Gary Deel: So pivoting to the post-military life in your experience, I guess, how long did you spend in the service in total? And when did you decide that the time was right to make your exit and transition?

Joel Beam: I spent just under 10 years in the teams. I ended up sustained some injuries, and really was not going to be able to fulfill the operator role in a meaningful way. I could do some operations kind of back desk work and be connected with the community, but was not going to be able to serve in a capacity that I wanted to serve in alongside the guys and my brothers that were fighting.

And so at that time, I decided it was probably a better use of my time, although painful, to do so to separate out of the community, and focus more on the less abusive physically world of the civilian side.

Get started on your Homeland Security Degree at American Military University.

So I definitely did not leave with anything but an absolutely phenomenal time in the teams, and a little bit of or a lot of heartache in making that decision. But really enjoyed my time while I was in and really proud of the time that I served.

Dr. Gary Deel: Excellent. Because you mentioned injury, and I’m just curious to know, is that a very common reason that SEALs or personnel at that level will retire and transition to civilian life? Or is it more so just a desire to see something new. I’m just curious to know if that’s a pretty frequent thing that happens.

Joel Beam: It is. The training in and of itself, and even going through BUD/S, guys will come out with lifetime injuries because it’s just brutal training. And then from there, you add on additional just incredibly demanding training, where the probability of getting injured, whether that’s substantially or just repeated small injuries is just it’s almost a certainty.

So about the 10-year mark, you start seeing a high proportion of guys who’ve got to make some decisions because they’re physically finding that their bodies are giving up, maybe not their will or maybe not their spirit, but their bodies they’ve taken abuse and then layering in guys have been on multiple deployments, a lot of blast injuries. It’s a decision that people have to kind of make personally.

Sometimes it gets made for them through kind of med board and retirement process. But I’d say at 10 years, everyone takes kind of a hard look, as I think most military members do and say, is it worth the investment for the next 10 years?

And if guys are getting out from the SEAL community at 10 years, there’s let’s say 25% that do so because they’ve enjoyed their time in the community and they want to explore other opportunities. And I would say probably the rest have some other kind of motivator, whether that’s family that’s becoming a priority for them—and having a family in SEAL teams is absolutely incredibly difficult—I know a few that have been successful in doing that, but it is just a few.

And then a lot of those individuals have injuries that are kind of forcing a conversation because they forecast out, “Hey, what is the next 10 years look like? If I’m already broken to this degree at 10, and I’m going to get another 5, 7, 10 deployments under my belt, is it worth kind of the costs I’m going to pay from a bodily harm perspective?”

So, I think it kind of goes one of two ways: There’s either the body’s making the decision for you, or a handful of individuals, you have other thoughts that may lead them to the decision to exit the community.

Dr. Gary Deel: Sure. I could understand that must be a tremendous sacrifice and a hard decision to make. So when you eventually decided after 10 years to make your exit, what did your immediate transition to civilian life look like? What was your first job post-military?

I can imagine someone who such as yourself with a tremendous skill set but that is perhaps not as well adapted to the ordinary office job 9:00 to 5:00 as it is to what you were doing in the service and interested to see, how did that pan out for you? How did you make that transition?

Joel Beam: The transition was incredibly difficult. There’s nothing like the SEAL community in the corporate space. In fact, in a lot of ways what is meaningful in the corporate space is exactly the opposite of what is meaningful in that SEAL community.

And so it’s a very difficult transition in a lot of ways. I very much struggle with that transition. There’s not an easy way to translate the experience that you have in the SEAL teams into something that the corporate side can understand.

So my first job when I got out was actually doing anti-piracy work off of the coast of Somalia. And that was specifically because I was a former Navy SEAL and we had a relationship with the Department of State through a Navy SEAL-owned company to do this anti-piracy work.

And so I kind of fell into probably the situation that a lot of veterans fall into, which is, “I don’t know how to make the transition and so this is kind of familiar to me. Let me pay the bills and let me do this work.” So I fell into that same opportunity and it was great. I had a great time. I got to work with some of my former friends in a totally different world, but still very much isolated from the broader corporate experience.

