Transitioning to private sector management can be challenging for veteran officers who are used to commanding a great deal of authority because of their rank.

Overnight, these veteran officers become “the new guys” at work and must earn their employee’s respect and loyalty. Veterans must also navigate a shift in communication norms. Issuing a direct order is more likely to offend and alienate a subordinate than get a task done quickly.

Recently, I sat down with Joe Allen, the manager for New Business Project Implementation at FedEx Supply Chain. A former Marine, Joe has 23 years of private sector experience under his belt. He’s put this experience to good use, mentoring veteran officers as they make their own transition to the civilian workforce.

“I made some mistakes myself when I left the Marines and I’m grateful for the patient mentors who provided invaluable guidance along the way,” Joe told me. “With time and practice, I learned how to adjust and refine my leadership approach.”

Set yourself up for success by avoiding these mistakes:

Engage; don’t dictate. In the military, there’s a clear precedent that if you issue an order, your troops will follow that order without question. That’s not the case in the civilian work world. You may think you’re simply instructing an employee on how to do his job, but your employee may feel like you’re dictating commands and respond negatively. “Your subordinates are not your troops,” says Joe. “Employees can quit at any time or transition to new roles at the company should they not like working underneath you.”

You can’t run a team without people. Watch out for micro managing and focus on empowering team success through engagement, rather than orders.

Think before you email. Email communication is one of the biggest stumbling blocks for new veterans.

“Tone matters,” cautions Joe. “You may write an email thinking you’re being candid and to-the-point. Your subordinate may read it differently and think you’re implying that they’re lazy, stupid or both.”

Before hitting “send”, pause to consider how recipients may take the message. Read the email aloud: is the tone abrupt or abrasive? If you’re not sure, it may be helpful to ask a mentor or colleague to quickly spot-check a few emails until you get a better feel for how your emails are interpreted and the company’s corporate communication preferences.

Be professional at all times. Coming from the service, you may be used to openly discussing certain topics that are not appropriate for the workplace and could be offensive. What you think is a joke or a causal observation could be misinterpreted, landing you in hot water with HR and creating unnecessary friction between you and your team.

“I learned pretty quickly that in the civilian workforce the intention behind your behavior is secondary,” says Joe. “How others interpret what you say or do is more important.”

Until you get a good grasp of company culture, err on the side of caution.

For more tips on how to succeed in your first civilian job after the military, please request more information below and we will have someone reach out to you.


A special thanks to Joe Allen for sharing his military transition and veteran hiring insights with Lucas Group.


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