3 Leadership Lessons I Learned Growing Up in a Military Family

a woman leading a meeting


Tina Bacon-DeFrece
Tina Bacon-DeFrece12

While professional experience can provide invaluable life lessons to entrepreneurs, our work ethic and character can be shaped years before we begin our careers. For me, growing up within a military home shaped my value structure in understanding the importance of adaptability, unity and drive.

My father was positioned as a Commander of the U.S. Coast Guard, so our family was engrained into a tight military community. Even though we hopped around from base to base, my parents and community gave me the foundation necessary to develop leadership skills and build a franchise concept that would grow to over 90 locations across the United States.

Here are a few of the many ways being in a military family shaped me into the leader I am today:

1. I learned to adapt to my surroundings wherever I go.

Our family constantly moved from location to location. Spending only a year’s time in cities like New York and New Orleans, our family’s lifestyle forced me to adapt to new environments and social settings. I actually found this challenge exciting, framing it as an opportunity to always meet more people and build my network. Always introducing myself to others and actively listening to everyone I met allowed me to find a community and fit into my ever-changing social situation.
The communication skills I developed while moving around were essential when I pursued entrepreneurship and launched Big Frog as business. One of the first steps to being a leader in any setting is building a team and facilitating their collaboration. In order to ensure that everyone has a voice and works to support the organization’s goal, one has to learn how to adapt for effective communication, actively listen and understand the needs of each teammate.

2. I learned to build a community to overcome challenges.

Being a part of a military family, my parents and the community around me continuously reinforced the expectation to represent our family and country well. The military community is built on the belief that when everyone works at the best of their ability, they can accomplish any mission. Therefore, I was raised with the expectation to exceed expectations on what American values are about – unity and integrity.

For example, when I was living in Galveston, a hurricane threatened our coast from off the Gulf of Mexico. As crews had to take their ships out of port to avoid the storm, it was up to the families back at base to come together and shelter up. The sense of unity that every family had, whether it was gathering food or fortifying the base, was a poignant moment in my life. I got to witness firsthand what a group of people can accomplish when coming together.

This translates in business culture as well. As a CEO, it is my responsibility to give our franchises and employees a sense of safety and unity. Just like in the military, every person on our team has a say in how we operate, and because of this unity our business is stronger than ever. 

3. I learned to believe that I can achieve anything.

Living in multiple cities always felt like an adventure to me. Going from place to place, I had the opportunity to be exposed to new foods, cultures, people and landscapes. Taking advantage of every moment I had while also excelling in schoolwork made me feel like anything was possible and that the sky was the limit.

That feeling of endless opportunity lives in my being today as much as it did when I was a child. In my professional career, I’ve had the privilege to lead teams in both the fields of science and business. Being in a leadership role forced me to have the confidence to make big decisions and always ask the question, “what’s next?” While sometimes I have succeeded and other times have stumbled, I’m proud of the fact that I have never been paralyzed in my decision-making and have always had the drive to move forward.

The qualities of adaptability, community-building and drive are essential to becoming a leader. For many of us, it is our past experiences that shape and impact our leadership skills. They build a strong foundation to build upon and will continuously impact our ability to grow in our professional careers and help businesses thrive.

This article reflects the views of the author and not necessarily those of Fairygodboss.

Tina Bacon-DeFrece, Ph.D.  is the President and Co-Founder of Big Frog Franchise Group, and is responsible for strategic planning and tactical development for all aspects of the Big Frog Brand. Prior to her foray into franchising, Tina, as a Ph.D. Chemical Engineer, was a research director for a multimillion dollar scientific instrument company.  Her responsibilities were to not only develop a full line of optical sensors, but to determine the profitability and marketability of the technologies.

Did you grow up in a military family? If so, what leadership lessons would you say you learned from your childhood? Share your answer in the comments to help other Fairygodboss members!