Community//

Bronze Star To Business, And The Lessons Learned Along The Way

A leader is someone who people will follow to a place where they wouldn’t go by themselves

Paul A. Dillon moderating a Veterans Symposium and Workshop at the Sanford School of Public Policy, Duke University, March 26, 2018. PHOTO CREDIT: Bill Snead/Duke University

I had the pleasure of interviewing Paul A. Dillon, who is the president of Dillon Consulting Services LLC. Paul is a Certified Management Consultant with more than 42 years of experience in the professional services industry. A U.S. Army Reserve veteran, he served in Vietnam as a 1st Lieutenant, and was awarded 2 Bronze Star Medals. An author and university lecturer, Paul is a sought after commentator on national veteran matters on numerous radio programs and podcasts.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”? Can you tell us about your military background?

I was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the U.S. Army Reserve upon my graduation from college in 1967. I received a delay for my active duty to attend graduate school, from which I graduated in 1969 and entered Federal Service. From 1969 to 1970, I served as a special staff officer and instructor at the U.S. Army Aviation School, Fort Rucker, Alabama, where I taught a methods of instruction course — essentially, a course that taught instructor pilots how to teach pilots how to fly — and, performed research studies in human factors engineering and man/machine interface systems design. I was promoted to 1st Lieutenant in 1970, and subsequently served a tour of duty with the 165th Aviation Group, 1st Aviation Brigade, which was attached to Headquarters, U.S. Army, Vietnam. Our responsibilities were to manage the Army’s air traffic control system and to negotiate air traffic control facility land use and airspace agreements with the Vietnamese Government. My decorations include two Bronze Star Medals. I am a graduate of the U.S. Army Transportation Officers School. I was honorably discharged from Federal Service in 1971.

What from your time in the military, do you think most prepared you for business?

The best leadership training in the world is the training that is given to commissioned officers, and senior non-commissioned officers, in the Armed Forces of the United States. As young Army officers, we were taught to take care of our troops first, if you want them to follow you. An officer has to convince the people under his or her command that they have their best interests in mind, while they are accomplishing the mission. An officer doesn’t eat until all of his or her troops have eaten. An officer is the last to sleep and walks the perimeter of the camp to ensure that their troops are safe and sound. An officer doesn’t change into a dry pair of socks until he or she is satisfied that their troops are dry and warm. Otherwise, the troops just aren’t going to follow you to places where they wouldn’t go by themselves.

And, that’s the best definition of leadership that I have ever encountered. A leader is someone who people will follow to a place where they wouldn’t go by themselves. The United States Army has more than 240 years of experience in training leaders. And, some of us got to test that training on the battlefields of Vietnam — and, carry those lessons with us into our business careers.

“Duty, Honor, Country” — the motto of an Army officer. Simple words — but, their meaning can have a profound impact on a business career. Every company would do well to follow this type of training.

1st Lieutenant Paul A. Dillon, USAR with his former college roommate, Captain Gary W. McKillips, USAR at Headquarters, 4th Infantry Division, Pleiku, South Vietnam, 1970.

How would you define your leadership style?

Here are the qualities that hopefully comprise my leadership style — integrity, decisiveness, good judgment, the ability to form a vision and execute it, confidence in my own competence, among others. But, without the ability to be selfless, to put the needs and wants of others before your own, you will never get people to “follow you to a place where they wouldn’t go to by themselves.” One other important thing, I practice “servant leadership”. If you take care of your fellow employees and CLIENTS, profits will come. Don’t put profits before people.

What are your “6 Leadership Lessons Businesses can learn from military experience? Please share a story or example for each.

