I hope this is the first in a series of interviews with Jan, because this was an exceptional conversation. In this conversation, Jan and I talk about sales, and how crucial it is in business (how little practice we get in the military). We talk about the importance of crucible experiences and how to create them and use them to change your narrative. We talk about the differences between civilian and military leaders, and how civilians may often be more adaptable in a business setting than Veterans. We talk about traits you should consider dropping from the military as you enter the civilian workforce. And we talk extensively about entrepreneurship.
Jan Rutherford is the Founder of Self Reliant Leadership, an executive and military veteran program for leaders who are Selfless, Adventurous, and possess Heroic Aspirations. He entered the US Army at age 17 (weighing 114 pounds), and spent six years in Special Forces as a medic and “A” team executive officer, and three years as a military intelligence officer. In addition to having over 25 years of business and healthcare experience, he is the co-host of The Leadership Podcast, and the author of “The Littlest Green Beret: On Self-Reliant Leadership” where half the proceeds go to the Special Operations Warrior and Green Beret Foundations.
StoryBox- People trust each other more than advertising. StoryBox provides the tools and supports businesses need to take the best things customers say about them, and use them to drive more sales and referrals. StoryBox offers a 10% discount to companies employing veterans of the US Armed Forces.
Transcript & Time Stamps:
Joining me today from Portland, Oregon is Jan Rutherford. Jan is the Founder of Self Reliant Leadership, an executive and military veteran program for leaders who are Selfless, Adventurous, and possess Heroic Aspirations. He entered the US Army at age 17 (weighing 114 pounds), and spent six years in Special Forces as a medic and “A” team executive officer, and three years as a military intelligence officer. In addition to having over 25 years of business and healthcare experience, he is the co-host of The Leadership Podcast, and the author of “The Littlest Green Beret: On Self-Reliant Leadership” where half the proceeds go to the Special Operations Warrior and Green Beret Foundations.
How would you describe Self Reliant Leadership?
It’s similar to what I did in Special Forces because my role was to develop leaders and help them be competent. This role is all about developing other people and helping them be the best version of themselves.
What lead you to entering the Army?
I was so small in school that sports weren’t an option for me. I weighed 101 pounds as a senior in high school. So while I was passionate about football, I couldn’t play it. So I threw myself into band. And I wanted to join the Army and be in the Army band. But on my way to talk to the recruiter, I decided the band route wasn’t for me. The recruiter suggested Special Forces. I didn’t think that was possible because of my size. But doing that was one of the best decisions I ever made because it gave me the confidence I needed for the rest of my life.
Military recruiters often get a lot of guff. But in many ways, recruiters have more influence on people’s lives than anyone else in the military. I had a great recruiter and I think he saw the grit in me.
When we are in positions of influence, you might remember what you tell people but people will remember everything you told the.
What was your transition out of the Army like?
It was different because the internet didn’t exist. Everything was snail mail. I was leaving the Army as a First Lieutenant. The reality for junior officers getting out is that there is typically high demand in the corporate world. I went to a recruiting firm and for two hours each night for about a year, I was writing resumes and sending out applications. I got a bunch of rejection letters and ended up getting a job with a pharmaceutical company as a salesperson.
I really appreciate the grit that must have taken to keep going despite getting all those rejection letters.
I really wish I had those letters. There were some notable companies that rejected me and then a year later once I had started working for Miriam Laboratories, they were contacted me trying to get me to go work for them. But I stayed because it was a really incredible work experience and I was surrounded by amazing people.
How was the experience of starting your own company?
When I got out, the recruiters I was working with told me I could be an operations manager in a manufacturing plant or be a salesperson. I ended up doing medical sales because I was a medic in the Army. I truly believed that we had the best product
One of the big differences between being in the military and being in corporate America is profit generation. A lot of entrepreneurs have great ideas but they hate to sell. But once you start doing it, you realize it’s more about building relationships, teaching, and helping people solve problems.
A lot of times when I’m coaching executives, one thing that comes up often is the desire for autonomy. I believe if that is important to you, you need to hone your skills in selling. Being able to sell will help you work with others to achieve your desires.
How did you start Self Reliant LeadershIp?
As much I loved being at the pharmaceutical company, I also had a desire to be my own boss. I thought I needed a ton of money so with a wife and kids at home, I thought it would be irresponsible to leave and start my own company. After 20 years at the pharmaceutical firm, I finally did leave to start my own company.
Sometimes, I wish I had left earlier to start my own company, having the good and bad experiences I had at the pharmaceutical firm allowed me to be effective when I did leave to start my own company.
If you have an idea, I encourage you to get it out in front of people and see what the reaction is. You can sit behind your computer every day refining your ideas but what’s really important is that you just get an idea out and start getting feedback from people.
Someone the other day told me they’re scared of being an entrepreneur because they thought it would be lonely. But I’ve never felt that way. You need people that are rooting for you and that are going to support you.
I really believe if you do what you love, the money follows because you are going to have the confidence in your product and you know the value it provides to people.
Can you talk about the expeditions you lead?
A part of Self-Reliant Leadership is the crucible expeditions that we run in places like Moab, Utah, Alaska, and Mt. Kilimanjaro. We take a group of senior level executives and transitioning military members. What happens very quickly is that the military members realize there’s a lot of things they can learn from the executives and vise versa. We document each trip and put a video on our website.
Do you think veterans lead in a way that is distinct from civilian executives?
Yes and even veterans will lead differently from one another. A Captain that’s 30 years old probably has a formal education and has been mentored throughout their career. So they’ll lead in a way that is similar to a civilian. E-6s and below - -they lead in a more tactical and pragmatic way. Senior level military personnel will go right into training mode and are trying to train the people around them. It’s hard for senior level officials O-5s, O-6s - during the transition because they just want to talk about their experience. I try to encourage them to shift from that focus into asking good, smart questions when they are talking to civilian executives.
On these crucibles, we have 4 or 5 days of no distractions. When you’re a little, cold, wet, tired, and hungry, you really start to see what people are made of. In the civilian word, it might take two years to get to that point.
Do you think there are any traits that veterans should “turn down the volume” on as they make their transition out of the military?
Be curious. You don’t have to waste all this time and effort translating your resume. Get out there and meet people for a coffee. Rather than talk about your background, ask about their background and the challenges they’re facing. Eventually, you’re going to be a lot more informed about that job function or industry.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with listeners?
When you create your own crucible - a severe test for yourself - you change your narrative. When you get out of the military, you’re changing your narrative. So approach your transition as a crucible. You’re in charge of it.