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How can the lessons learned from U.S. Military Leadership be applied and made useful in civilian leadership and management?

Introduction to Military Leadership

Military leadership can be defined as the process of influencing other for the purpose of accomplishing the mission by way of providing, motivation, direction and purpose (Brereton, 1999). The United States military is one of the best ran businesses in the world. For the most part, leaders in the military have learned how to keep the soldiers who work for them all focused on the same goal, and – most importantly- they’re happy doing it. For many years the civilian sector has tried to apply the techniques used by leaders in the military to get similar results within their company structure. In the following paper, I will address how different areas of the civilian sector can utilize lessons learned from the military to be more efficient from the top down in their respective sectors

There are a number of differences among the businesses due to their sizes. Fewer individuals are employed in the small organizations while thousands of individuals are employed in the large or multinational corporations. Similarly, medium sized organizations employ sufficient number of employees for meeting their business objectives but their range of activities and investment is limited and is not vast as that of the multinational corporations. The managers and business executives in large, medium and small business organizations can apply the lessons learned from U.S military leadership in the leadership and management of these organizations (Mullen & Soltis, 2012).  

There are a number of similarities and differences in the characteristics of leadership adopted by U.S. military forces and the business executives. Four findings are associated with both business and military leaders. For both, values, group ethics, trust and integrity are considered to be the most important components for the purpose of establishing good leadership. On the other hand, personal disclosure is still regarded as a challenge in both the contexts.  The leaders produced by U.S military are one of the brightest and the best leaders in the world as they are decisive, intelligent, selfless and dedicated. These aspects are valued in the business world as well (Stead, 2004).

In case of civilian workplaces, the characteristics of military leadership can be of great use for the purpose of achieving success. Loyalty is ingrained in the personality of the military leaders which can be regarded as the huge asset for the civilian businesses. along with this, the use of reliability, commitment and sense of duty can also prove to be beneficial for the business organizations. Moreover, civilian leadership and management can be made more effective when the teamwork qualities of the military leaders will be applied in the businesses. In this way, the civilian businesses will be capable of employing the strengths of the individuals along with establishing a reliance and trust on the teammates. The military leaders are culturally conditioned to lead by example which assists them in developing their team. The application of the leadership by example by the business leaders of the large, medium and small scale organizations will assist them in incorporating the knowledge of their senior team members in their own leadership skill set (Cohen, 1998).       

Business Executives/Managers in Large, Medium and Small Corporations (Elon Musk)

Another lesson that can be learned from military leadership is that the military system is technologically sophisticated as the military leaders have high aptitude for technology. This should be applied by the managers and the business executives in the business organizations by providing their followers with the ability to be quick in learning and adapting constant changes taking place in the civilian technologies.  

An elected official can be defined as the person who is considered to be an official by virtue of an election. It is the duty of the elected officials to manage the entire team in a well- defined manner. For this, they can adopt the military spirit into their workplace. Therefore, the elected officials can apply the principles with the same firepower determination with the help of which the military performs the best in the battlefield. There is no margin for error left in the military and therefore, the wrong decisions are considered to be the deadly decisions. Similarly, in case of the elected officials, the wrong decisions made by them can affect millions of people and can also cost them their job. In other words, the elected officials can learn from the principles adopted by the military leaders such as teamwork, planning, perseverance, duty, passion, impeccability, integrity, flexibility, loyalty and selfless service (Perdew, 2006).    

The elected officials face a number of pressures for the purpose of keeping the campaign promises along with ensuring the management and leadership of the previous administrator. For this, they have work in teams just like the military leaders with proper planning. This lesson will help the elected officials in dealing with the situations in an apt manner. Moreover, these officials are elected in the elections by the public so it is their responsibility to act in their interest. This is similar to the way the military officials remain loyal with their nations. Further, just like the military officials, the elected officials should also ensure their selfless service towards the nation and therefore should adopt lessons from military leadership.  Anyone who is in a position of responsibility in public administration, leadership exercises a direct influence on the followers. When elected officials will take into account the lessons from U.S. military leadership then such officials can easily gain trust and inspire high performance. This will allow them to win the hearts of the public through their actions (Perdew, 2006).                      

Civil service/ government managers also bear the responsibility of properly managing and leading the organization. Leadership knowledge/ development is considered to be the biggest challenge faced by the government/ civil servant managers. The challenges are also faced by them in the context of self- confidence, delegation and recognition. The civil service/ government managers can also make the use of military chain of command as it is very specific and clear. This will ensure the proper obeying of the instructions given by the superiors and will also discourage negotiation. Furthermore, the government/ civil service leaders are also required to design the leadership programs for the purpose of drilling the needed competencies (Yardley, 2007).

Elected Officials

Moreover, the managers are required to ensure flexibility within their operations. This lesson should be learned from military leadership as the operations of the military never go as planned and therefore, they are required to instantly change the plans or actions of their missions.  In other words, the people within the workplace should also have a habit to mould themselves according to the needs of the situation (Berinato, 2010).

