Business Lessons I Learned From Medal of Honor Recipients

By: Amy Scerra

In my former life, I traveled the globe with some of the most influential, successful and inspirational business leaders in the world. I don't typically name names, but this time, I'll make an exception.

When I moved from Miami to Scottsdale in 2008, I had the immense pleasure of working for the insurance provider for the US Military, TriWest / TriCare. The founder and CEO, David McIntyre, is an exceptional human being and business owner. It's rare to find that combination when you're flying around on private jets. At his core, he is truly committed to supporting the military, their families and our veterans. Dave would frequently invite Wounded Warriors and Medal of Honor recipients to join us on flights to celebrate USO openings around the world, Veterans Day parades across the country, ceremonies to celebrate changes of command and more. I was continually humbled by his and his family's authentic generosity.

One of my most memorable trips were the two-weeks spent in NYC, Washington DC and Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany. A small group of Medal of Honor recipients accompanied us to Germany to celebrate the opening of a new USO. During that trip, I had the honor of spending time with ​Bob Howard, Gary Beikirch, Gary Littrell, Brian Thacker, Drew Dix and Hershell Williams.

As we traveled from city to city and across oceans, we spoke about perseverance, leadership, setting goals, gratitude and hard work. I know now that this experience forever changed me as a woman and business owner.

Fast forward to this Memorial Day and the approaching July 4th holiday. I find myself reflecting on this especially patriotic time in my life.

I'd like to share the lessons I learned from these heroes, even though they all humbly say they only "did what anyone would have done". I politely disagree. Thank you for your service and inspiration!

Here are the 5 Business Lessons I Learned from Medal of Honor Recipients:

1) "If you find that you are unable to reach your goal, do not give up the goal; change your course." - Bob Howard, MOH Recipient and former MOH Society President.

Setting ambitious goals should be in alignment with your core values with a healthy dose of discomfort. Progress and change happens once you are outside your comfort zone. We may feel doubt and fear when going for those 'big, hairy, audacious goals'. In my experience, the anxiety we feel is not because we cannot accomplish it, but because it's a new experience. Go for your goals. Stay committed. When an obstacle appears, jump over it, kick it down, change your course.

2) "You never truly lead anybody until you learn to serve, and you never truly learn to serve until you learn there's something so much greater than yourself. As a leader, only ask others to do what you've done. Only ask them to do what you're willing to do." - Michael Thornton, MOH Recipient

Leadership is not a title, it is an honor. As our friend, Simon Sinek, so perfectly states: "Being a leader requires having people that choose to follow you. Trust must be established before anyone will make the decision to follow you. Trust doesn't emerge simply because a customer makes a decision to buy something. Trust is not a checklist. Fulfilling all your responsibilities does not create trust.

Trust is a feeling that begins to emerge when we have a sense that another person or organization is driven by things other than their own self-gain. You must earn trust by communicating and demonstrating that you share the same values and beliefs."

3) "God made it plain to me, 'Gary this is not about you. This is not about what you have done.' This medal is about others. This medal is about those World War II Vets... you know, you see 'em at McDonald's drinking coffee in the morning and remembering times overseas in Europe. It's about those Korean Vets. It's about each of you that come here to the VA every week to help you survive and deal with the trauma of the war. It's about that man or woman that you see in the airport hugging their spouse or family because they're going down range again for the fourth or fifth time. This medal is not about me." - Gary Beikirch, MOH Recipient

Humility is a trait that every one of those men and their families demonstrated. It's a trait that every true leader I've come in contact with has. I will never forget the time we flew into NYC for the Marine Corps Ball and a limo was sent to bring us into the city. They were almost embarrassed by it and requested a normal car or cab to pick us up. They knew other members of the military at our final destination did not have the same privilege as having a limo sent for them. They insisted on being 'one with their brothers and sisters' as we waited for our cab.

4) "I remember one night we were getting mortared and we were almost out of ammunition. All of us were seriously getting scared because it was a real bad situation. Then Delbert W. Cole, a Spec 4 from Beaumont, Texas, shouted at the top of his lungs, 'If they don't quit this shit, I'm gonna call my Congressman.' " - Sammy Davis, MOH Recipient

Humor! Creating a culture of positivity not only attracts and retains employees, but it helps brand your business and and attract customers. Appropriate humor can show business maturity that you're able to "see the forest through the trees". In aviation, I've been in scary and dangerous situations where a perfectly timed joke cut the tension like a hot knife in butter! Most of us don't deal with mortars or other such dangerous situations regularly, but the stress of negative situations can certainly feel like mortars are being lobbed at us! Learning to laugh not only at situations, but yourself, is cathartic and healthy.

5) Vulnerability. As we flew home to Arizona from Germany, the airplane was silent. All our MOH veterans had just spent two weeks sharing their stories, reliving their time as soldiers, prisoners of war and even homeless men. They were drained and emotionally spent. As I laid out dinner, Drew Dix turned to me, smiled softly and said "Thank you for taking care of us. Sharing our pains and our journey is necessary but so hard. We feel safe again.". I was speechless.

According to Brene Brown, "Vulnerability is the combination of uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure. Welcome to entrepreneurship. Vulnerability is a natural condition of the work that we do--it isn't a choice but a consequence. To declare oneself "not vulnerable" would be inauthentic and would leave a leader living in a perpetual state of denial and stress. So it's better and more courageous for every leader to acknowledge the fact that vulnerability is there.

None of us, in recognizing our vulnerability, should pretend we are able to 'go it alone.' When we ask others 'Can you help me with this? What are your thoughts on this issue? Are you willing to work on this together with me?' we are expressing our vulnerabilities in a courageous and positive way.

Vulnerability is a frightening thing for many of us. But knowing that vulnerability is a universal condition, and that recognizing and owning our vulnerability is a form of true courage - here's a thought that's even more frightening: What would it be like to reach the end of your life and to wonder what would have happened if you'd truly shown up, ready to give your all and, if necessary, sacrifice all. What if?"