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Joff Sharpe, a former Army officer and Chief Operating Officer at British Land, shares his thoughts on how former officers bring value to civilian organisations. Service personnel typically have leadership qualities that are in short supply in the commercial world. Commissioned officers, in particular, go through a year or more of structured leadership training before they take command of a team and thereafter receive continuous feedback whilst they hone these skills in what is often a testing operational environment. The acquisition of leadership competence is not left to chance.
By contrast, business people might receive brief, theoretical training within an MBA-type programme but in many cases, they have to make it up as they go along and hope that their line-manager has the experience and coaching skills to develop them. The challenge for ex-Service personnel entering the civilian world is developing enough functional competence in their new area of work to allow their leadership experience to flow through effectively, thereby fulfilling their potential.
When applying for a civilian job it is important to read carefully the job description and identify the leadership competences that have been highlighted. The job may require situation analysis, decision-making under pressure, line-management, a drive for results and other qualities that will be familiar to all Servicemen and women.
It’s important to prepare for an interview by thinking about examples of where you have demonstrated these skills in action, so that you can help the interviewer understand the cross-over between military and civilian life. It may be helpful to frame your experiences, less in terms of what you did but more how you did it, the choices that you made and the personal qualities that you drew upon.
Once in post, your military leadership skills will stand you in good stead. At some point, you were likely taught some fundamental leadership principles, such as delivering against the needs of the task, the team and the individuals within the team. Your natural bias for action, energy and drive will help you in any company. Your appreciation for ‘esprit de corps’ and teamwork will also be key, although you’ll need to adapt these things to your new environment.
Finally, and perhaps most telling of all, you will have been taught to take a genuine interest in your team members and to look after their interests as well as your own. If you stick to these principles people will appreciate what you bring to the party.
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