I don’t know if I count that specifically as my first kind of transition job because it was so similar and it was so unique that I don’t think many companies even know what to do with that experience. My first real corporate experience, Gary, and I think you saw me in action here was at the Wynn and Encore where I eventually got brought on to work with Steve Wynn directly. And through that relationship, I was asked to help build out his security team.

And that was really the first time I really got to experience the corporate world and everything that comes along with it. And I think you and I had various conversations along that path of how things worked, and why they worked, and trying to understand how to improve things, and how to translate our experience into things that could create meaningful impact and meaningful change within the organization.

But I can tell you, from my point of view, what was always just astonishing to me was in the SEAL community, you have this united focus towards accomplishing a goal, and everybody’s held accountable to their ability to achieve that goal. They’re going to support it, or they’re going to support it. They’re going to add value or they’re not. People are very much motivated by their own reputations to be an amazing contributor to the team mission.

And when I got into the corporate space, and kind of looked around, and I saw the absence of this sense of purpose and the sense of mission, and this lack of motivation to be amazing at the job at hand, it was I think, the first wake-up call to me that I had some relevance in my experience in the SEAL teams that the corporate space needed.

Because what the corporate space lacked was the clarity of focus and what it could look like, what mission we were trying to accomplish. And then, the why, the motivation for why get up and push harder today than you did yesterday. What’s keeping you from being amazing and why settle for mediocre?

I looked at my SEAL experience, and I said, this is the world that I came from was only guys who woke up every day with the intention of being better than they were the previous day with the intention of pushing their peers harder than they did the previous day to make the team better.

And it was such an eye opening experience. Very shocking to me. But really kind of the start of my journey of trying to translate what in my military experience had relevance in the corporate space? And how do I unpack that experience and speak to it in a way that the corporate audience can understand?

Because I think part of the challenge that veterans face is that we have this unique experience in the military. And yeah, there’s pros and cons of that experienced and not everything in that is amazing. But what is very unique when compared to the corporate side is that there is this overwhelmingly clear sense of purpose and sense of mission and an individual’s role within that that makes the machine run well.

I think the challenge a lot of times is that veterans enter the corporate workspace looking at things through that lens, not fully understanding that people that have not served in the military have no idea that things can maybe run a little bit more efficiently or maybe you can be united a little bit tighter.

And so there’s that translation gap that I think I struggled with, certainly, but I think other veterans struggle with as well, which is, how do I help these organizations see what they don’t know? Because they just never experienced it.

So another long-winded answer, but that was my first step into the corporate space was at Wynn and Encore. And really an eye-opening experience and the start of my kind of own personal journey of unpacking what was relevant in my military experience and how I apply that in the corporate space.

Dr. Gary Deel: Absolutely. I think you touched on a lot of great points that I want to parse a little bit further. And I think that’s part of what made us more than just coworkers but friends that we share some of that sentiment even though I didn’t have the privilege of military experience. And I can imagine it’s even more so coming from your past experience as part of an elite team where everyone is laser focused on the mission and 100% committed. Again, I don’t share that particular background, but I certainly can relate.

And again, I think this is part of what made us friends while we worked together at the Wynn and Encore in Las Vegas is, we both share that attitude of maximizing our productivity and our contribution. I recently wrote a set of articles on moving with a sense of urgency and trying to, again, optimize the impact that we have on our lives and our goals every day. And how frustrating it can be when those around you upon whom you rely, at least to some extent, don’t share that same sense of urgency.

So what lessons did you learn in the process in terms of was it an issue of translation, of communication, of tact, to try to get the message across? Or did it require adaptation on your part to just accept some status quo that might not be idealistic or representative of what you were used to in your previous career?

Joel Beam: Well, that’s a great question. So I think my response is that it’s a little bit of everything. I refuse to accept the status quo in anything, because to me that’s giving up.