  1. — Focus On Accomplishing The Mission — The military is extremely mission focused. The whole idea in the Armed Forces is to seize the objective — to capture or kill the enemy — while, at the same time, ensuring the integrity and welfare of your troops. You can’t get distracted by small things along the way. You need a vision — yes, the “vision thing” — of what your battle plan is going to accomplish, and then execute that plan flawlessly.
  2. A Commitment To Hard Work — Anyone who has served in the Armed Forces knows what I mean. The days are long. The work is hard — very hard. Combat and the preparation for combat doesn’t take a holiday. There are no weekends. You don’t go home at 5 PM. The Army once had a slogan, “We do more by 9 AM than most people do all day.” That is absolutely true.
  3. Ability To Lead and Function As A Team — The whole Armed Forces are built on the “buddy system”. Nobody accomplishes the mission alone. If you’re going to be successful in the military, you need to work with all types and kinds of people, from all races, creeds, genders, backgrounds and persuasions, and weld all of these disparate interests into a fighting force that’s going to defeat the enemy. Service in the military makes you understand the concept of “teamwork” perfectly. And, as an officer, or non-commissioned officer, you learn how to lead a team to accomplish the mission. If you can’t do this — if you can’t forge your troops into an effective fighting force — you’re mustered out of the service pretty quickly. There’s no margin for error here. There are no second chances. This is serious business. This isn’t just about “corporate profits”. Lives are at stake.
  4. Ability To Pivot On A Moment’s Notice From Plans That Aren’t Working To Plans That Do — When most people think about military service, they think that it’s all just about the rigidity of following orders. Well, that’s true — in part. Of course, you need to follow orders. But, what most people never see is that the military teaches you to think and act flexibly so that if your battle plan isn’t working, you pivot immediately to a plan that does. You have to do that if your plan isn’t working — -you have to be quick and think on your feet — or, you risk defeat and death at the hands of the enemy. Flexibility and immediate action are key to survival.
  5. Ability to Cultivate a Culture of Courage — The Army called it “hearing the sound of cannon.” I called it just trying to do your job under exceedingly difficult circumstances. Even for those who did not experience combat in Vietnam, I believe that it took courage to leave your loved ones, live in a dangerous place and do your part in a very difficult war. After you’d fought in Vietnam, you could face any trials and tribulations in business that might follow.
  6. — A Sense of Compassion — Only the most hardened souls could not be deeply moved by what they saw and experienced in Vietnam. The broken bodies of your buddies, the body bags stacked alongside the airstrip, the abject poverty and hopelessness of the Vietnamese people at that time — a people who have been ravaged by war for thousands of years — all took their toll. I am certain that it is also the same for younger troops returning from our recent wars. We who have seen combat up close undergo an experience that is a stark contrast to the Judeo-Christian values upon which our country was founded. If you weren’t a compassionate person before you entered a theater of war, you certainly were by the time that you left, after witnessing all of the carnage that war can bring. And, compassion is a trait that every great leader must possess.

The future of many industries relies heavily on Millennials and Gen-Z in regards to consumers and talent. Can you tell us something you or your company is doing to stay ahead with attracting both?

Millennials and Gen-Z understand that it can’t be just about the money. There has to be something more. If it’s just about the money, you will most likely fail to attract these younger generations. You won’t be able to get these people to work along with you to accomplish your goals for the business, even if they share in the money. These generations want to know that there’s a larger vision than merely profit at work with your company. What are your goals? What are your values? What is your attitude toward serving the needs of your customers or clients with honesty and integrity? Young people, in particular, want to work for a company that is committed to improving the commonweal of their fellow citizenry, at the same time that it is making a profit. Your employees want to do good, while they are doing well. They need to know that those aren’t mutually exclusive concepts. Those are difficult tasks to accomplish. But, the successful companies of the future will be those that can pull it off.

Can you tell us one person in the world, or in the US whom you would want to sit down and have a drink or cocktail with? He or she might see this. 🙂

That’s a tough one, as I have been extremely fortunate in my career to get to know — and, work along with — many important people in business, government, academia — and, by virtue of my more than 14 years of experience serving as the supervisor of elections to the National Radio Hall of Fame, and to the Chicago Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences for the Emmy Awards — the media.

But, I’d say the person that I would really like to have a conversation with is Colin Powell. He was an extremely successful military officer, who was appointed to serve at the highest levels of our federal government, and served in those posts with distinction. I wish that he would have run for elective office. It would be interesting to get his viewpoint on the defense of the nation — and, the state of the world today.

It would be a fascinating discussion.


Chris Quiocho is a combat veteran and pilot. Millennial leader and CEO of Offland Media, the premier digital company in business aviation. Chris is a insightful and motivational public speaker, and an emerging thought leader for the aviation industry.

Originally published at medium.com

The Thrive Global Community welcomes voices from many spheres. We publish pieces written by outside contributors with a wide range of opinions, which don’t necessarily reflect our own. Learn more or join us as a community member!
Share your comments below. Please read our commenting guidelines before posting. If you have a concern about a comment, report it here.

Sign up for the Thrive Global newsletter

Will be used in accordance with our privacy policy.

Thrive Global
People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

- MARCUS AURELIUS

We use cookies on our site to give you the best experience possible. By continuing to browse the site, you agree to this use. For more information on how we use cookies, see our Privacy Policy.