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September 6, 2021 17 min

Listen as Tony Nash talks to Herb Thompson, a United States Army Special Operations Forces veteran, author, and management consultant, about the importance of adaptability and seeing the big picture.

Passionate about helping veterans find success, Herb wrote the best-selling book, The Transition Mission, 6 months into retirement and after a series of calls with veterans seeking assistance with transition.

After 20 years in the Army, he shares the lesson he learned that he continues to implement to this day: “Come with a plan but be prepared to adapt and live that out daily.”

As Team Sergeant, he was assigned to direct a team, composed of different Type A, smart, and accomplished personalities, towards a shared goal. He says his experience there came in handy when he worked as a management consultant later on.

For him, the military is not just a job, it is “a way of life.” Unlike professional athletes that do get constant downtimes off-season, service members “have to keep it at high level at all times.”

“You can’t turn your brain off. You’re always improving. It consumes you…. And frankly, it takes a toll on you.”

On Failures and Moving Forward

He opens up about his biggest failure – failing the elite Special Forces Combat Diver Qualification Course. He recalls staying up late every night to practice swimming, which later on had an unhealthy effect on his mental health. But he says this failure ultimately led him to his biggest success: learning about humility and becoming a team sergeant.

While it was a hard pill to swallow, he says he accepted it, played with his strengths, and found success with another team.

“Own your journey, but also not being predetermined. You gotta work for it, adapt for it and make it happen.”

A recent MBA graduate from Cornell University, Herb says he is now working on how to better articulate his value and skill sets to other people and companies. Trained to be laser-focused all the time, he is also now working on stepping back, seeing the big picture, and recalibrating.


Actionable Advice

Herb shares practical advice, especially for transitioning veterans. To better communicate your value to other people, he says use I’s more than We’s and be a better listener. Pay attention, too, to how the other person is reacting to what you are saying, so you can improve the messaging in similar conversations with other people.

He also swears by two things: taking down notes to not forget ideas and using the calendar (Calendly) to organize his schedule. While he admits he is not into automation, he seeks the help of other people, especially his girlfriend, in that aspect.

Ultimately, Herb says be open to learning from everyone – no matter the other person’s status, age, or background. He cites as concrete example learning from his 13-year-old son about techniques in solving the Rubik’s Cube.

“Don’t discredit a teacher. I’m always gonna learn. They may not be college-educated, not able to read or write. I’m gonna learn something every day.”

“Every day I need to learn something. It’s seeking that knowledge, the hunger to learn, the hunger to improve. I think for me the day I lose that is the day that ok I probably don’t need to be here anymore.”

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