It is the responsibility of the government/ civil service managers to embrace change in order to deal with the dynamic environment. In the military leadership, the confidence is displayed by the military leaders while undergoing change, which makes the followers comfortable with it and forces them to change their mind.  Also, military leadership focuses on maintaining a standardized way of communication. When proper communication is maintained, there are fewer chances of failures. Similarly, the government and civil service managers should also adopt a standardized manner of communication in the workplace in order to avoid the failure of plans and ensuring of smooth functioning of instructions (Hussain & Hassan, 2015).            

Not for profit organization is an organization that aims at supporting a social cause or advocates a shared point of view. The key aspects possessed by the not for profit organization are honesty, trustworthiness, accountability and openness to every person whose money, time and faith and faith is invested into the organization. These organizations also aim at undertaking big initiatives with a small budget. For this, the reliance on the strong leaders plays an important role for the purpose of guiding the followers towards success under diverse circumstances (Popper, 1996).  

The adoption of the skills adopted by the military leader in the not for profit organization will assist the leaders in the management of people along with uniting them and inspiring them in performing with their best efforts. Along with this, the leaders will also be able to help the people in the not for profit organization to easily navigate through the difficult situations. The personnel in the military are taught to take the responsibility of their actions along with the resources provided to them. Training aims at inspiring others in reaching their full potential, receiving and giving well- planned orders, working together and facing challenges head- on.  The business of the not for profit organizations is conducted with the help of limited resources. If the training provided by the military is provided to the personnel in the not for profit organization then they will also be enabled to develop excellent leadership and interpersonal abilities (Riggio & Orr, 2004).

The military leaders are frequently given tasks that require analysis of the situation and require best decision to be made for the team, following a set plan, giving orders and accepting the responsibility for the consequences. The adoption of this experience by the leaders in the not for profit organization can transform the sector and allow the leader to successfully lead the team of employees who work together for the success of the organization. In other words, immense benefit can be attained by the not for profit organization from applying the lessons learned from the U.S military leadership skills (Federal Times, 2014). This, in turn, will help the not for profit organizations in optimizing processes and increasing efficiency along with leveraging human capital and strengthening workforce engagement. Transformational leadership can play a great role in not for profit organizations (Riggio & Orr, 2004).

Government/ Civil Service Managers

Volunteer organizations comprise of the group of individuals who enter into an agreement as the volunteers for the purpose of forming an organization or body in order to accomplish a purpose. Environmental groups, trade unions, trade associations, professional associations and learned societies are the common examples of volunteer organizations (Peterson, 2012).

The most common reason behind the failure of the volunteer organizations is considered to be the lack of leadership for the organization. The U.S military provides   feedback, similarly the volunteers should also be provided with the needed feedback due to the fact that the new recruits are mostly unaware regarding the efforts made by the organization previously. This should be ensured in the context of all the volunteers working at different levels of the organization (Ulmer Jr., 2005). Moreover, there is a need to pay special attention for the purpose of sharing the previous experiences with the existing members.  The development of the volunteers in the volunteer organizations can be ensured with the help of utilizing the characteristics possessed by the military leaders. The volunteer organizations should assist the volunteers in developing confidence as possessed by the military officers which, in turn, will assist the volunteers in staying calm under pressure along with keeping the morale and motivation high (Useem, 2010). Furthermore, while selecting the volunteers for the organization, it must be ensured that the volunteers are dedicated towards their work. This will help the volunteers at the time of encountering with the problems and in producing the needed solution. U.S. military leaders teach the team to be as dedicated as the leader (Department of the Army, 2012).

The volunteer organizations also need the ability to follow the orders with full dedication thereby developing the better leaders in the workplace. The volunteer organizations are formed for the purpose of fulfilling a specific objective. This objective can only be fulfilled if the lessons learned from the military leadership are applied in the real context. Similar to the military leaders, the leaders of the volunteer organizations are also required to have a proper understanding of the backgrounds and experiences of the different individuals which, in turn, will enable them to bring diverse ideas for the fulfillment of their overall mission.  

An entrepreneur is a person who does not work as an employee but founds and runs a business, assuming all rewards and risks of the venture. The entrepreneur is often regarded as the innovator, a source of innovative ideas, services, goods and business processes. The entrepreneurs such as Elon Musk have been capable of achieving huge success as a result of the leadership strategies adopted by them. However, such entrepreneurs can learn a number of lessons from military leadership such as the rapidly changing nature of the competitive environment. changes are faced by the businesses as a result of a number of factors such as new methods introduced for marketing of goods and services, new foreign competitors, and new expectations and demands of the customers (Sheetz- Runkle, 2014).  

