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Soldiers only following orders?


Chris Curry Los Angeles, CA

I've been told by some coworkers that one cannot deal with people in the workplace like one would deal with soldiers in the Army because, "Soldiers only follow orders." I find this incredibly insulting that some people I bump into in corporate America assume our military men and women, void of independent thought, the ability to think through problems and come up with good solutions, only follow orders. I usually respond that in the Army I knew, leaders inspired their soldiers to accomplish their mission and rarely gave orders directing their specific actions. Has anyone encountered this stigma and what ways did you respond?

11 November 2011 10 replies Career Advancement



Don Cox Westminster, CO

Chris, it depends on the organization you're in. When I first got out of college, the company I joined appreciated software developers who could follow directions but also apply creativity and innovation in solving difficult problems. The directions were intended to establish standards for documenting your code so that if your program failed in the middle of the night and someone else was on call to resolve technical problems, they could more easily perform root cause analysis. It did not constrain your ability to develop creative and innovative solutions in your software.

Frankly, as an executive and program manager of large, complex programs, I've found that individuals who balance their ability to follow orders and take direction with their willingness to ask questions - sometimes persistently - when they're uncomfortable with a given direction are key assets to an organization.

14 November 2011 Helpful answer


Ryan Moran Apollo Beach, FL

I think that is one of the main stigmas or stereotypes causing a 12.1% veteran unemployment. I know there are more reasons, but this seems to me as a big factor in that percentage. From my prospective, when I was in the Corps, we were taught and taught "thinking outside of the box" and direct obedience to orders. Unfortunately, the side of "corporate america" that knows little of the military assumes we just follow orders. But as you said, we promote independent thought. I know from my side, we were generally given a task, and it was up to me (with in our SOP's) to get it done. How we got from A to B was our decision, therefore, we do a great deal of independent thinking. I used to get frustrated about comments like this, however, now I laugh and honestly look at it as a challenge to prove to them that we are not "brainwashed" robots. If you look at corporate america you will see that a great deal of veterans are CEO's and Presidents of companies today, reason is because of the skills and knowledge we have that stems from Task and Execution. Long story short, what it boils down to is lack of education on how the military actually operates and what we do and did in the military. So, thats kind of how I have handled it in the past, do some research on companies started by veterans or that are now CEO's (We all dont get that high and I dont expect that at all, just using those high ranking positions as example), show them the thousands of non-profit organizations that have been started by veterans, and all the other things veterans have gone on to do outside of :just following order" statements.

Hope it helps!

12 November 2011 Helpful answer


Jake Brown Montclair, NJ

I think this is a common problem because so few workers have ever served in the military and many mistakenly think that managers are dictatorial and subordinates blindly follow orders. My answer is to explain that soldiers work together much the same as workers in the civilian world - there are back and forth discussions, with subordinates making suggestions and superiors asking for and relying on advice. Also, within the realm of their authority, soldiers are expected to act with initiative, preferably with minimal supervision, but need to know when to involve their boss or seek his or her help.

The main difference is if the boss rejects their input, soldiers tend to be better at respectfully accepting that decision.

11 November 2011 Helpful answer


John Stevens Middletown, MD

Chirs -

The answer is in empirical data and findings from a team of researchers. Syracuse University released the report THE BUSINESS CASE FOR HIRING A VETERAN BEYOND THE CLICHÉS that clearly shows what strengths service member bring to the private sector. Achieving high levels of trust and a strong organizational commitment are wrongly confused with "just following orders."


Laura Rivchun New York, NY

Hi Chris,

I'm not a veteran but having worked in the corporate world, I agree that there are a lot of stereotypes and misconceptions about the military. That said, there are plenty of organizations that value military experience and view it as a definite asset in business.


Art DeGroat Manhattan, KS

There are many myths that civilians hold about former military people. My experience informs me that part of my transition back into "their world" demands that I take time to explain to them how the services really are. I suggest you look at these as opportunities to inform rather than insults. The best colleagues and friends that i have made in my new civilian life started by those that least understood me. Also, if you do this right, you are helping the next veteran that the uninformed will engage.


Jim Zayechek Marietta, GA

I disagree with some previous responses that claim there are few military veterans in private sector employment. In GE Energy, one in every 14 employees is a military veteran. In my final military role before retirement (Army 1SG) the command cadre would tell me WHAT needed to be done and it was up to me and my Platoon Sergeants to figure out the HOW and WHEN to complete the assigned mission per the desired timeline. That kind of resourcefullness is appreciated bt many more companies as they actively seek employes with the skill set just described.


Bryan Wolfe Atlanta, GA

There is a lot of misinformation and assumptions by many in the civilian workforce. Despite years of effort, there still is too much bias/ignorance out there. However, I have seen instances where people do recognize the accomplishments of the military. I also have seen that people who spend 20+ years in the military can sometimes misread situations and need to account for the fact that unlike soldiers/sailors and Airmen, civilians can leave if they want to. This can sometimes lead to a "style" issue that you should at least be aware of.


Chad Storlie Saint Augustine, FL

Chris, Military experience is incredibly valuable to business when it is translated, applied, and implemented to make the business better. Please look at these resources, videos, and podcasts here to help:



Chris Curry Los Angeles, CA

Thanks to everyone for the responses, this was very helpful.

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