A conversation with Noah Siple
By Anthony T. Eaton
“I was always motivated in my life by a strong sense of duty, volunteering in the community, being active in the congregation, those types of things.” ~Noah Siple
Sometimes it is the smallest connection that intrigues us and that was the case when I came across Noah Siplle when I read that he had attended Concordia College in my hometown of Saint Paul, Minnesota.
Once I read his profile and some of his posts I was intrigued by his journey and sense of duty to his country, learning, and making a positive impact. Graciously he sat down to talk to me about all of this.
One of the places you went to school was Concordia College in St. Paul, Minnesota, my hometown. But that is just one of the places; tell me about your educational journey.
My education is a story in and of itself. I graduated from high school in 1995, did some volunteer service and some military service that left an impression on me at a young age, you know, like 21 and 22. I had done the majority of my undergrad through the University of Maryland system. I worked for a nonprofit foundation for private colleges and universities as a fundraising Association for private colleges. They said we’ll pay to complete your degree if you go to a private college.
What made you decide on Concordia? It’s a great school but there are lots of great schools.
When I attended Concordia, it was at the vanguard of adult learning when online started happening. Online education was beginning to bud, and Concordia had a blended system where you could do some courses distance, then go for a couple of months, and then do some courses distance and go to a couple of months. I never lived permanently in Minnesota, just shared a flat with friends that were in similar circumstances. I had done night classes and weekend courses and tried to follow the traditional route as possible. It was a blessing from the gods that technology started to enable distance learning, and Concordia was great.
Two of my best mates still live in Minnesota; they work for the National Guard out there. We’ve done some excellent training together and traveled the world; we spent our summer in Croatia together.
I think I think the technology is amazing, right? This year is the first year that I’ve embraced doing this virtual interviewing of people.
What drew you into this serving in the military, the National Guard; what’s the background story on that?
Well, it’s difficult or nuanced to describe yourself in today’s culture. I grew up like the all-American mom and apple pie kind of kid captain of the swim team, student body president.
I was always motivated in my life by a strong sense of duty, volunteering in the community, being active in the congregation, those types of things. When it came time to graduate from high school, the Army was kind of an obvious choice. I grew up in a military family. My grandfather was a WWII veteran, my uncles served in Vietnam, and they were kind of my heroes growing up.
In retrospect, I know I didn’t get all the best recommendations or advice from parents or peers, or even the recruiter. I grew up consuming 1980s cinema and media, or you know, watching Magnum PI and realizing he was a veteran and Rambo and the right kind of stuff. Even though later on in my life, I would point to how those things created a stigma that we’re still facing in the veteran space today. It was just a logical step growing up out west, and I had those characteristics that the military wanted. It was a good motivation and something to do to get out of the city. I grew up and away from a very blue-collar family with few options.
Did you ever think that you would be doing this kind of work when you were younger?
I wouldn’t have expected my 17-year-old self to say, oh, one day; you’re going to do those types of things. That’s cool. The cultural exposure for sure most people never get the opportunity to experience how things are in other countries.
What would you tell 17-year-old Noah about who he would become if you could?
I mentioned that I don’t think I got all the best advice at that age, but I would have told myself there are certain that you need to be young to do. So those aspirations that you have built up for yourself, you need to jump on quickly because the train will leave the station, and you’re not going to be able to do those things later. I was the first generation of my family, along with my cousin, to ever go to college. I don’t know that I was a very avid reader in my young life, high school, K through 12. But I found the love of learning and the love of reading later in life.
I would tell myself to be patient, you can make a way, and all doors are not closed.
Tell me about your experience serving in the Army.
I served in the Army just as an enlisted soldier and was a reservist for a few years and trying to cut my teeth in the corporate world as well. Then I decided that I really liked my army job to be my only job, so I went to Officer Candidate School in 2005 and found a niche in strategic planning and operations.
I never realized that the National Guard had full-time positions, probably like most people, I think more in terms of reserves. What about travel, are you required to serve outside of the states at all?
It’s one of the best-kept secrets working in the guard full time versus as a reservist. I only travel when I want to, although I did go to Iraq. It has allowed me to travel the world. The National Guard has a state partnership program where each state is married up with a developing nation; some are NATO partners. We got to spend a few years going back and forth from Cambodia to help develop their national defense, which was like a Chinese deterrent. And I think now Cambodia is a vessel state for China, unfortunately. There hasn’t been a lot that we’re doing there, Croatia and Germany, and just getting an opportunity to work with NATO partners and do that kind of planning and stuff.
How have those experiences formed you as a leader both in and out of the military?
I think all branches are similar. Leadership in the Army is not a result of your function; it is part of what you do regardless of rank and title. In the corporate world, whether you’re in HR, accounting, sales, or operations because you’re great at your function, you start to rise into managerial positions, and then you are a leader. You’re beginning to influence people to reach the outcomes you want, that they may not be able to get to on their own, but your leadership is born out of function.
In contrast, the military espouses leadership above your function. I have never been given a duty assignment because of my leadership attributes, but I’m expected to be a leader no matter where the Army put-puts me to work. I’ve been a human resources officer with no formal training; you can go to school and get the training in the corporate world, but in the military, you’re a leader even without that, and so they say, run this organization.
There is a distinct difference between military leadership and corporate leadership, wouldn’t you say?
I believe that a lot of the hallmarks of leadership that we value in the corporate world are, are their Genesis was found in military service, you know, whether that was through a service Academy route, you know like you were a West Point, or an Annapolis graduate, and then, but I think we can also even find the influences of Japan and post-war, lean practices were all about
Japanese and American influences working together, like at Toyota to create this, streamline, remove the fat, get the job done type of approach to manufacturing. One thing that aided our economy post-WWII was just the influence of those lean practices, and it’s kind of the reimagining of the Henry Ford approach. So the Industrial Revolution is gone. But the same principles that applied back then can apply in business today. It is efficiencies we’re talking about, whether it be technology or even softer skills.
