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Guest Blog: Want to Hire an Aircraft Carrier Driver?

Jeff Kaney|CEO, Kaney Group and Member, Young Presidents’ Organization (YPO)
Monday, 26 Mar 2012 | 1:38 PM ET

In 1991 I was a 24-year-old United States Air Force C-130 Pilot/Aircraft Commander, in the middle of the night, just off the coast of Ecuador, commanding a crew of eight, with 50 Navy Seals in the back.

US Air Force C-130
Getty Images
US Air Force C-130

As a young Aircraft Commander, I wasn’t only responsible in the air; I was responsible for the whole crew for the entire seven day trip. Needless to say, it was a fantastic learning experience. If you were to look at my resume, this type of real world experience is difficult to translate to a CV. I can tell you though, without exception, I use lessons from these experiences every day running my companies.

If one were to consider the story of today’s military veterans, they are often stuck in a similar situation when it comes to securing a new career in our civilian society. It’s both a challenge to the out-processing military hero and to the company giving an interview.

For an example from the veteran’s point of view take Suzie, a 22 year old former Army Ranger. She is wondering how walking the streets of Kandah?r in Afghanistan with an M-16 strapped to her back has anything to do with working for your company. You, as an employer, are wondering the same. How does being able to field strip an M-16 blindfolded have anything to do with selling IP telephone systems? In these situations, both parties need to look at the larger picture. This young lady was tasked with patrolling the city, in full combat gear, brandishing a weapon and an American Flag on her shoulder.

Her almost impossible mission: trying to convince the locals to tell us where the enemy is hiding — all the while using an interpreter to relay that the United States is a good country, that we are on their side.

Do you think that Suzie will have any problem handling your most difficult customer? Do you think that she will be able to lead a small team of sales people to attain clearly stated goals? Do you think that possibly, Suzie is easily trained, highly motivated and extremely loyal?

A few years ago, I had the honor, through Young Presidents’ Organization (YPO), to spend 24 hours on the aircraft carrier, the USS John C. Stennis.

The vision that comes to mind the most often is my visit to the bridge. Who was actually steering that 98,000 ton boat? A 25-year-old seaman, acting with confident determination. I cannot imagine how that young man will try to explain his talents, training and high level of responsibility on his resume. There isn’t a lot of need in our world for aircraft carrier drivers. It’s up to us, to look at our hiring procedures, our vetting of resumes and our interview processes, to make sure that the true talents of our heroes are fully vetted. We will all be better off because of it.

The military gives you the opportunity to become a leader.

The Kaney Group of Companies is involved in Aerospace design, testing and manufacturing. I can directly look back at my experience in the U.S. Air Force, the great responsibility at such a young age, the training — not just in leadership, but also how to be a good follower, all that is important. The military gives you the opportunity and almost as importantly, the latitude to become a leader, and to make mistakes.

"The military gives you the opportunity and almost as importantly, the latitude to become a leader, and to make mistakes." " -CEO, Kaney Group, Jeff Kaney

As a person rises in the ranks, the responsibility becomes larger and you find yourself in the position to delegate responsibility. This is an area where true leadership is formed. Can one lead, but also stay out of the way when you delegate? Can one “take their hands off the wheel” and let their people take some control? In many respects, the military is so structured it allows almost a leadership lab type environment.

It is these types of experiences that I fall back on when crafting my management style. As important as it is leading a company that you control, it’s a different type of leadership when one is leading a group of industry experts. That is where I currently find myself now, as Chairman of the Rockford (Illinois) Area Aerospace Network or RAAN. This is a group of companies, formed under the umbrella of the Rockford Area Economic and Development Council. Our goal in RAAN is to increase the business opportunities for our members and to bring economic prosperity to our community.

What is unique in leading this organization is that it encompasses companies that range from 10 employees to four Fortune 100 companies. A whole different skill set is required. One thing that both the military and YPO stress is lifelong learning. Never is that more evident than running dissimilar operations; kind of like commanding an aircraft in the air, and the crew on the ground.

CNBC and YPO (Young Presidents’ Organization) have formed an exclusive editorial partnership, consisting of regional “Chief Executive Networks” in the Americas, EMEA and Asia-Pacific. These “Chief Executives Networks” are made up of a sample of YPO’s unrivaled global network of 19,000 top executives from 110 countries who are on the frontlines of the economy. The opinions of “Chief Executive Network” members are solely their own and do not reflect the opinions of YPO as a whole or CNBC.

Jeff Kaney, CEO of the Kaney Group, and member of the CNBC-Young Presidents’ Organization (YPO) Chief Executive Network.

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