Lessons learned in navigating National Guard service and the civilian world

Last updated on November 15th, 2021 at 01:25 pm

It would be hard to meet all of your job responsibilities if you missed 70 days of work in a year, regardless of the circumstances. But missing work to help with voting amidst a global pandemic or the response to civil unrest or riots – that’s another story. 

That was Brandon Lehman’s 2020 as a platoon leader in the Wisconsin Army National Guard and as a branch director for Annex Wealth Management. He managed to balance both jobs well enough. He’s now a battalion logistics officer in the National Guard and director of branch development at Annex. 

Brandon Lehman
Brandon Lehman

The 70 days Lehman spent serving in the Guard were on top of the once-per-month drill and annual trainings he’s required to do. 

“To be honest, the military has prepared me to do things like this my whole career, so when most people would crack under the stress, you just suck it up and drive on, really,” he said. 

Balancing civilian work and National Guard service doesn’t happen alone. Lehman pointed first to his wife, describing her as understanding and the only reason he could do both jobs. He also pointed to his employer, praising the team he works with and the rest of the company, including president and chief executive officer Dave Spano, for their support. 

“They care about me, they care about my family – Dave, the entire team, and I couldn’t ask for anything more,” Lehman said. “They never question it, they never complain, they never say ‘aw man, you’re gone again.’ They just go, ‘Whatever you need, we’ll help you.’”

Lehman’s experience offers lessons for both employees and employers on how to balance Guard service and work in the civilian world. Here’s some of what Lehman had to offer:

Be upfront, open and honest

Legally, employers cannot discriminate against a reservist or National Guard member because of past, present or future military obligations. Still, Lehman said it is a topic to approach carefully in the job interview process, noting some employers may take it into account.

“You can tell by the way the conversation changes that other companies will hold it against you,” Lehman said. “I wouldn’t say it’s been a huge roadblock in my career, but I know it’s stopped me from advancing in other areas.”

Having had work experiences where he didn’t feel his service was supported, Lehman said he was looking for a firm that would be supportive and said he was upfront about what he’d expect from the company and what his obligations would be. 

“You don’t have to, but I tend to take those situations and be as honest and upfront about time commitments and things that are required right away,” Lehman said. 

While not every Guard member’s service requires the same level of commitment as Lehman – he can put 20 to 30 hours in monthly outside of normal training – he said it is important to communicate that service might go beyond one weekend a month and two weeks of training per year. 

“My advice is, when you’re looking for an employer, to be upfront and honest about the time commitment and what it takes,” Lehman said. “And to show your dedication not just to the Guard, but that you’ll be dedicated to the firm, but ask for support in return.”

“If that employer can’t look you in the eyes and tell you, ‘Yeah, I’ve got your back,’ then I wouldn’t work there,” he added. 

Loyalty will be reciprocated

Lehman said the support he gets from Annex makes it possible for him to do both jobs. He said his teammates are not only helping at work, but asking what they can do for his family. And he said the support from Spano and the rest of the company remained even as his number of days of service continued to climb in 2020. 

“Go above and beyond to take care of these guys,” Lehman said of how employers should treat employees who also serve in the National Guard. “Soldiers are loyal. Once they know that you’re loyal to them, they will do anything for you and if you show them loyalty, they will show you loyalty above and beyond anything you can ever imagine.”

Draw on military lessons in leadership

In the National Guard, Lehman has an advantage in getting things done. He has rank. If he tells someone to go clean the bathrooms, the job is going to get done. The same order may not go over quite as well in the office environment. 

“I have two very distinct lives that I live,” Lehman said. 

Still, he said there are many skills that cross over from the military into the civilian world, especially in leadership.

“In the military there is no such thing as beating around the bush. You are direct, you don’t hide things, but you’re professional about it,” Lehman said. “I carry that same demeanor in leadership on the civilian side.”  

He acknowledged people can be taken aback by the direct approach, but said it still works if it is framed properly and those receiving feedback know you are invested in their success. 

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Arthur covers banking and finance and the economy at BizTimes while also leading special projects as an associate editor. He also spent five years covering manufacturing at BizTimes. He previously was managing editor at The Waukesha Freeman. He is a graduate of Carroll University and did graduate coursework at Marquette. A native of southeastern Wisconsin, he is also a nationally certified gymnastics judge and enjoys golf on the weekends.

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