The entrepreneurial businesses come across a number of changes and challenges which are difficult to be overcome without the use of appropriate leadership and management skills. The entrepreneurs can make the use of change leadership in their objective of helping others in becoming successful along with confronting the changes that that are unexpected. This type of change leadership is commonly adopted in the military when the failure of great plans is witnessed and the emergence of the personal greatness of the leaders is shown for confronting the adversity. The proper overcoming of the changes that are unwanted is considered to be the hallmark of true military leadership (Ferrell, 2016).

Not for Profit Organizations

Entrepreneurs suffer from the challenges of decision making. A crucial role is played by military leadership in the context of decision making. It is the duty of the leaders to be decisive and stay ready for the next obstacle in the course. The military leaders are required to make quick decisions and accordingly guide the followers regarding the steps to be taken.  If the entrepreneurs will be indecisive then they will ultimately cause damage to their companies by way of wasting one of the most valuable resources i.e. time (Sullivan & Harper, 1997). Furthermore, the military leaders have a tunnel vision which should also be adopted by the entrepreneurial businesses. Military leaders adopt a practice of maintaining the checklists due to the fact that dangerous mistakes are even made by highly trained people which can be avoided with the help of checklists. This practice should also be adopted by the entrepreneurial business along with the business executives. This will assist them in making business decisions in a professional manner (Larson, 2017).

Moreover, the intent of the commander is the most important concept in the military leadership; however, its use is not made in the business context. It comprise of a simple written description of the way success will look like in a situation full of high risk. This will assist the entrepreneurs in their high- risk decision making and will offer the businesses an opportunity to evaluate how the situation will be like if anything goes wrong and the manner to be adopted in order to make it happen. These applications will assist the entrepreneurs in ensuring that the decisions can be made smoothly (Bass, 1985).                   


I believe that all aspects of the military can be applied in the civilian sector. In my paper I intend on highlighting the key ones that from my research show the most direct correlation and usefulness to the civilian management and leadership side. For each of the sub-topics I would like to address one specific person, so as to use exact examples from how they are operating now, to how they could operate more successfully using the leadership lessons from the military. It has already been widely researched that military leadership could – and needs to be – applied how the civilian side, but I plan on going deeper into the specifics once I lay down a foundation in my beginning paragraph on an introduction military leadership.


Bass, B. (1985). Leadership: Good, Better, Best. Organizational Dynamics, 13(3), 26

Berinato, S. (2010). "You have to lead from everywhere".(Spotlight: Leadership Lessons from the Military)(Interview)(Cover story). Harvard Business Review, 88(11), 76-79.

Brereton, T. R. (1999). Concepts of military leadership. In J. W. Chambers II (Ed.), The Oxford companion to American military history (pp. 384-385). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Cohen, W. A. (1998). Business is not war, but leadership is leadership. Business Forum, 23(3), 10-14. Retrieved from

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Federal Times (2014). Military leading civilians: Avoiding common mistakes, Retrieved November 12, 2018 from

Ferrell, R. S. (2016, January/February). What Makes a Good Leader? Army Sustainment Magazine, 18-21. doi:


Larson, E. (2017). Use These Three Military Lessons To Be Decisive In Business, Retrieved November 12, 2018 from

Mullen, E., & Soltis, C. (2012). Skills Transfer: Turning Military Leaders into Great Board Directors. Directorship, 38(3), 56-57,60.

Perdew, K. (2006). Take command: 10 leadership principles I learned in the military and put to work for Donald Trump. Washington, D.C: Regnery Publishing

Peterson, E. R. (2012). Improve employee leadership with ideas borrowed from the military: As business leaders seek to create leadership development programs in house, they should look to the U.S. military for inspiration. T D,66(3), 40-45,6.

Popper, M. (1996). Leadership in military combat units and business organizations. Journal of Managerial Psychology., 11(1), 15-23.

Riggio, R., & Orr, S. S. (2004). Improving leadership in nonprofit organizations / edited by Ronald E. Riggio, Sarah Smith Orr ; foreword by Jack Shakely. (1st ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Sheetz- Runkle, B. (2014). The Art of War for Small Business: Defeat the Competition and Dominate the Market with the Masterful Strategies of Sun Tzu. Amacom.

Stead, T.M.  (2004). Comparing leadership characteristics of corporate executive leaders with United States Air Force General Officers: A case study. ProQuest Dissertations and Theses, 64(8-B), 4096.

Sullivan, G., & Harper, M. V. (1997). Hope is not a method: What business leaders can learn from Americas army. New York: Broadway Books.

Ulmer Jr., W. (2005). In focus/ leadership styles : Comparing military and business leaders. Leadership in Action, 25(1), 18-19.

Useem, M. (2010). Four Lessons in Adaptive Leadership. Harvard Business Review, 88(11), 86-90.

Yardley, I. (2007). Understanding the Leadership and Culture Dynamic within a Military Context: Applying Theory to an Operational and Business Context. Defence Studies., 7(1), 21-41.

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