Get started on your Homeland Security Degree at American Military University.

I’d say, the most important thing for me to understand as I’ve transitioned and as I have found success in the corporate side, is adaptation. Again, speaking to the military audience and the veteran community, we’re I think very used adapting.

Whether that’s your initial experience in boot camp, or your training pipelines, or going overseas, whatever that looks like, you’ve been presented with the absolute need to change how you act and how you think because circumstance dictate that.

Sometimes, and I’ll throw myself in this camp, we don’t see that need to adapt as we enter the corporate space. Those blinders can be damaging. And I’ll give you a couple of examples to maybe help solidify the point.

So when I was in the SEAL teams, I was exposed to who I feel were some of the best leaders I’ve ever worked with. They were passionate, they were smart, they were articulate, they understood what needed to be done and how to do it. They put their team before themselves, they gave people second chances, third chances to do the right thing or make the right choice or learn the lesson that they needed to.

I had, in my mind, and I’m sure a lot of people listening can picture a leader like that in the military, you say, this is a leader. And I had the same lens as I approached the corporate space. And I can tell you that that’s the wrong lens to look through.

Again, if you kind of circle back to the earlier point of the corporate space has not been exposed to our experience as veterans, and so they have no idea that’s how good leadership can be. They’re used to exactly what leadership is in their corporate experience and in their companies. And in a lot of ways that leadership style is not the way we think leadership should be demonstrated.

So the adaptation comes into play when you say, I know what I want to be as a leader. But if you just apply that methodology or that framework into the corporate setting, you may not be successful. And you may not be successful, not because you’re a bad leader, I think you’re going to be a phenomenal leader, your team is going to follow you. But your organization may not see that as leadership.

And I think for those veterans who have transitioned and are in the corporate space, you’ve probably been exposed to leaders who you’re looking at and you’re saying, “How in the world are you leading whatever this looks like? Or how did you get promoted? Or how are you being rewarded? Because the way that you handle business and your team and how you show up to work is not the way I view leadership.”

And I think if you can see that distinction, then you’re ready for the next part of this equation, which is, so how do you show up to work understanding that your lens that you’re seeing leadership through is different? How do you pull in those key characteristics that you find a ton of value in?

But also, how do you see and how do you recognize what the organization rewards in their leaders? Because all you have to do is look around and say, person X, Y, and Z is getting promoted, or they have been promoted, or they’re senior roles, and how they behave is not how I behave. But what is it that the organization is valuing in them that they’re getting this promotion and getting this recognition?

And that’s where, again, using just leadership as an example, that’s where as you show up to work, you have to be able to see, I’ve got to translate what I think leadership needs to be in light of what organizations want it to look like.

And not just copy and paste, “Hey, I know what a good leader is, I’ve been led by them, I’m going to blaze a new trail here and I’m going to be the best leader at this company has ever seen. And they don’t know what it looks like yet.”

If you find yourself in that boat, then I’d say be careful because you’re alone in that journey. Anytime you’re alone in an organization, you have more risk than others.

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t take that on, and I have certainly taken that on and I’ve been the lone wolf I’ve push and I’ve paid the price substantially for that exposure, of going against the grain and trying to replicate what I knew to be true in the SEAL teams in the corporate space, versus taking what I knew to be true, being patient and understanding what is true in the corporate side, and then informing a strategy for how I would lead in light of both of those things where it wasn’t an all or nothing.

I don’t have to be sold out and do everything exactly how the SEAL teams worked or how they operated. And I didn’t have to do everything that the corporate side did or how they operated or what they valued.

It was that strategic evaluation of what elements from the SEAL community, from SEAL leaders that I valued and respected, could I pull in and plug into a corporate setting that would allow me to be successful in the corporate setting.

