by Katie Caruso, Guest Contributor
Military spouses are often described as encouraging, strong and resilient.
Every time I attend a welcome home event or promotion ceremony, a speech concludes with the appreciation for a supportive role the spouse has played.
I rarely hear,
“Thank you for being a leader.”
Military spouses aren’t acknowledged enough as leaders. As soon as we become military spouses we accept a leadership role, whether in our family or in our communities or both.
Some of us serve as silent leaders, who influence through kind words, smiles and behind the scenes tasks.
Some of us serve as outspoken leaders, heading up committees and spouse groups or nonprofit organizations.
Some of us serve as in-between leaders, managing our family life while dabbling in spouse networks, as we are needed.
Many qualities make a great leader and military spouses naturally possess numerous attributes of a leader.
Specifically, 3 of the best leadership qualities of military spouses include: the ability to problem-solve, the finesse to network effectively and the focus to take initiative.
We become leaders out of necessity, turning the bad into good, lemons into lemonade, mandatory fun into…well fun.
We can observe a difficult situation or challenge and re-work it into a positive. We are gifted problem solvers. Through deployments and TDYs we tackle the day-to-day necessities and manage the unforeseen disasters.
Malcolm Gladwell, the well-known journalist and author, said at the World Business Forum,
“If I had to define one of the traits of a great leader,” he continues, “it’s that they have an understanding, intuitive or otherwise, of where that line is between the overwhelming obstacle and the useful obstacle.”
Any military spouse will tell you that a kid goes to the emergency room, or a washing machine breaks, or a dog eats an entire chocolate cake only on days when your partner is away from home.
We quickly learn to find solutions and survive another day.
We lead those who need extra assistance in developing their own ways of operating during challenging times. We find fellowship with other spouses who endure our similar struggles.
Leaders understand the importance of their network and how to utilize their networks effectively. This is a military spouse’s ultimate expertise. We know how to open our heart to others, remain confidential and to draw support when needed.
Using our networking skills we can find a new house, school, hairdresser, restaurant, veterinarian and job for any military friend in any city.
Especially as millennials and military spouses, we cultivate our collective networks through social media in a profound way.
“Through technology, millennials are equipped with what they view as the two most essential leadership skills, both communication and the ability to build relationships.”
Within our social networks we not only find genuine support and guidance, but we successfully provide results for others.
Leaders take initiative. Military spouses have to make decisions no matter if it’s the perfect time.
Sheryl Sandberg noted in her book “Lean In,”
“Taking initiative pays off. It is hard to visualize someone as a leader if she is always waiting to be told what to do.”
We are natural advertisers, promoters, recruiters and managers. We advocate for the military in every interaction with civilians, serving as the token military friend in our extended civilian circles regardless if we are ever asked or volunteered to do so.
There are always tasks to undertake in our units and we execute these tasks with a unique combination of precision and grace.
The U.S. military is a diverse organization and military families are an even greater reflection of this diversity. Military spouses know how to create bridges between religions, races and socioeconomic backgrounds in an empathetic yet constructive way.
We appreciate shared goals and visions and know when to step up to propose ideas that will benefit our way of life.
But, these skills often get lost in translation when military spouses apply for civilian jobs. Spouses need to be more confident promoting their volunteer experience in the same way employers should become more open to the immense leadership potential a military spouse can provide a company.
Let’s make a point to add leader to our list of words we use to describe military spouses.
Thank a spouse for being a leader. Ask about how a spouse has lead her family or her peers in a positive way.
Let’s make a point to start calling ourselves leaders when asked to share how we contribute to our spouse’s job.
Let’s take pride in our leadership skills and not be afraid to use them outside the confines of our military communities.
Let’s always be leaders.
How are you a leader in your community? What kind of leader are you? Tell us in the comments.
Katie is an educator and political junkie, with a BA in Political Science and MA in Teaching. She is a military spouse of 9 years to an Air Force pilot and mother to a curious and adventurous little boy. When not teaching or juggling military spouse commitments, Katie loves reading, traveling and watching college football. You can follow Katie on Twitter at @katiecaruso.