Yale SOM Leadership and the Military

The leadership skills taught at Yale SOM prepare people to meet challenges in a broad range of contexts. A number of graduates are active-duty members of the military, and right now, 11 SOM students are current or former members of the military.

For some, getting the MBA is a transition out of the military into a career where the bottom line is more of an everyday concern. For others, the time at Yale is a component of their military career, preparing them for advanced leadership opportunities.

The Q8 story "How do you lead when lives are on the line?" examined military leadership through the experiences of Colonel Rich Morales '99. In the interviews that formed the basis of the story, Morales reflected that his experience at SOM had a profound impact on the way he does his work. "The school made me a better leader, and it changed forever how I problem solve," he said.

Morales is currently attached to the Defense Attaché Office of the U.S. Embassy in London while he pursues a PhD in strategy at Cambridge University. He served three tours in Iraq including leading the First Battalion of the 35th Armor Regiment.

During a 15-month deployment in and around Baghdad, Morales' battalion was charged both with immediate military objectives and with developing local capacity to take over from U.S. forces. "A battalion is complicated," he said. "It's about bringing together strategy and operations and a little bit of marketing. Command requires doing all the things that help you be a better manager and leader."

He added, "I tried to look for opportunities for consensus. Just because I could order people around didn't mean I should."

Morales emphasized the similarities between what he did and running a business. "Communication, ensuring that the people understand the objectives and how they're contributing, is certainly not exclusive to the military, but the less soldiers have to guess what's expected of them, the better off they're going to be," he said. "People receive information differently. I might think in the terminology of Porter's Forces or a Kaplan-Norton scorecard, but I aim to communicate to my officers, in very clear terms, their goal, how the work fits in the bigger picture, and why what they're doing is important."

Two current SOM students served with Morales, Zandra Minor '11 and John Perez '12. Perez pointed out that there is a key continuity between the two institutions' leadership philosophies. "SOM and the military both want leaders with character and values," he said. "There are leaders without integrity who are able to influence people to accomplish a given task, but for SOM and the military the 'how' and the 'why' matter."

At SOM, he added, students have the chance to put their leadership training into practice. "I think leadership is necessarily experiential," he said. "At SOM you talk about leadership styles in class, but the school is small enough that you also have opportunities to be in charge of clubs and other activities very quickly. You get to see how to achieve influence and how to use it in positive ways."

Minor said that SOM was giving her the tools to transition from the military into the business realm. "The challenges you are given, the stress you are put under, and the responsibilities you have at a young age as a junior officer compare to very few other professions," she said. "Coming to business school is a great transition; you can take your leadership experiences and learn the business roles to start a new career. Once you understand the business side, you're in a position to really thrive."

She added, "There are so many gray areas in business and SOM does a great job with ethics: the kinds of decisions you make as a leader, how they will affect your company, employees, and shareholders, in the short term and further down the road."

For more on Morales, read "How do you lead when lives are on the line?" To learn more about the experience of veterans at SOM, read a profile of Zandra Minor.