I left the active duty Marine Corps over nine years ago. When I stepped back into the civilian culture, I was very bias to the "Leadership Culture" I had just lived within for the past five years. I thought that I could share that culture with civilians and they would embrace it. I thought that having been an officer of Marines, and having served two tours in Iraq, civilian organizations would have an un-quenching thirst for learning and adopting what has proven to be effective in leading Marines and developing them into leaders for many years.
I was wrong: When I spoke of the Marine Corps' leadership traits and principles, most civilians glazed over. As soon as they heard "Marine Corps," they immediately envisioned drill instructors screaming and yelling, or R. Lee Ermey in "Full Metal Jacket." For years, I could not break this false perception. Yes, the Marines are high in discipline, and yes, we have the toughest drill instructors, but that is not the essence of the Marine Corps' "Leadership Culture."
I had a blind spot: The first few years back in civilian life, I was bias and suborn. I thought there was little more to learn about leadership, and that businesses, corporations, and any other civilian organization were just missing the boat around the subject of leadership. I had the mind-set that civilian organizations will never understand what I was saying, unless they were run by a veteran.
I opened my eyes to a new way of thinking: Then one day, in the midst of this great frustration, I picked up a book titled "The 5 Levels Of Leadership" by John Maxwell. To my surprise, nearly everything he wrote about was exactly in line with the philosophies of the Marine Corps. It was if I had wrote the book. Nearly everything he wrote, I had been saying for years. The difference, John Maxwell was saying it in a different language.
I discovered the concept of a Leaders Language: I finally realized that my bias was my flaw, and remembered that effective communication was a leadership responsibility. I discovered that the philosophies that I was trying to communicate were dead on. That the bare bones core leadership principles always remain true. What I was missing was the language that effectively communicated what I was trying to say.
The divide: There is a great divide between veterans and civilians. The good news is that it is not always rooted in the beliefs around the core principles of leadership, but rather the manner in which leadership is communicated. The military has a heightened focus on leadership. They have created a common language around the subject, which lends itself to a common understanding that provides a forum for leadership development. There is always a standard of which to have a conversation around.
Not all civilian organizations have a leadership language. Those organizations who hire veterans without being aware of this divide in language, struggle with the conflict and frustrations that are produced when placing civilians and veterans in an environment that is without a leadership language. As a veteran, I will say that I spent years frustrated and blind to this.
Closing the divide: To close this divide, leaders of an organization must become aware, develop, and implement a common language around leadership. Enact common standards and expectations that you will hold your people to. Even if you are a veteran who owns a company, and you hire both veterans and civilians; there is a language barrier. If you do not establish a common language, you are setting your civilians up for failure. They will struggle to meet your expectations, and not because they are not capable, but because they do not speak your language.
A common language around leadership is a catalyst to developing leaders. Without it, you fail to communicate expectations around leadership. You fail at being able to produce a "Leadership Culture." I have learned that leadership is leadership. Knowing the guiding principles of leadership is not enough. Understanding how to effectively communicate it will help you and your organization grow and sustain that growth.
Share Your Thoughts!
I encourage and look forward to your thoughts and feedback on my blog posts. Please feel free to take the time to share your comments on the posts that interest you.
The copyright in this website and the material on this website (including without limitation the text, computer code, artwork, photographs, images, music, audio material, video material and audio-visual material on this website) is owned by Christopher Waters and Agoge Leadership Development LLC and its licencors.