I think the most clear example that I can give is as a new leader in the corporate space, I like to look out for my team. And I would probably do so at the detriment of my own reputation because that’s what a good leader did, in my opinion. They stood up for the failures of their team if that team member was trying, was giving effort, had a mistake or made a mistake, but maybe needed another chance to learn and grow from it. I applied that same methodology in the corporate space.

And the reality is that that’s not how leaders work there. They would look, they’d see a mistake, they’d look at the politics, they’d look at what their boss wanted to make a decision based on their career, not about how they wanted to be seen as a leader.

And for me, the realization was, you’ve got to be able, and I’ve got to be able to blend both. I’ve got to be able to see my decisions in light of the career and the reputation I’m building at the corporate level, as well as the attention of a leader that I want to be because I know some key leadership traits to be true to me.

So that adaptation of you’ve got this experience in the military that is unique to you. And you’re going to jump into a corporate setting that has no idea what good looks like in that regard. Leadership I think is key where the military has the corporate side maybe outpaced.

But that copy and paste effort is dangerous, because you’re trying to show somebody something that they’ve never experienced. And so everything that you’re doing is new. And new things in the corporate setting can be scary, or it can go kind of against the grain.

And again, I think my point in all of this is saying, as you transition from the military, as you’re entering the workforce as a veteran, you’ve got to consider that your new peer group has no idea of your experience or what good looks like or what is valued there. Or what is better than the corporate space.

They have no clue what that is or what it looks like. And so to try and copy and paste things that worked for you or things you valued in the corporate space blindly, you’re probably going to have a rough go as people question, as people introduce the corporate values into your kind of lane or how you show up to work.

And so I think the biggest kind of piece of advice I can offer, at least with the leadership anyway, is that you’ve got to be open to adapting your entire experience to your new environment.

Much like you would change how you show up to work or how you approach your day to day. If you’re deployed overseas somewhere, you’re in a different land, different culture, different set of risks, it’s the same thing in the corporate space.

So I would be open and aware as you enter that new job or your first time job that you’re in new deployment. And that space is ambiguous, it’s certainly far different than what you’re used to.

And so your spider sense should be an alert, what is different? What is similar? What do I need to translate so that I can work in this new environment that’s completely foreign to me as effectively as possible? So again, I think adaptation is the key to success in a lot of ways.

Dr. Gary Deel: Perfect. So one of the things you mentioned in your response was leadership. And I’m curious to ask about this, because we teach this as part of the business school curriculum, the different types of leadership, the different sources of leadership power.

And one of those sources is academically known as legitimate power or power by virtue of one’s authority or title. And, of course, this is something that the military is famous for embracing, the idea that a major is a major, a colonel is a colonel. And whether or not you like that person is sort of tangential to the point, you will give them, afford them, the respect of the rank that they’ve earned, notwithstanding their character attributes or whether they’ve, so to speak, earned it from you from a relationship standpoint.

That’s contrasted with, of course, the corporate business world where we still have lines of authority. And in the security team at the Wynn and Encore, I reported directly to you as an assistant director of security. In fairness, I would have followed you, regardless of whether or not that power structure was there, because I respected you as someone who, as you noted, was selfless and you cared about your team and embodied the values that I would have embodied myself as a leader in the same position.

But in the corporate world, we have the situation where there aren’t such steep consequences for insubordination. I mean, there could be, you could lose your job and there could be discipline. But I would argue that the military has a much more strict sort of attitude toward that kind of hierarchy.

So I’m curious to know your thoughts in terms of having seen both sides of that in a way that I have not, and no one really that’s not been in both the military and the civilian world can speak to, is there value in that sort of structure the way the military does it?

In other words, would corporate America be better off if we adopted more of a strict, “I’m in charge here and you’ll respect me regardless of whether or not you like me?” Or is it better that we have this environment where you kind of have to earn your merits and your power is derived more from the relationships you build with your subordinates than from the rank that you have acquired in your position?

Joel Beam: That’s another very good question. So I think the military has got a rank structure, but similar to any other leader, people will follow you because you have a title or people will follow you because they want to follow you. And the same thing is true in the military.

