The 5 main differences between a military and civilian career ...

An M4B candidate tells ...

If you have worked about 40 years at Defence as a ‘Professional Military indefinitely’ in the officer ranks like me, then you have followed its related training. In my case, that was the KMA (Royal Military Academy), followed by the ‘Higher Military Studies’, which is in fact a business degree specifically tailored to Defence. During my later career I completed the ‘Defence Management Course’, which is necessary at the highest levels within Defence to function correctly. Finally, on my own initiative and for the necessary expansion, I studied Public Administration in Leiden.

Besides all these 'intellectual' baggage, in those 40 years you gain very much practical experience in a variety of functions in departments and also during exercises and broadcasts. In these positions, you are in fact responsible for all the goings on in your unit, but you can also be responsible for the implementation of various projects such as acquisition, relocation, rejection and everything that occurs in a large organization. It goes without saying that you will be going to possess the full range of skills a leader / manager must have, such as communication skills, negotiating, analysing, reasoning and articulate matters.

Leadership

In the Army - where I was working - leadership and receiving guidance plays an important role. The education, training and formation of both NCOs and officers start at entry into the organization and is in fact continuously until leaving the organization. The emphasis on leadership and guidance is because the Army is an organization in which staff is the most important in the implementation of the tasks, because we have armed people. The organization is very "people-oriented". After all, you have people do things under dangerous conditions, risking their lives. The joint execution of tasks is therefore of paramount importance. Corollary is that you as a manager should take account of your people, both their qualities and abilities, but also the social side of it. Another corollary is that you should be able to receive guidance and, in a responsible way, to be able to go along. This means you have to perform your decisions - after exchanging views - without reconsidering and taking full responsibility for it.

Diversity/complexity

Due to the nature of the army - a complex number of people and units that need to collaborate - and by the way of working and cooperation, diversity and complexity arises. They need to work with other Services, other armed forces, but also with non-governmental organizations, governments, NGOs and international organizations, and you also have to deal with the local population and combatants. This ensures that you learn to take account of the different cultures of all the parties, their background, their interests and goals. By doing so, you can realize your objectives in a better way. The network-thinking and acting plays an important role. This diversity and complexity gains an extra dimension because the action is always under the eye of politics, the media and the home front. This must always be taken into consideration.

Frugality

For action in the country you have carry all your belongings yourself. If only for that reason it is important to avoid unnecessary things to carry. But that also applies to your overall appearance. Focus on the core without frills. This is necessary because you always act in an environment where the people who matter hardly have anything. Also you have to keep in mind: it gives an ethical dimension to your process and performance.

Improvisation

Despite excellent planning skills and unprecedented amounts of information, it still shows that things occur differently from what you expected. Then you need to effectively respond to still reach your goals with the available resources. This has everything to do with the way leadership is practiced within the army and the related state of mind.

Companionship/solidarity

If you work with so many people, for a long time and in difficult circumstances, you become very interdependent. It is important that you are prepared to do anything for another and each is willing and able to help, even if you’re having a rough time. You must also open up to others. That cultivates companionship and leads to collectivity: The will to work together and achieving the goals.

 

I think someone with a military background has amply proven to be a leader, able to receive guidance, can deal with complexity, act soberly, is trained to improvise and certainly not in the least, can work in a team.