One of the Army’s more recent mottos is, “Army Strong.” Those of us that grew up with, “Be all that you can be,” took a while to warm up to it … but Army Strong, or in this case Veteran Strong, is certainly apropos for this post.
Last week we talked about adapting to the culture as a part of the veteran’s transition into the civilian workplace. I ended the blog post with a comment that adapting to the culture is not the same as abandoning the experiences and strengths you bring to your new organization. So this week I’d like to elaborate and discuss the R in the DARE framework: Recognize your strengths.
I acknowledge that generalizing the characteristics of a group of similar people is not the most refined way to talk about them. That said, in my experience as a veteran and in working with many others I do think it’s safe to say that many military veterans have some common traits they’ve gained in the course of their military service. And when blended with recognition of the culture into which they’re entering, these traits can translate into strengths that the veteran brings to their new civilian career.
Here are few examples along with some thoughts on how these traits can benefit your new employer:
Discipline: The same discipline that led you to follow orders, shine your boots, align your “gig line,” get up at 0’dark thirty, and excel at many other tasks is a trait that will serve you well in the civilian world.
Many civilian work places are less regimented than the military. The good news is you have more freedom and flexibility. The bad news, if you’re not disciplined, is that you may not have folks telling you what to do all the time or you may not always have standard operating procedures upon which to rely. But with discipline you can quickly gain a reputation as a team member with initiative, who is reliable, and shows attention to detail. Such a reputation will get you started off on the right foot along the path of success in your civilian career.
Selflessness: Selflessness in the military can be as mundane as taking on a buddy’s duty so he or she can visit a sick family member or spend some additional time with family; or it can be as ultimate as sacrificing your life for a brother or sister-in-arms. It’s about considering others and the institution before your own needs and desires.
This selflessness that often becomes second nature in the military is not something that comes naturally in the civilian world. It’s not that civilians aren’t nice people, it’s that the civilian work environment doesn’t generally thrust people into challenging and demanding situations (from basic training to combat) where relying upon one another is a necessity and sacrifice for others is the norm. (Obviously civilian jobs like law enforcement and firefighting are exceptions where team members develop similar bonds and traits).
In civilian environments, especially those that thrive on competition (professional services and sales come to mind), your willingness to put others before yourself may be a trait that makes you stand out. A word of caution – you have to balance your selflessness with adapting to the culture you’re entering or you may quickly be taken advantage of or fall to the wayside in the wake of more aggressive colleagues.
Courage: Much like selflessness, courage in the military can manifest in very extreme ways that threaten life and limb. You will likely not have to risk bodily injury or worse in your civilian job … but the character trait of courage can serve you well even if you find yourself in a white-collar job
In the military your courage may have been a physical courage; in the civilian world your courage may be more emotional. The aspect of courage that I think can serve you well in the civilian world is the willingness to take the hard right over the easy wrong. In the civilian world this may take shape in the form of decisions with legal, moral, or ethical implications. You generally don’t have to look further than the front page of the newspaper or your favorite news website to find examples of people who lacked the courage to do what is right, be it legally, morally, or ethically. As a veteran entering the civilian workforce, take heed in your courage and bring it to your workplace … you, your colleagues, and your organization will be better for it.
Resilience: Military life is full of ups and downs. Training scenarios are intended to test your physical and mental stamina and they generally place you in the worst possible situations so that when it’s no longer just training, you’re ready. Service members must quickly learn to become resilient; to put failure or set backs behind and move on to the next task or mission. In combat, resilience may mean compartmentalizing the loss of comrades or quickly recovering for the next mission. In short, service members must be able to “bounce back” quickly
Like the previous traits, resiliency in the civilian world may not come in the form of physical recovery or overcoming traumatic situations. But failure in the civilian world can be difficult to overcome in its own right. Business, be it a small general contracting company to a large corporation, is tough … competition for business, revenue, and profits is fierce. And you will fail in small projects and in larger pursuits. But civilian leaders and organizations value resilience just as much as the military. The team member that can “dust himself or herself off” and quickly focus on the next project or the next opportunity will quickly become a valued member of the organization.
I’ve run through these strengths rather quickly … and I could list several others like respect, initiative, and loyalty … but, regardless, I hope this has been of some use to you. What I hope the veterans take away from this is that you have a lot to offer a civilian employer. What I hope the leaders reading this take away is that veterans have a lot to offer your organizations!
Next week we’ll wrap up the DARE framework with a discussion about the importance of engaging with others. As always, thanks for your time.
Copyright © 2014 Robert E. Goodson Jr. All rights reserved.
First image courtesy of pfflyer/morguefile.com
Second image courtesy of revwarheart/morguefile.com