I think as I look at the most effective leaders that I knew in the military had nothing to do with rank. They were people that you would willingly follow for the right reasons of intelligence, of decision making, of prioritization, of kind of selfless leadership, of decentralized authority, all of those key characteristics. A good leader is a good leader, regardless of the title that’s kind of bestowed upon them.

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And the same thing is true in the corporate space. There’s the same structure in terms of titles in the corporate space, albeit less consequential, to your point, if you fail to maybe adhere to guidance there. But on the same side of the equation, you can get fired very quickly in the corporate side and you can’t really get fired very quickly on the military side, you really got to work at it.

But I think where I’m going with this is, for veterans, as we are looking to plug into the corporate setting of leadership, those same characteristics that you value in leaders, in the military, will be present in some of the leaders you see in the corporate space.

What I think is a detriment to veterans, and something that I picked up along the way is, in the military, you do have this final word factor because of rank. In that if your Sergeant says that you’re going to do something and you don’t want to do it, well, you’re going to do it regardless because of that rank.

And a lot of times that perception of structure carries over into the corporate space and it can be to our detriment. And what I mean by that is it’s a much more free environment in the corporate setting to challenge your supervisor. I mean, you can’t do that disrespectfully and you can’t do that in a way that demeans their leadership. But you also don’t just have to follow what’s being said because someone’s got a title that’s above yours.

And that took me years to figure out and it’s something that I think even now I struggle with. I’m still learning the lessons on, which is these are your peers in the corporate setting. They do have a title that puts them in charge, potentially.

But at the end of the day, on the corporate side, you’re much more free to question the logic behind a direction, if it doesn’t make sense. And you’re much more free to open up a dialog around differing paths to resolution, if you see that the one being presented for you is not maybe the most logical, efficient or effective.

So I think we carry with us some baggage as we enter the corporate space, and that really wasn’t a real option for us. I mean, it was there to some degree, but in others, it wasn’t.

But what I’ve seen myself and other veterans struggle with is, they have different opinions of their managers. And they don’t speak up and open up this kind of candid conversation at a peer level with their managers, because they have not adapted the way they view leadership from the military setting into the corporate setting. And so they just continue to plug away when they could open the door for some very relevant conversations around the path forward or round a decision if they were free in their minds to have that discussion.

I think one of the biggest lessons learned for me, anyway, is that if presented respectfully, if we’re presented with open ears and open mind, and also take into consideration who you’re speaking with, some leaders or some people in positions of authority are not effective, and so those are more challenging conversations.

But the point I’m trying to make is the informal space in the corporate setting when compared to the military setting of rank, can be used to our advantage where we can open up those conversations, and we can have those more transparent back and forth disagreements on the path forward.

And that’s an option that I hope all veterans and all military members thinking about transitioning into the corporate space know that they have.

It’s not just do what I say because of my rank. It is, let’s do what the smartest thing here is. Let’s do the most effective and efficient solution. And if it happens to be different than your managers, then you’re free to have a conversation there again, as long as it’s respectful.

To get back to your kind of question more pointedly, again, I don’t think the military rank structure affords any luxury over the corporate side. I think both have their own issues when it comes to organizing people.

And those issues fundamentally boil down to: Is that leader somebody that inspires other people to follow them? Or is that leader somebody who relies on their position to get the work done? And in both camps, we have been exposed to great leaders and in both camps we’ve been exposed to poor leaders.

The difference is on the corporate setting, again, you have that free or more-free avenue to question, to suggest, to open up a conversation around the path forward. And, again, as veterans, that option is available to us and I’d encourage everyone to exercise it.

Dr. Gary Deel: Perfect. I didn’t know this before we had scheduled and coordinated this podcast, but as I mentioned at the onset in the introduction, you have a nonprofit. You are the COO of a nonprofit called the SEAL Future Foundation. Can you tell our listeners a little bit about that and what you do, because I imagine that’s some really rewarding and interesting work.

