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Growth in Failure

Posted on 07 November 2016

The transition from Active Duty Military to life in the civilian world can be quite a challenge for some folks. As Soldiers and leaders we are taught to work as part of a team, but operate independently when necessary. We develop pride in our ability to handle situations on our own. Yet at times, this mindset can hinder, rather than help.  We don’t immediately ask for help for a fear of being seen as weak is in the back of our minds. Simply put – some of us are stubborn. I am stubborn.

Obviously being too stubborn to ask for help is not a wise decision, especially when you are beginning a new career in the private sector after serving over 4 years on Active Duty as an Army Officer. Yet, there I was in 2012 trying to learn how to be a Logistics Operations Manager without asking for help – without a mentor. Although effective leaders can lead across many domains and situations, it can be a little daunting when you switch from coordinating artillery strikes to figuring out how to efficiently send 500,000 units of product in a 10 hour shift through your department. Luckily for me, I soon found out the importance and positive effect a mentor can have on your life – both professionally and personally.  

When I first met my eventual mentor he was actually one of my peers at my new civilian job. He was confident, self-assured, and direct with his approach with subordinates, peers, and supervisors without being overbearing. He easily connected with everyone and was well-respected for his ideas and work ethic. He was also a veteran, like me. Nate Disbro served over 8 years with both the 82nd Airborne Division and the 5th Special Forces Group. Our service connected us. A few months went by, I was figuring things out slowly and Nate was fast tracking, promoted in less than a year. I was happy for him and I thought he would move on to bigger and better things somewhere else. Little did I know this promotion was not only good for Nate, but also for me – Nate became my boss.

Nate quickly took me under his wing. I would later come to find out that this wasn’t necessarily all through chance. He persuaded the management at our building to move me to his shift. He saw my potential – now he just needed to help me realize it. Nate took the time to develop me as a leader. He actually sat down with me and gave me feedback. Something I rarely experienced up until that point in my career – both in the military and in the civilian world. Basically up until that point I assumed I was doing a decent job because I wasn’t fired. He challenged me with new projects and encouraged my team and I to hold high standards. “Stern but fair” he would always say, which was a motto one of his SF teams had during a deployment to Iraq. Most importantly he let me fail. He gave me the leeway and freedom to come up with a plan, execute it, and let me learn from my experience.

It’s now over 4 years since Nate became my mentor. He’s no longer my boss. He’s been promoted again and I actually went back into the military, serving with the Army National Guard full time. Yet, I always carry with me the leadership lessons he shared with me and taught me. I am grateful for leaders and mentors like Nate, who recognize the importance of building into others and allowing them to grow through failure.

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