Courage After Fire | Guest Post By H. Scott Dalton Of

This is a guest post by H. Scott Dalton.  He spent twelve years as an officer in the U.S. Army and Texas Army National Guard, including a tour of duty in Iraq in 2005.  He writes about courage at


CourageYou have already shown you’ve got plenty of courage but what does that look like when you hang up your uniform?

Coming home from combat is a tough transition.

Going from the predictable structure of military life to the relative chaos of the corporate world can be just as hard.

When you try to do both at the same time, or in quick succession, you might feel like you’ve landed on a completely different planet.

It’s easy to get confused by fuzzy supervisor relationships, regulations that seem more like suggestions, and meetings that drag on forever and seem to accomplish nothing.

Who are these people? you might find yourself asking. Where did they come from, and what language are they speaking?

Meanwhile—flash traffic here—they’re asking the same question about you.

What’s Your Advantage?

You have an advantage, if you can figure out how to use it. You are fluent in a language they understand, even if they don’t always speak it.

You’ve been trained in it. It’s been your breakfast, your currency, for all the years you spent serving your country.

You’ve already guessed what it is. It’s courage.

People understand courage in their hearts, even when their minds don’t comprehend it. They admire it even when they don’t want to admit it.

Courage In the Military Vs Courage Out Of The Military

MilitaryBut courage has a different form in the corporate world than what you’re used to.

It’s simple in the military: you expose yourself to physical danger because that’s what it takes to complete the mission and protect your buddies. And you know damned well they’ll do the same for you.

There’s usually no physical danger in the corporate world, but there are plenty of opportunities to show courage: finding an out-of-the-box solution to a problem, asking the question everybody want to ask but nobody has the nerve to, even questioning a manager’s decision (behind closed doors, of course). Even working late to get something done can be an act of courage in a culture where people pack up at 5:00.

There are a few things you need to remember, though:

  • People may not appreciate your motives. You’ve been trained that courage is one of your tools to complete the mission, or to protect your buddies or your unit or your country. You’ve been expected to be selfless. Your work colleagues may not see it that way. In some organizations, even taking on more than you have to might be taken as a threat. Especially if rumors of layoffs are going around.
  • You may not see a short-term reward. Military leaders are trained to acknowledge performance, even if it’s just with a nod or a pat on the shoulder. Good corporate managers will do this, but don’t be shocked if yours doesn’t.
  • Forget about medals. Visible signs of recognition are uncommon in the corporate world. You may see a bonus at the end of the quarter, or the year, or after a critical program has a key success. But you only talk about those with your supervisor. In twelve years in the corporate world, I’ve only had one manager who held regular meetings where he recognized people publicly.

high speed low dragIt isn’t that they’re morally inferior—they just haven’t lived the way you have.

Remember, you have the benefit of years of training in leadership and plenty of experience with courage.

Your typical corporate manager was a high-performing individual who got promoted to management with minimal (maybe no) training in how to lead people.

She’s probably really good at your job, but she’s had to learn everything she knows about leadership on the fly.

When it comes to your coworkers, you may find some of them hard to identify with. They’re not lazy; some of the hardest-working folks I’ve ever known were corporate types.

But you’ve spent most of your adulthood in an organization that rewards selfless service, where you and your buddies were closer than brothers. You’ve never had to wonder whether you were part of an organization that was doing something important.

You’ve never had to worry whether you’d be laid off right before the holidays so the company could make its year-end numbers. Believe me—they’re doing the best they can, just like you are.

So you’ll need to find ways to show your courage without intimidating them.

Here are a few ways to make that adjustment easier:

1. Find a mentor.
It might be a fellow veteran who’s been there for a while. It might be a manager you respect, or a senior colleague who can show you the ropes. It might be a neighbor or family friend who’s retired, or who works at a different company.

Whoever it is, run your good ideas by your mentor first; he or she can help you find ways to bring them forward without stepping on toes.

2. Don’t hide.
It’s tempting, when you don’t identify with the people you work with, to put your head down and march on with your mission. But you know better than that. The courageous way to deal with a tough situation is to face it head-on, and the way you build trust and respect is by showing it—so ask your coworkers about their work and their families and tell them about yours.

If they need help with their work, offer. Ask for help if you need it. Answer their questions about your service if you’re comfortable doing so. If not, say so politely. They’ll respect that, even if they don’t understand.

3. Be humble.
Remember the loudmouth in basic or boot camp nobody liked? The one who was always talking about all the cool stuff he had done? You’re not him, but the minute you walk into your new job, your coworkers wonder if you are.

Prove them wrong. You need to show them you don’t think you’re better than they are—because you’re not. The more you show them you’re on their team, the more likely they’ll be to trust you and follow your lead.

4. Share your victories, and own your mistakes.
This is especially important when you’re in a management role. When you step forward with a good idea, or try something new, it might work out great. And it might crash and burn.

CourageBe sure to give credit to your colleagues who helped with a success, and offer to take full blame for failure. You can make a friend for life by owning a mistake, even if you had help making it.

Your problem—and your opportunity—is that courage is baked into your bones. You’ve been trained to deal with issues directly and decisively, and you expect people not to take it personally if you run through them while you’re accomplishing your mission. It’s one of the qualities that make you so valuable to an employer.

But in the corporate world, people will take it personally. Knowing a little bit about how to navigate these waters will give you a head start on your new career, and will help make your transition easier, quicker, and more productive for you and your employer.


H. Scott Dalton spent twelve years as an officer in the U.S. Army and Texas Army National Guard, including a tour of duty in Iraq in 2005.  He writes about courage at