Joel Beam: Absolutely. So the SEAL Future Foundation exists to help Navy SEALs make the transition from the military into the corporate sector. I think the struggles that are faced by SEALs as they transition is the same ones that other veterans face.

It’s this lack of clarity in terms of what the corporate setting looks like, what the job exposure or the job opportunities are. At its core exist to help guys continue to find a sense of purpose and passion outside of the community in the corporate space. And we do that through a couple of core pillars.

I think one is the career, which we’ve talked a little bit about here. We have a broad network of veteran-friendly, SEAL-friendly organizations and civilian counterparts that find value in our experience. And so we help plug the gaps there for guys and make those introductions.

We do so in health, as many veterans mental and physical injuries can present real barriers to finding success in the corporate space. And so we offer a number of programs there to make sure guys are getting the treatment that they need. And a lot of times it’s this groundbreaking treatment that we’re introducing guys to because the scars of war are not well understood.

So we’re we’re very much on the front end and the more innovative side of trying to find ways to treat TBI, PTSD, other kind of lesser researched or lesser known health challenges for guys. So we’re there to help kind of catch them and plug them with the right resources.

We’ve got the same from a community or an education standpoint. So we have much like I think AMU and that and that system has programs to help veterans find the right degree path. And we’ve got partnerships with a couple of universities to get guys plugged in.

And then the last one is just a sense of community. I’m sure and I’m hopeful that the veterans listening have that kind of similar sense of community outside of their military experience, because it is such a unique experience. And the corporate side and the civilian side really struggle to provide the ecosystem of support that we need.

And so we provide via our foundation a national community, where we’ve got different chapters, so to speak, we call them FOBs, forward operating bases in these cities. Where we partner with civilian leaders who are, again, sympathetic to the cause, understand the value and experience. And we plug guys in as a transition into the cities, into these FOBs where they can make those connections, build a network and then get plugged into the corporate side.

And it’s hard. We’re here to ensure that the guys coming out of the teams don’t struggle to translate their experience, don’t struggle in adaptation of their experience, and translating that to the corporate side, but kind of help walk them through that. So it’s something that I’ve been very passionate about, I’ve been involved in this space for a number of years.

And in fact, it was on my roadmap. When I exited the military 10 years ago, I had on my kind of personal career journey that by the time my cohort of operators was retiring, the guys that I went to war with, that I would be in a position to help them transition smoother than I did, more effectively than I did.

So I’m very rewarded and very grateful to be part of that organization and really feel that the work that we’re doing is changing and saving lives. And so it’s a very great organization to be around, be familiar with. If anyone’s interested, it’s And you can go and kind of look at what we do.

We have a number of events that people can participate in all around the nation. And they’re always fun events, if people like to shoot and like to kind of get out in the range, we do a lot of that stuff as well. So I really appreciate the opportunity to speak on today’s program and talk a little bit about the foundation as well.

Dr. Gary Deel: That’s perfect. I know I speak for American Military and American Public University when I say that we certainly support your mission. It sounds like you’re doing really important work there. And we’re really grateful for people like you that are helping with this transition that as we’ve been discussing, it can be really difficult for some. So it needs to be done and it’s great that you’re doing it.

Thank you for sharing your expertise and perspectives on these topics, Joel. Thanks for joining me today for this episode of Intellectible.

Joel Beam: Thank you very much, Gary.

Dr. Gary Deel: And thank you to our listeners for joining us. You can learn more about these topics and more by visiting the various APUS sponsored blogs. Be well and stay safe everyone.

Get started on your Homeland Security Degree at American Military University.

Gary Deel

Dr. Gary Deel is a Faculty Member with the Wallace E. Boston School of Business. He holds an A.S. and a B.S. in Space Studies, a B.S. in Psychology, a J.D. in Law, and a Ph.D. in Hospitality/Business Management. Gary teaches human resources and employment law classes for the University, the University of Central Florida, Colorado State University and others.

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