Small Unit Leadership in the Civilian Sector

As an officer in the Marine Corps, I was directed to lead Marines. This was the whole reason I signed up. The chance to lead the finest Americans into the heat of battle. Who would turn down that opportunity? The Marine Corps is significantly different than the civilian sector. I realized this as I was put on a team to manage a project. Not manage a team, but rather, manage the project that has people on it doing things for the project. I was out of my element. NJP authority wasn’t enforced. Lawful orders were no longer a threat nor a requirement. Legal contracts obligating subordinates into obedience did not exist.

These are all situations within the military that have come to be as a requirement from years of experience. I am not saying these requirements are not needed. In fact, I fully support the institution that enforces and regulates these. The traditions are centers of excellence stooped in experience from trial and error. With these characteristics and attributes, certain benefits are afforded. Immediate obedience to orders without hesitation or thought of personal safety in order to accomplish the mission.

As a leader of Marines, I had respect. (At least I think I did ;) ) I had the experience as a young officer to look my senior enlisted Marines in the eye to get the intel of the situation.


Good, bad or ugly, that intel came from a trusting and respecting relationship. One built over time with many experiences.

Now as a team member, not a manager of people, I had a different view. My specific job was to manage the project. Augment the project with people required to accomplish the tasks assigned. Keep everything on time and on budget. When there was a problem, work with the required parties to resolve. This was a new challenge. This was an opportunity to shine.

I began to work hard. I worked to help my fellow employees, my team mates. I worked to establish a reputation as the guy who “got shit done”. I did this by listening and working with the team. I gained their respect over many months. I did this with time and shared experiences. I worked with my bosses, yes multiple bosses, to keep their expectations of the project as the primary goal for the team. I worked to keep the goals aligned and attainable while serving the team members.

All of this was a challenge. Previously, it was as simple as “getting motivated” to accomplish the requested task. It was a matter of mental toughness that was utilized when dealing with a stubborn situation. It was a choice to be miserable and enjoy it.

Now, the choices would be so much more than just misery. It could include earlier time off. It could come in the form of recognition from the boss. It could come in compensation from the company. It could come in the form of recognition from the industry for service. All of these choices were now available in the civilian sector.

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