What communicators can learn from the armed forces

Armed Forces Day was observed May 18, but if you missed it, you can still honor the troops, past and present, by faithfully following their best examples.

On Christmas Day in 1958, my father inched his way to breakfast on his elbows and toes with about 125 other Marines. Popularly known today as a plank position, it’s hard enough to hold for 30 seconds. I can’t imagine being forced to move from barracks to commissary—through who- knows-what—just to eat.

That memorable moment was the beginning of my dad’s 21-year career of proudly serving in the U.S. armed forces. Our military extensively trains people to be their best. As the daughter of a retired military member, I’ve picked up a few lessons along the way.

In honor of Armed Forces Day (May 18), I’d like to share some with you. They circle back to three things: discipline, focus, and excellence.

As a communicator, I have no illusions that my job in any way compares to the duties of our military men and women. Having said that…

Stay focused. The focus required in fixing a helicopter before it heads into a war zone trumps the focus it takes to draft a document without any AP style errors. The accuracy of your work as a communicator might not result in death, but I will argue its importance. When you pitch a press release, answer a media inquiry or design a website, the credibility of your employer is at stake, and so, therefore, are other people’s jobs. If you work in internal communications, the words you craft can create a better work environment. Always keep the bigger picture in view.

No matter what your assignment, take pride in it.
In this challenging economy, communication jobs are hard to come by. College graduates from prestigious journalism schools or veteran communicators who’ve faced a layoff might find themselves performing administrative work to get their foot in the door. Always strive for excellence. When you finish a day’s work, make sure it’s something you can be proud of.

Don’t do it for the money. Enlisted personnel do not make much money. My dad joined because he felt it was his duty. Reputable, lucrative positions in communications exist, but be careful not to base career decisions solely on money. Follow your heart and your conscience.

Be respectful. The military chain of command demands respect. Failure to show respect results in swift disciplinary action. As civilians, we enjoy more latitude in sharing our opinions and speaking our mind. But that’s no excuse for being disrespectful to people above or below you in rank.

Be disciplined. Long lists of overwhelming tasks can be tackled with discipline. Establish structure, develop effective processes, and work hard.

My deepest gratitude goes out to all members of our armed forces, past and present. Thank you for your service, your sacrifice, and the infinite number of lessons that could never be captured in a simple blog post.

RELATED: Ragan’s new distance-learning site houses the most comprehensive video training library for corporate communicators.

Dee Ann Adams blogs at DAAwriter.com, where a version of this article originally appeared.


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