5 Leadership Lessons I Learned In The Military, With Dan McCall of Lucas Group and Marco Derhy

Keep learning and adapting as a leader. You’ll never know everything and there will always be new situations and experiences that shape your skills. You can’t always do things like they used to be done, so embrace change and evolution. As a part of my series about “Life and Leadership Lessons Learned In The Military,” […]

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Keep learning and adapting as a leader. You’ll never know everything and there will always be new situations and experiences that shape your skills. You can’t always do things like they used to be done, so embrace change and evolution.

As a part of my series about “Life and Leadership Lessons Learned In The Military,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Dan McCall, Military Candidate Team Lead for Lucas Group. Experience can’t be taught and it can’t be given. It must be earned. Having served as a Battery Commander in the 82nd Airborne Division in both Afghanistan and Iraq, Dan McCall’s badge of experience has been earned through unrelenting commitment, personal understanding and tireless efforts. Today he serves as a Managing Partner for Lucas Group’s Military Transition Division, providing knowledgeable and thoughtful career advisement and placement services to junior officers separating from the military and entering the civilian workforce. Dan understands first-hand that U.S. junior and noncommissioned military officers command a cloth of experiences that weave an impressive pattern of skill, leadership, education and career potential. His personal knowledge of and dedication to the military and its soldiers enables him to provide unmatched career results to every military candidate with whom he serves. In addition to working with JMOs, Dan delivers premier recruitment service to many veteran officers who have corporate backgrounds and are looking to make a step forward in their careers. As Military Candidate Team Lead for Lucas Group, Dan is squarely focused on the unique needs and goals of his candidates. He is committed to truly listening and learning about what’s important for their future. He thoughtfully considers each of his candidates individually, identifying the specific job opportunities that will lead to their continued success. Dan and his team are experts at helping officers translate their military skills and leadership experiences into valuable, sought-after qualities in the corporate world. As Lucas Group’s Midwest Conference Coordinator, he organizes and delivers unmatched hiring opportunities to Lucas Group candidates, and his achievements are written in the stories of every JMO he has helped launch into a rewarding career. A distance runner in his off-time, Dan enjoys looking forward, motivated by the civilian career prospects and business opportunities he knows are out there for today’s military officers. He believes that achievement is on every horizon, and his moving finish line is the placement of each military candidate into a career position that launches continued success. Dan is a graduate of University of Florida, where he earned a B.S. in Health Science and continues to welcome every opportunity to cheer on the Gators.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a bit about your childhood “backstory”?

My childhood hero was always my Papaw — he was an Army Ranger in WWII and a former POW. After the war, he came to Florida and met my Nana, who was working for the USO. They were part of the “Greatest Generation” and started a life there with three kids in South Florida. He worked in commercial construction and my dad followed in his footsteps as a carpenter and contractor. It was Papaw who sparked my interest in the military. I was able to go with him to a few of his Army Ranger Reunion events around the country and I was fascinated by their stories. He would later encourage me to consider the Army, but to go the officer route. So in high school, I joined the junior ROTC program and discovered I enjoyed being in a leadership position. Because I was both a good student and athlete, I was lucky enough to receive an ROTC scholarship to attend the University of Florida. After failing to make the football team at UF as a walk-on, I poured myself into the ROTC program and the physical training and competitions it offered. After four years, I earned my degree and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Army.

And what are you doing today? Can you share a story that exemplifies the unique work that you are doing?

After eight years of active duty service in the Army, I made the decision to leave the service and start a new career. I had some friends who had gone into medical sales and I thought it would be a good fit for me as well, but I really struggled to get interviews and when I did, they didn’t go as well as I hoped. Then one day, I got this letter in the mail about getting career help from a recruiting firm. I didn’t know if it would get me anywhere, but I filled out the form and a week later, I got an email from a Lucas Group recruiter asking to meet with me. We had a great connection, as we had both been in the 82nd Airborne Division at the same time and knew some of the same people. Working with him changed my whole perspective, as he coached me back into having confidence during my career search. Later, I attended a Lucas Group Military Hiring Conference and had several interviews with medical companies, but by then I had changed my mind and wanted to help coach others as a recruiter at Lucas Group.

Can you tell us a bit about your military background?

I was very fortunate to be part of the 101st and 82nd Airborne Divisions. These two divisions have an incredible history and it was an honor to lead and command during combat operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, but the Army job I enjoyed the most was serving as an Observer Controller at the Joint Readiness Training Center. The motto there is “Coach, Teach, and Mentor.” We were responsible for facilitating training and rehearsal exercises for units getting ready to deploy to Iraq, so it was incredibly rewarding helping others prepare for such critical missions.

Can you share the most interesting story that you experienced during your military career? What “take away” did you learn from that story?

A story I like to share is from my early experience at the training center. We had just completed an intensive two-day, situational training exercise with a platoon and it was time for the After Action Review (AAR). This was supposed to be an hour-long session with the platoon and my team of evaluators, but it was my job to facilitate the discussion. I had just come from battery command and I pretty much took the entire hour to tell this platoon what they needed to do to fix the areas we identified as problems. Afterwards, I felt great about it and thought I had given them all of the advice and instruction they needed to improve. My boss, who was watching by video from another building, found me and asked how I thought the review had gone. I told him why I thought it went well and he proceeded to tell me it was the worst AAR he had ever seen. My heart sank as he explained it was my job to facilitate the discussion, not lecture. If the platoon was going to improve, they had to identify the failures and commit to making the necessary changes themselves. I learned a great deal from this boss, mostly through the techniques he showed me for how to really influence others by asking questions and getting them to think for themselves.

