David Berke, former Marine Corps aviator and Director of Leadership Development and Alignment Programs for Echelon Front left his military life behind in 2017. He didn’t have to. He had a great position at the Pentagon and was selected for promotion to Colonel.
And he had plenty notable military experiences that shaped his perspective and vision of leadership. The longtime Marine first joined in 1994, served as a U.S. Navy Top Gun instructor, flew combat missions in Iraq and Afghanistan and even deployed on the ground as a forward air controller. He was the first operational F-35 squadron commander in the Marine Corps. He's also the only Marine to ever get behind the stick of the vaunted F-22 Raptor.
But he wanted to see what challenges awaited him in civilian life -- and how he would meet those challenges.
Eventually, he would join Echelon Front, the executive leadership consultancy firm founded by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin. The two former Navy SEALs rose to prominence with their 2015 book "Extreme Ownership: How US Navy SEALs Lead and Win." The leadership lessons espoused in the book became the foundation of Echelon Front's training regimen.
His first challenge was transitioning from the military, which can be a daunting task for even the most prepared. Now, looking back, Berke says those principles of “extreme ownership” can help anyone as they move into the civilian world.
1. Find a Mentor -- Anyone Who Can Help Guide You
In 2017, then-Lt. Col. Berke retired from the Corps after 23 years, eventually joining Echelon Front with Willink and Babin. The Marine Corps leader found himself looking to his new veteran colleagues for guidance.
"The team that I joined at Echelon Front were former military guys that had already gone through the transition," Berke recalls. “It’s really helpful to get different perspectives from people you trust. They’ve been down that path and can help you identify and address risks, challenges and pitfalls. People who have endured what you’re going through can be extremely helpful.”
That mentorship from proven leaders made the difference to Berke, who calls his transition "seamless." He recommends everyone have a mentor or mentors to help guide them.
2. Know and Understand Your Next Mission
Military transition is a critical moment in the life of any veteran, and the consequences of decisions made in this period can affect people for decades. It's a lot of trust to put into one place. Berke didn't go right into his current role at Echelon Front, but once he had the opportunity, he seized it.
"Probably the most important thing you can do when you're leaving the military and going to the private sector is to make sure you can understand what your next mission is going to be. It's not going to be a military mission of course, but it still needs to be a mission that you can understand, get a sense of what it is you're going to be doing, how you're going to contribute and what is in store for you next."
What made David Berke trust the leadership training consultancy firm as his new home is that he understood the mission, he believed in it and it was a place where he could apply his life experiences while imparting that knowledge to others.
3. Realize You Have More Control Than You Think
An important way for a separating veteran to own their transition is to remember they have a degree of control almost any situation.
“They have an opportunity to look at, score and find any number of ways to continue a new mission for their lives,” he says. “No matter what it is that they're doing, no matter how they want to do it.”
Berke believes veterans can own at least a small part of any of the hundreds of details that go into making decisions that will shape their new lives. The more they recognize their control, the more successful they can be.
"They know themselves, what it is they like to do, what their interests are and what their passions are." he says. "They want to contribute what their next mission is. They have an opportunity to find any number of ways to continue a new mission for their lives. They can take over a part of every aspect of their transition, from the research to determine what they want, to figuring out what's best for their families, to the type of job, the geography and anything else that goes into it."
4. Give Yourself Credit When and Where It’s Due
According to Berke, one of the most important things about owning your transition is giving yourself credit when it's due. Veterans can be confident that no matter what job they’re getting into, they can count on being productive, valuable contributing members of that team.
"Most of your military members are highly credible, highly sought-after, effective leaders that can contribute in almost any possible place," he says. "Extreme Ownership tells them it's really up to them to determine what's the ideal fit to them, to be aggressive in figuring what that is and take ownership of every aspect of that to find the right place for them so they can contribute in a way that they want."
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