Military Leadership for Civilian Companies: Stop the Stereotypes

It's not about yelling“Private Pyle, what is your major malfunction!?!?” 

With the heightened publicity around military veterans transitioning (or reintegrating) to civilian roles, military leadership’s applicability to civilian organizations is receiving much needed attention of late.  With the tightening employment picture and companies continuing to struggle to pull themselves out of the grasp of the lingering recession, it’s an important issue.  In fact, not a week has past this year when I haven’t received an email or phone call from an organization seeking advice on this topic.

“I just don’t think military leadership is a great fit for our organization,” many of the HR directors I speak with state.

Because it’s so common a statement, I have a somewhat canned response.  “Which aspects of military leadership wouldn’t fit into your culture?”

Most then proceed to speak of authoritarian, command-and-control leadership styles, the Generals Patton and McArthur stereotypes.  Others gravitate immediately to Full Metal Jacket and Gunnery Sergeant Hartman berating the dim-witted Private Pyle.

On one hand, I’m glad to hear that these stereotypes of military leadership wouldn’t fit into their cultures!  On the other, that these stereotypes are not recognized as gross misrepresentations of typical military leadership is a real shame, both because they make it more difficult for these returning heroes to find good organizations in which they can thrive and because companies are missing out on the phenomenal leadership experience of this huge segment of our society.

So, let’s explore the similarities quickly…..

The Army’s leadership model looks for individuals to possess the following attributes (What an Army Leader is):

  • Character – The leader demonstrates the organization’s values and empathy.
  • Presence – The leader exemplifies military bearing, is physically fit, composed and confident, and resilient.
  • Intellectual Capacity – The leader has mental agility, sound judgement, is innovative and interpersonally tactful, and had job-specific knowledge

In addition, the core competencies (What an Army Leader Does) include:

  • Leading – A leader leads others, extends influence beyond the chain-of-command, leads by example, and communicates.
  • Developing – A leader develops self and others, and creates a a positive environment
  • Achieving – A leader gets results.

So, in viewing these attributes and core competencies, it’s easy to see that the same basic tenets of leadership in the military are found in most civilian organizations.  Sure, military presence is sector specific, but if you translate to to professionalism, it’s also an easy fit.

Strong leaders are strong leaders, whether military or civilian.  So, if you’re inclined to stereotype what military service and leadership entails, you are likely missing out an a pool of top-notch, experienced, dynamic leaders.  Take the steps to better understanding the parallels between sectors, and open your organization to this talented pool.

After all, in this environment, it’s a pool organizations can ill afford to ignore……

2 thoughts on “Military Leadership for Civilian Companies: Stop the Stereotypes

  1. Very good article! With unemployment rates higher for military veterans, and misconceptions on the transferable skills (especially soft skills), I hope the words of this post resonate among those who unaware of the true value hiring veterans. Hopefully, hiring managers realize that hiring veterans will bring their organizations some real leaders and reliable individuals.

    1. I couldn’t have said it better myself, Dale. It’s critical to bridge the gap between cultures to both allow vets an easier transition and to provide the rich leadership experience to civilian organizations desperately in need of it. Thanks for the comment!

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