I’m interested in fleshing out what a hero is. Did you experience or hear about a story of heroism during your military experience? Can you share that story with us? Feel free to be as elaborate as you’d like.

I can’t ever recall thinking of anyone as a hero during my military service, but a few years later around the time of the surge and counter insurgency effort, I remember hearing a story from candidates at a hiring conference and truly thought it was heroic. They were discussing how they had been assigned to a village in Iraq and were responsible for training an army and police force. Their biggest challenge was learning how to relate to the Iraqi leaders to get them to actively participate in the training. One of the candidates said he had to learn to smoke a cigarette and drink tea before he could talk tactics. The other mentioned how he had to learn to take off his helmet and body armor to lounge or relax before any serious conversation could take place. These young, twentysomething leaders had to make themselves vulnerable in a dangerous environment to accomplish their mission. I walked away from that conversation with an incredible respect for these men and fully believe they represent the most important military leaders our country has seen since “The Greatest Generation.”

Based on your military experience, can you share with our readers 5 Leadership or Life Lessons that you learned from your experience”? (Please share a story or example for each.)

The military taught me the definition of leadership was to influence others to accomplish a common goal, despite obstacles you may encounter. Based on that belief, here are 5 Life Lessons I learned from my experience.

  1. Different people are motivated by different things. As a new platoon leader, I quickly learned that what was important to me was not going to be the same for the other soldiers and leaders in my unit. If I was going to be effective at leading them, I would have to learn their stories and find out what their priorities were. I could then explain how achieving our common goal would benefit their personal situation.
  2. You don’t always know the best way to accomplish something, which is something I still struggle with today. I’m very analytical and I enjoy thinking of solutions to problems, but I don’t always like to involve others in this process. When I look back on my early actions as a leader, I think about how they might have turned out differently if I had involved others in the decision-making process.
  3. You care about what you are willing to inspect. Being a leader requires you to be responsible for everything, but you have to delegate authority. Delegating does not remove you from being responsible, so I learned how to do accountability checks along the way. I would explain that I trusted them enough to share authority, but would suggest a lack of concern if I did not check on them to make sure tasks were fulfilled.
  4. You are going to run into problems, so try to anticipate them and rehearse the response. I had the privilege to work with amazing staffs during my career and the training exercises we went through taught me a great deal about how to plan for the unexpected.
  5. You have to be confident if you want to positively influence the people around you. I learned how my body language and demeanor made a significant difference in how I was perceived in the moment. If soldiers could visibly see how I was feeling, they would often reflect whatever I was projecting to them.

Do you think your time in the military helped prepare you for business? Can you explain?

Maybe. I think our past experiences can always help prepare us for what’s next, but I don’t believe military experience translates to business in all cases. For most military personnel, they’ve shown a willingness to serve something bigger than themselves, so working in government or other service-related industries are obvious destinations. However, I do think serving in leadership roles in the military gives you a leg up for certain managerial roles in business, you just have to find the right ones.

As you know, some people are scarred for life by their experience in the military. How did you struggle after your deployment was over? What have you done to adjust and thrive in civilian life that others may want to emulate?

I’m fortunate to have not experienced anything I would consider scarring, but life after the military is an adjustment for anyone. In the military, you are part of an organization that puts a high value on service of something bigger than yourself and comradery among your fellow soldiers. I’ve found a similar feeling in my career at Lucas Group, but I also became heavily involved in my church and other organizations to help fill that void.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

I’m always looking for veteran groups to become involved with and participate in socially. I find that as a recruiter, people are usually interested in talking to me about their career options and to keep an eye out for them.

What advice would you give to other leaders to help their team to thrive?

Keep learning and adapting as a leader. You’ll never know everything and there will always be new situations and experiences that shape your skills. You can’t always do things like they used to be done, so embrace change and evolution.

What advice would you give to other leaders about the best way to manage a large team?

I personally don’t believe anyone is truly capable of leading a large team. I agree with the 3–5 person principle, where you invest heavily in those 3–5 other people and they do the same to have an effective team.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

There are too many mentors to count, but I’ve always believed that we are all trying to find our way through this life and everyone needs help along the way. At the same time, we need to be available to help others.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I’d like to think my role as a recruiter has helped me serve the greater good, especially when I help individuals find great jobs that will lead to success for them and their families.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Whatever you are trying to do, don’t go at it alone. Find a coach, find a mentor, read a book, listen to a podcast or ask someone you trust for advice.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go with someone else.”

I’ve been married for 23 years. I’m thankful God gave me a wife and partner to help me through life and that she has been willing to put up with me and all my imperfections.

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

Ok, so I’m still big into fitness, and a few years ago I started doing the P90X series of video workouts. I really enjoy plugging my headphones in and working out with Tony Horton, so if Tony ever reads this and wants to come workout with me, I can give my wireless earbuds a rest ☺.

Thank you so much for these amazing insights. This was truly uplifting.

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