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Combat to Corporate: Migrating from Military Leadership to Business

Military leadership and civilian business leadership rely on overlapping sets of leadership skills and personal traits. However, the extent of this overlap is currently uncertain, and veterans transitioning to business leadership positions may face challenges translating their existing skills to their new role. Although the primary topic of the research is leadership, other features of a military background that can be beneficial or disadvantageous to veterans transitioning into business will create support for the main research.

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The military experience has significant and unique differences from civilian life. Because of this, members of the military service develop particular personal and professional traits. Some of these traits can be beneficial or disadvantageous in the new environment. Thus, identifying the specific features of the military experience that are translatable to a business environment and their applicability in the new setting can be a significant advancement in the field of leadership research.

Literature Review

Leadership is a significant area of current research, with leadership styles and qualities serving as the main focus. However, the majority of the current body of leadership research focuses on the business or healthcare settings (Nazri & Rudi, 2019). Kirchner & Akdere (2017) point to the differences and commonalities between military and civilian leadership development strategies and methods, which can point to transferable traits. DeVault (2017) identifies personality traits that are generally positive for a business leader, however, their excessive levels in military leaders may be detrimental to post-transition positions. This presents an avenue of research into the challenges of transitioning between military and business environments, and particular military features that may not be immediately adaptable to a business setting, but become beneficial after adaptation.

Transformational leadership is one current trend in leadership studies, often associated with positive outcomes in non-military contexts (Buil et al., 2018; Fischer, 2016). A study by García-Guiu et al. (2016) links it with improved performance in military units; Hamad (2015) further supports this and suggests self-sacrifice as a critical trait in both military leaders and transformational leadership. Finally, Fischer (2016) identifies competencies that contribute to transformational leadership, while Sang-Jung (2020) provides traits that are sought after in military organizations. These lists can be cross-referenced to identify specific traits and competencies that are shared between civilian and military environments.

Based on the presented research, it is evident that although leadership research is well-established in both military and non-military settings, two research gaps are evident. One, the overlap between the fields is not sufficiently researched; it is not necessarily clear which traits and competencies are shared and which are unique to either setting. Two, the specifics of the transition process are not currently clear. Although some of the research points to a military background being generally beneficial to performance in a civilian line of work, findings such as DeVault (2017) point to some competencies beneficial in the military becoming hindrances in the transition process. Clarifying these issues can be a significant benefit to leadership research by informing future leadership development strategies or training and accomodation programs targeting veterans transitioning to civilian work.

Current Events and Trends

The rapidly changing situation in the world exerts pressure on current leadership research in both the military and civilian sectors. As the ongoing COVID-19 health crisis has an extreme effect on businesses, necessitating rapid and extensive changes to implement necessary safety measures, it provides a lucrative area for research into the value of adaptability to effective leadership. As leadership in extreme, crisis, and unpredictable conditions is critical for military leaders, this competence can be particularly relevant to business management in a time of crisis. Bartsch et al. (2020) present an example of such emergent research, identifying task-oriented leadership as important to maintaining employee performance during the pandemic. Similarly, Al Saidi et al. (2020) point to the importance of leadership traits such as good coordination and communication. These current studies can help further leadership research by identifying leadership traits and competences that are particularly relevant during crisis management.

From the military side, research is focused on the rapidly changing nature of warfare and military operations. Emergence of new technologies, particularly unmanned air vehicles (UAV) is responsible for changes in the leadership competence requirements for military commanders, according to researchers such as Szegedi (2017). Kark et al. (2016), meanwhile, highlights the paradoxes inherent in military leadership and the need of modern leadership science to adapt and account for these paradoxes.

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Applications of military leadership in non-military contexts are another relatively untapped area of research. Haymaker (2019) points to certain issues military veterans may face when transitioning to civilian jobs, but link them to differences in expectations rather than any acquired competencies or personality traits. As such, the current global situation, as well as the current research trends in leadership, both military, business, and transitional between the two settings, suggest that there is a current need to integrate the two sides. Research that allows to bridge this gap will be beneficial to resolving the current global crisis, as well as aid in the development of leadership studies in general. On a more personal level, such research can help improve veterans’ means of transitioning to civilian work, in leadership positions or otherwise.


Al Saidi, A. M. O., Nur, F. A., Al-Mandhari, A. S., El Rabbat, M., Hafeez, A., & Abubakar, A. (2020). Decisive leadership is a necessity in the COVID-19 response. The Lancet, 396(10247), 295-298.

Bartsch, S., Weber, E., Büttgen, M., & Huber, A. (2020). Leadership matters in crisis-induced digital transformation: How to lead service employees effectively during the COVID-19 pandemic. Journal of Service Management.

Buil, I., Martínez, E., & Matute, J. (2018). Transformational leadership and employee performance: The role of identification, engagement and proactive personality. International Journal of Hospitality Management, 77, 64-75. Web.

DeVault, E. (2017). Personality traits of military executives and the potential for leadership [Doctoral dissertation, Capella University]. ProQuest Dissertations Publishing.

Fischer, S. A. (2016). Transformational leadership in nursing: A concept analysis. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 72(11), 2644-2653. Web.

García-Guiu, C., Moya, M., Molero, F., & Moriano, J. A. (2016). Transformational leadership and group potency in small military units: The mediating role of group identification and cohesion. Revista de Psicología Del Trabajo y de Las Organizaciones, 32(3), 145-152. Web.

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Hamad, H. B. (2015). Transformational leadership theory: Why military leaders are more charismatic and transformational? International Journal on Leadership, 3(1).

Kark, R., Karazi-Presler, T., & Tubi, S. (2016). Paradox and Challenges in Military Leadership. In Berson, Y. et al. (Eds.), Leadership Lessons from Compelling Contexts (pp. 157-187). Emerald Group Publishing Limited. Web.

Kirchner, M., & Akdere, M. (2017). Military leadership development strategies: implications for training in non-military organizations. Industrial and Commercial Training, 49(7/8), 357-364. Web.

Nazri, M., & Rudi, M. (2019). Military leadership: A systematic literature review of current research. International Journal of Business and Management, 3(2), 1-15. Web.

Sang-jung, P., & Yoo-shin, I. (2020). A case study on the core competencies of military leadership for junior officers. International Journal of Military Affairs, 5, 1-12.

Szegedi, P. (2017). UAVs and the military leadership. Scientific Research And Education In The Air Force–AFASES, 2, 179-188.

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