How You Should Approach Working for a Young Civilian Manager

Businesspeople host a meeting at a table.
Businesspeople host a meeting at a table. (Adobe stock image)

Whether you joined at the ripe young age of 18 or perhaps started later in life, service in the military has a certain aging effect on both the body and mind. Thrust into environments at a young age where quick and decisive action often makes the difference between life and death, the military veteran knows how to think, act and, most importantly, lead.

Yet, many taking off the uniform for the last time in pursuit of civilian life will often find themselves in a new career and under the supervision of the less than inspiring, younger and less experienced civilian manager. While the veteran in you might bristle at the prospect, there is a path to success for both yourself and the baby-faced kid giving you "orders."

Calm Down and Breathe

The kid didn't do anything wrong. Sure, they might have chosen college over service in the military or perhaps they entered the workforce early and have been building credibility with this particular company while you were faithfully serving this nation.

However, the most important aspect to realize is that this younger and less experienced manager is not in the wrong for simply being in the position. For if you step on to the job with an instant enmity toward your younger boss for simply being there, it will be quite hard for you to read the manager-employee relationship accurately. So calm down and breathe.

Once you align yourself to having an open mind about the new junior "commander," then you will be well on your way to developing a healthy relationship with your new boss that can allow for mutual growth. Should you find yourself under the leadership of an individual who appears lacking in character and competence, then you still have a path to success that doesn't involve sitting in human resources explaining the colorful language of the military.

Commit Yourself to Personal Growth

Whether or not your boss is fully equipped to do their job becomes irrelevant when you commit yourself to your own personal growth in spite of less than favorable circumstances. While your military experience might have given you the technical skills necessary to master the civilian position, it likely did not give you the personal experience you need to master the civilian workplace culture. So commit yourself to growth and enjoy every interaction with your boss, whether it is good or bad, as a lesson in this culture.

Rather than respond with, "How could he?" a person committed to their own growth can walk away from the worst of professional interactions with nothing more than, "Fascinating!" For one approach makes you the victim, while the latter puts you in charge of your personal development. Once you realize you are holding the reins to what matters most, your adaptability and tolerance for a less than pleasant work environment increase.

Commit Yourself to the Growth of Your Boss

It is entirely reasonable that a first sergeant with more than 20 years of experience is less than thrilled about receiving orders from the second lieutenant who was at a frat party about one year prior. However, the best enlisted leaders understand that everyone succeeds when everyone is committed to the other's excellence. The fact is, your experience means you have wisdom and insight to offer this younger boss.

You don't have to withhold it in an attempt to make them look bad or seem incompetent. Rather, an entire world of possibility opens up when you are willing to grant others excellence. If you receive a work directive that you read as an aggressive "order," comply with the task at hand, then put your coaching hat on and talk with your manager about it after the fact. If your experience tells you that your boss is struggling, don't tell him that in front of his boss. Pull him aside and talk with them afterward.

Transitioning from the military can be hard, and there is simply no reason to make it harder on yourself by setting yourself up for an inevitable conflict with a younger, less experienced manager. This new job might not be the career you always wanted, but when committed to growth, this job and the less than inspiring boss can be a catapult to a future without precedent for your post-military career.

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