Leadership on the Outside - A Story of Transition & A Re-introduction to Standards_3x5 Leadership

By Joe Callejas

About 9 months ago, I wore my Army uniform for the last time and set foot inside the business sector as a civilian. After 16 years of Soldiering, I am head first into the business world as an operations manager. I have heard so much (specifically from my civilian leadership) about the differences in leadership styles that I must now adhere to because, “this isn’t the Army anymore, and you cannot treat team members like Soldiers.”

Here is the thing, though: it isn’t different. Not really…not at all, actually. And here’s why.

People are people, and leadership is about people. And whether you are dealing with Soldiers or Civilians, people want to know that you care about them. People follow leaders who show that they care for them as humans first, employees second. That is how I tried to lead in the Army and how I continue to try and lead in the civilian sector – by putting people first.

But, there have been some surprising insights that I continue to learn along the way. One of the first areas of concern I had in my new job was the lack of accountability. I inherited a shift that did not have a manager in over a year. In that time, there was an erosion of standards. Standards: that is a word I thought I was done with the day I left the Army. What I have come to realize is that standards are important to every organization and business. Whether leading high-speed paratroopers out of a C-130 onto the drop zone or simply 10 employees on second shift loading trucks for the next day’s delivery, we have standards that we must meet. As a leader, I must hold everyone accountable to those standards. It’s fascinating to realize that the ideas I learned on day 1 of basic training on a hot day in Oklahoma almost two decades ago are still relevant to me today as a leader outside of the military.

Accountability is not a sexy leadership buzzword. It does not necessarily inspire people to go out and lead. But it is the single most important action leaders can take to set the conditions for success. Right now in my organization, there is a push for “truly human leadership,” which stresses that a leader must know themselves, build trust, grow employees, and finally connect with people. As I said in the beginning, leadership is about people. But this concept misses the idea that you cannot lead without establishing accountability. How do you build trust if your leaders do not have faith in your ability to enforce the standards? Or, how can your team members trust you to do the right thing if you cannot hold others accountable to do the same? How I see it: if you cannot hold yourself or your team accountable to agreed-upon standards, you do not have trust.

So there it is: accountability helps to build trust, trust enables leaders to build better teams, and better teams achieve higher success. The same formula that works in the business world also works in the military. Which, in reflection, doesn’t surprise me at all. Leadership is leadership no matter where it happens.

3×5 Leadership Note: You can check out this other 3×5 Leadership article if you’re interested in reading more on HOW to instill discipline through accountability and by enforcing standards.

Joe Callejas is a former Army logistics officer and now a logistics manager in the corporate world. Joe is passionate about leadership, in and out of the military.


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1 Comment

  1. I’ve heard similar comments from civilians upon transitioning about “this isn’t the military. You can’t treat people like soldiers, Sailors, Marines, or Airmen”. I think some of this falls from perceptions and images we’ve created in holding people accountable to standards. We understand the linkage between responsibility and accountability and it really is about people. They just see the results and don’t understand how we got them (and Hollywood hasn’t always helped). Thanks Joe for your sharing your thoughts.

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