I agree. I would say, though, that corporate America does not do a great job at teaching people how to be great or effective people leaders.
I think that’s why there’s a whole industry surrounding leadership development and organizational development and the psychology of the workplace and hosting interventions to build people’s soft skills.
You come across companies who embrace the Kaizen approach. The constant improvement through small minor changes is something the military does innately. When we do anything, we always conduct this after-action review. The preponderance of time is focused on what didn’t happen that should have happened. What were the obstacles in the process? How do we remove them, and what changes do I need to make?
The military has a strong track record of developing great leaders, history is littered with them, and many went on to do great things in the private sector.
Consider this though, post-World War Two veterans made up 12% of the population; today, veterans are less than 1%. So as we’re looking to promote diversity in the workplace, we have an underemployed pocket demographic of skilled workers and leaders. Sometimes there are negative biases and prejudice because of their military service; well, I would love to bring you in, but you know, you were in the Army, you are that militant.
I would like to see veteran status grow in visibility and that we can share that equity in hiring for people who have served their nation?
For some, leaving the military creates the challenge of transposing their skills to show their value and applicability. What are your thoughts on that?
Many military transitioning service members have a difficult time articulating their value proposition to the civilian world because they’re like, well, I’m a leader. And because we all take that for granted, like, of course, you’re a leader. And because we placed our leadership above our function, this is me; I’m a leader. So then the world’s like, hey, that’s cool, but we don’t care what your rank was. And we don’t care that you’re a “leader” by nature; what did you do? What skills do you have that are transferable to our company?
It seems like there is a lot more focus on helping those transitioning back to civilian life.
Yeah, and I would say, as much that there’s a whole industry revolving around coaches and human resource professionals targeting transitioning service members, how to write that resume, how to present yourself, how to create a brand. Some great guys like Michael Quinn, Matt, quick, are loud voices in that space. But there, there are dozens and dozens of people. And some great nonprofits are helping with the transition. I think the Department of Defense has some great programs. They have a thing called the skill bridge program where a service member who is transitioning out when they’re at the 180-day mark. The government underwrites their salary to work in like an internship at a company, and everybody agrees that this will lead to a job that is open to everybody. Still, it’s gaining a lot of traction. And, but the skill Bridge Program is pretty cool for a lot of people who, you know, are big fish in small ponds, meaning they’ve work they’ve evolved, they’ve worked in military bases, and they don’t have a network out in this civilian sectors. They don’t know what industries they want to get into so they can find that mentorship and without the pressure of but also, how will I put food on the table tonight?
Would you say it is really about suspending our assumptions and pre-deposed bias to provide opportunity?
Yes. How do we create deliberate seats at the table for those folks? I’m all about equal pay, and I’m definitely about gender integration in the military, opening jobs to all people.
I was reading through your LinkedIn profile and your About section; I was struck by what you said, where you say you’ve “established yourself as a leading voice in disrupting social narratives, designing innovative solutions for veterans.” Tell me a little bit about that. It stood out to me, and it resonated with me.
For example, far too often, my sisters in arms who may have a veteran license plate or the sticker of a unit they served in on their car are told to often “tell your husband or son thank you for his service.” It’s our generation’s obligation to champion gender equality. All roles in the military are open to all genders, even when we’re just dealing with traditional genders and opening that up.
It’s not even a gender question anymore. All are welcome.
I like how you articulate that the military is just a cross-section of America and represents what is culturally going on. We still see racism and extremism in society, so it makes sense that those would also exist in the military.
We’ve had to root out extremism in the military; January six was a big eye-opener for a lot of people. But, there are varying degrees of affluence in the military, there are varying degrees of intellectualism in the military. I think that some of that is geographically based. But we don’t define community by geography anymore; we define it by affinity. If you’re speaking the values that resonate with me, I will be part of your community, regardless of what post I’m assigned to or where I’m located in America. I could be in the deep south but be part of a community that’s located completely different or isn’t located anywhere because it’s all virtual.
Society and cultural norms have changed, so you would expect the military would change with that. Other industries that have been primarily male-dominated have also changed, but I think the organizational structure has to have a mindset of changing.
But we have these social stereotypes that we project on to people. I mentioned Magnum, PI, and Rambo was 1980 Cinema that presented veterans as deranged people broken from war. So that’s what you’re going to get. There are some broken folks, but it’s not the norm. It’s not right. The more we can popularize people’s success in their stories, the more we start to move the needle on how people do after military service. I feel privileged enough to be one of the initial leaders to integrate Women into combat arms in the military. You know, I’m a cavalry officer, I’m an armor officer by trade.
What is something people may not realize about the military, something unique?
One unique thing about the military is that we wear stuff on our chest; we wear our rank on our chest. Any room I go into professionally, I’m assessed immediately, like, oh, you’re this professionally so; therefore, I can determine x about you. And there’s some safety in that. Frankly, there’s some safety in the institution.
Thank you for taking the time to talk with me and share your background and experience, and thank you for your dedication and service to our country!
Noah is a lifelong learner who is dedicated to expanding his practice of organizational development and change management. He is brilliant at simplifying complex topics for non-expert audiences and has a keen interest in deconstructing systemic biases within military settings. He has established his self as a leading voice in disrupting social narratives while designing innovative solutions for veterans.
You can learn more about Noah, read his posts and connect with him on LinkedIn