The New Village: A New Mindset for Business Leaders on Transitioning

If you have seen one village, you have only seen one village. Words of wisdom 3rd SFG.
Written by Chris Schafer on Mar 01, 2018
The New Village: A New Mindset for Business Leaders on Transitioning

*Photo of author working with host nation partners to conduct village stability operations (VSO). With an emphasis on developing local leadership and embracing local realities.

After working in the same country more than half a dozen times, I found that every village was only similar on the surface. Like that of entering a new village in foreign countries each business has its own identity. Understanding the unique set of norms, rules, and language is essential if not paramount to thriving in the new environment. The overreaching question is how to integrate oneself to be successful. Being able to incorporate into the culture doesn’t mean that you have to become someone you are not. 'When in Rome do as the Romans' is the saying, not 'When in Rome become a Roman.'

Transitioning from the military to civilian life is difficult and considered one of the most significant problems facing veterans. Transitioning is not only difficult for veterans but anyone faced with a change in their environment. After traveling the world and being inserted into unfamiliar settings on a regular basis, I suggest the following elements in creating a successful transition.   

Retain Your Sanity

Learn the culture. Cultures are a product of experiences education the surrounding environment and their impact on individual personalities. Several mindsets must be embraced to retain one's sanity and remain productive when entering new environments because they all have unique cultures and subcultures. 

Remaining flexible is an excellent concept to embrace for a period, but eventually, it wears one down. I hated the hurry up and wait culture of the military. While I was with the 82nd Airborne Division, we would wait for hours sometimes before we could board an aircraft. Waiting for a plane to arrive was the norm and one that we couldn’t control. Being prepared before was essential to ensure the success of the mission. That was the nature of the environment and an accepted part of the culture. 

T.E. Lawrence, better known as Lawrence of Arabia, a British officer during WWI was a student of the Arab culture. During his time fighting against the Ottoman's the Army requested that he capture lessons learned. Lawrence composed the twenty-seven articles which are useful today in navigating differing environments. Highlighted below is a selected list of Lawrence’s learning points from his experiences that are useful in transitioning to new beginnings. 

Dealing With Leadership

#3 In matters of business deal only with the commander of the army.

In other words deal with the decision maker directly when posable.

#5 Remain in touch with your leader as constantly and unobtrusively as you can

This is the caveat to #3. Continuous interaction with the leadership in a method that is productive and not annoying is the key to dealing with the decision makers. 

Appearance And Dress

#17 Wear an Arab headcloth when with a tribe.

 Dress appropriately for the daily activities and occasion.

#18 Disguise is not advisable.

 Do not attempt to be someone you're not. Its hard to be an actor day and night.

#19 If you wear Arab things, wear the best.

 Use your resources wisely and spend where it's essential. If individuals at the company wear a dress jacket, then do likewise and spend accordingly.

Moving past the elementary (by no means what Lawrence did and wrote was elementary) and into the collegiate level takes a change of mindset. Changing a mindset offers the ability to observe decide and act in ways necessary to create a smooth, profitable transition. This requires an effort to understand who’s who in the zoo. (For references on who’s who in the zoo see Intrepid Professionals, the Culture Area of Impact, and corresponding Actionable intelligence)

  • Learn all that you can.

  • Understand the language.

  • Know and use the 7-38-55% rule of communication. 

Learn All That You Can

Business owners want a quick return on their investment when hiring new personnel. Understand that smooth is slow and being slower at first is faster than making mistakes and having to correct them. Disregarding the principle of taking it slow often results in unplanned work which is costly in many ways, not just time and effort. To better understand the concept of unplanned work get the book the Phoenix Project 

Understand The Problem

Initially coming into a new village, the problems are defined by what others have experienced and recorded. If this is done poorly, then the result is lousy information or at best misleading information. Remember everything we see is a perception, and everything that we hear is an opinion (Marcus Aurelius). Not until you have spent time working amongst the other employees and dealing with the nuances of the particular business will you know what complicates the problem set.  

Guard against black and white thinking and do some homework before creating an outline for the solution. This is extremely important for those transitioning to a new work environment.  Research is essential, and assists in developing good questions to ask exposing the grey areas of a problem set. 

A simple search on the Web will give you several questions to ask at interviews. Not only are these questions beneficial to understanding the more significant issues to problems at the initial entry point but as a continuous examination of the environment. 

A good principle from an article on questions to ask at an interview on is to ask open-ended questions. Examples include:

  • What do you think are the most important qualities for someone to excel in this role? 

  • Describe the culture of the company? 

  • What are the next steps in the interview process?

Know The Language

Each organization has its unique language. Learning it takes observation and active listening.  Whether it's at the water cooler, the break room, in briefings or meetings, it's crucial to listen and evaluate the interaction. Observe carefully, listen and assess the speakers and reactions to words and phrases. For instance, in one particular industry, the reply ‘Thats Interesting’,  really means That is nice, but we are not entertaining the idea anymore. 

In the book Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss, an incredible book about negations and human psychology, Chris points out that when someone says yes it's not really a yes. In fact, it's better off to get a ‘No’ first. The reason is that a quick yes is often a nice way to end the conversation without committing. That is why it's better to get a “No” then work towards “That's right” and then to “Yes.” The book is on our reading list for 2018. 

7-38-55% Rule Of Communication

Dr. Albert Mehrabian’s research on how we communicate reinforces the fact that face to face communication is the most profitable. Not only do the ratios point to Lawrence success and are factors in many of the twenty-seven laws, but the percentages are universal. I have experienced many cultures and found that Dr. Mehrabian’s percentages work all over the world. As humans, we communicate at only 7% through the spoken word 38% through voice and tone, and 55% by our body language. 

The mindset needed to integrate successfully into a new environment is easy to understand but more difficult to execute. Patience and the ability to quickly understand the culture of any entity leads to the quickest return on the investment for both the village and the unique individual entering the village. 


By Chris Schafer

Chris is a 25+ year U.S. Army retired veteran and spent much of his military career on 3rd Special Forces Operational Detachments Alpha (ODA) teams. His career includes many deployments leading ODA teams advising and training people from all over the world. Chris earned a dual Master’s Degree in Business and Project management and co-authored Intrepid Professionals: How Principals from the Military Mindset Build Extraordinary Leaders, Teams, and Businesses. Chris is the Chief Executive of Military Affairs for SOLIDRed Concepts.