By Boris Groysberg and John Masko | Harvard Business Review | November 11, 2020
“I’m sure the other candidate checks all the boxes,” a veteran of the U.S. Navy SEALs told his final-round interviewer at a financial services company. “But here’s one thing I can tell you about me: There’s not a single situation that will occur at this business that will make me feel uncomfortable.” With that answer, the SEAL won himself a job, beating out a traditionally better-qualified candidate with an MBA from a leading business school.
The American business community’s discovery of the U.S. Special Operations Forces (SOF) hasn’t come a moment too soon. Made up of elite warriors from the Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marines, the Special Operations Forces have formed the centerpiece of U.S. battlefield strategy since the end of the Cold War. The community’s ranks include legendary units like SEAL Team Six and Delta Force. They’re accustomed to high stakes, dangerous geographies, and fast learning. They deploy in units of all different sizes and do jobs ranging from precision strikes against terrorists to intelligence collecting to setting up local government institutions in collaboration with civilians.
A few months ago, we set out to write a Harvard Business School case about a nonprofit called the Honor Foundation, founded six years ago to help SOF veterans transition into civilian life. In writing the case, we interviewed some 20 veterans and coaches to understand the skills that this elite community can bring to American businesses. As we did, we noticed a clear fit between the SOF skill set and the uncertain world we all inhabit today.