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Associations usually lead the charge in championing inclusivity, diversity and accessibility, encouraging and fostering a welcoming environment for everyone. We form affinity groups to ensure the underrepresented have a voice in shaping the strategic direction of an organization, to create a space for listening to member needs, and to harness the power of the association professional.

However, when we consider the ecosystem of the association profession, including nonprofit organizations, consultants, and vendors, what I describe as The Association Pipeline, we almost always forget the need for representation from American Veterans. It’s an especially astounding realization when you consider associations and Veterans are densely concentrated in the Washington D.C., Virginia, and Maryland area.

5 Reasons Why Veterans Make Great Association Leaders

So the real question is, do you want a manager or do you want a leader at your organization today?

I offer seriousness in the words that follow, but you’ll see some ‘tongue and cheek’ remarks sprinkled in, friendly in spirit, as you would expect from a Veteran authored blog. I implore your organization to consider Veterans when the next managerial role is available, and here are five reasons why they can transform and diversify your organization for the better.

1. Veterans Offer Immediate Leadership

Veterans offer immediate leadership experience and can adapt to your organization’s mission as if transitioning to a new unit. They bring proven experience in applying situational leadership in small and large situations. Whether it’s leading a small fire team, platoon, company, battalion or division, Veterans offer immediate leadership value for your organization and for your staff.

In changing environments, Veterans have honed and adapted their leadership philosophies, traits, and principles. We don’t just talk about leadership from a theoretical perspective, we can speak about leadership from having experienced that in our nation’s Armed Forces.

As associations face challenges, Veteran leaders can offer immediate leadership and because we’ve been there – ensuring a calm and steady leadership hand.

2. Veterans are Battle Tested

From basic training to first duty stations of service overseas, across the country, or in another country, Veterans have been exposed to a variety of environments and can adapt to a variety of situations. When times get tough, and they will, you can count on the resiliency of a Veteran. Because of that experience, we will always dig deep and push forward no matter what.

Need us to take charge and motivate the team? We can do that. Need us to execute? We can certainly do that. We are flexible, adaptable, and accountable when it matters most, bringing that skill set to everything we do.

3. Veterans are Mission Focused

Just like associations, Veterans are mission-oriented and focused meaning we will easily adapt to the next mission in our career of service.

Veterans are accustomed to completing missions that require clear goals. They communicate and coordinate with the entire team and work feverishly until that mission is accomplished. For Veterans, “the mission” was the focal point of their lives during their service to country, and they will hold the mission of your organization in the same regard.

If you are looking for a disciplined, motivated, and experienced person that understands the value of your organization’s mission, look no further than a U.S. Veteran.

4. Veterans Answer the Call to Serve

Despite taking off the uniform, Veterans have an inner calling to serve. There’s always a sense of duty to each other, to country, to family and especially to community.

Look at first responders and you might find a Veteran continuing serving in some capacity. Perhaps being a nurse as a first responder in the fight against coronavirus, a doctor, a pilot, or a volunteer. We are ready to serve the organization and your valued members, and we have the proven commitment to serving. We are delighted to bring that service to your organization.

Sign us up, but be forewarned. If you are a military recruiter, as the saying goes, you will not fool us again. We will not sign another contract again. We like being part of the 1st Civ Div.

5. Veterans are Team Oriented

One of the best attributes and qualities of a Veteran is their ability to navigate and lead small teams. Communication amongst the team is a critical skill not often honed until later in a person’s career. Veterans bring that on day one. We thrive in these dynamics, and it can be said that organizations also thrive based on that small team dynamic. We know what it’s like to create that bond with coworkers and colleagues and create that sense of camaraderie among the team.

Isn’t that what culture is all about?

Being able to work across teams is also a functional leadership trait and experience that Veterans bring with them, based on their experience in the military. Veterans sometimes work with military from other countries or serve overseas as security guards on American embassies, or guarding the nation’s coastline, airspace, or aerospace. Veterans thrive in this environment and can add immediate and long-term value to your organization by fostering better teamwork, a better team, and better culture.

Empowering Veterans in the Association Industry

My purpose here is to advocate on behalf of other Veterans. We sometimes focus too much on the trauma that Veteran’s might experience or assume they have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and as a society, we sometimes think there isn’t a connection between us and them.

Sometimes there isn’t, but sometimes there’s something magical that happens when you see the work ethic, integrity, leadership, instinct, value, and tenacity needed to be a leader in your organization when you see a Veteran. I want you to see it and experience it firsthand.

Don’t just say you support Veterans, show that you support Veterans. Associations infused with Veterans bring about the needed changes to take associations into the next 100 years as a profession.

Semper Fidelis.

Carlos Cardenas
Post by Carlos Cardenas
April 14, 2023
Carlos Cardenas, CAE, is a long-time association professional. Today, he serves as the Senior Director of Information Technology at the National Board of Certification and Recertification for Nurse Anesthetists (NBCRNA), where he oversees credentialing platforms and systems, infrastructure, data, and key information systems that contribute to the support of the NBCRNA mission. He's also co-founder of Association Latinos, a nonprofit with a mission to increase and advance Latino leadership, representation, and inclusion in associations. As a member of the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE), he also serves as the Vice-chair of the Technology Professionals Advisory Council and is a Diversity Executive Leadership Program (DELP) alum. Carlos is a U.S. Veteran, having served five faithful years in the United States Marine Corps. He served at 7th Communication Battalion, Camp Hansen, Okinawa, Japan. After September 11, 2001, Carlos reenlisted and served at Headquarters Marine Forces Europe, in Böblingen, Germany, on an old WW2 tank base named Panzer Kaserne. During his spare time, he enjoys travel, street photography, and occasional writing. He created the website to share captured images of people, places, and random things.