How Can the Military’s Rules on Professionalism Help You?

You probably know that members of the military follow certain rules, regulations, customs, and traditions, from the requirement to wear a uniform to rules on how we interact with others. You may not know, however, that you can use military rules to boost your professionalism and personal brand in your own job.

As an officer in the U.S. Navy’s Judge Advocate General’s Corps, I am evaluated not only on the quality of my work product, but also less tangible characteristics like leadership and military bearing. Military bearing includes the way I walk, talk, wear my uniform, and interact with others.

Why is military bearing important? It is professionalism epitomized; it is the outward manifestation of what we in the military call “good order and discipline.” Proper military bearing tells the public, my boss, my colleagues, and my clients that I am professional, organized, and can be trusted – that although I am an individual, I am also part of a disciplined team, which works together to accomplish the mission. Some may be surprised by the fact that I am evaluated in part based on appearance and behavior. However, the military has honed in on one key point: professionalism matters. Even if your own job performance evaluation does not include a specific section labeled “Professionalism,” your boss, colleagues, staff, and clients will notice if you are not put-together.

Here are five military customs you can use at your non-military job to boost your professional brand and gain the confidence of your boss, your peers, and your clients.

1. Take Pride in Your “Uniform”

In the military, everyone wears a uniform to the office, whether that office is on a military base, at sea on a ship, or in harm’s way in Afghanistan, and there is little room for personal style. Military uniform regulations seem to cover everything.  Although this may limit some measure of personal expression through appearance, it also serves to maintain a uniform and professional appearance for everyone at the office.

Although you likely have more latitude in your professional wardrobe, it makes sense to be aware of the customs and traditions that may define the “uniform” in your office. If you choose to express your individuality through the clothes you wear, your boss and your clients may pay more attention to what you are wearing than the excellent work you are doing or the quality advice you are providing. Think of yourself as a personal embodiment of the organization that employs you – as an integral part of the team – and dress accordingly.

2. Don’t Eat or Text While Walking

The military salute originated from the custom of knights raising their visors with their right hand to reveal their faces to comrades and identify themselves as friends.  The knight who was distracted by the latest Instragram photos or Facebook meme might meet a truly unfortunate fate if he rode by a counterpart and failed to identify himself!  In today’s professional settings, if you are distracted while walking, you may fail to greet those around you, ignore those you pass while walking, or even run into something or someone.  This norm exists not just to maintain courtesy and decorum, but also as a means to ensure safety.

Although you likely don’t have to salute anyone at work, you never know who you might run into around the office. Did you just walk by your boss or a client and fail to say hello? I don’t know, you were texting. #notworthit

3. Give the Appropriate Greeting of the Day

In the military, the “appropriate greeting of the day” is “good morning,” “good afternoon,” or “good evening,” depending on what time of day it is. This rule is common courtesy. Although it may feel a little formal, it fosters a more professional environment than “Hey” or “Hi!”

4. If You Are on Time, You Are Late

If you are late to a meeting, you are signaling to others that you think your time is more important than theirs. On the other hand, if you plan and arrive early, you signal to everyone else that you are organized and value their time. In the military, the general recommendation is to arrive at least 5 minutes before your appointment or meeting is scheduled to begin, and preferably even earlier than that.  Imagine how much time you could return to your day – or return to your staff or your clients – if you didn’t have to wait for everyone else to arrive on time!  Those few minutes could be valuable in so many ways – some extra billables, some extra time with your family, or just a few more minutes at the gym.

5. “Yes,” Not “Yeah”

An unwritten rule, but an important one. This does not apply when you are having a casual conversation with a peer: it is for those times when you are responding to questions from your boss or a client. “Yeah” is for friends; “Yes” is for colleagues and clients and communicates respect.


Professionalism matters, both within and outside the military.  It is vital to success in any job.  Regardless of where you work or what you do, try these five military-inspired tips to boost your professionalism and elevate your personal brand.


For more information about life as a Navy judge advocate, see


The views presented in this article are those of LT Leikem and do not necessarily represent the views of the U.S. Navy’s Judge Advocate General’s Corps, the United States Navy, the Department of Defense, or its Components.


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