5 Common Mistakes That New Army Team Leaders Make

Today, I want to share 5 mistakes that new Army Team Leaders make.  No, I’ve never been a Team Leader myself, but I have supervised MANY Team Leaders during my Army career, so I know what they SHOULD be doing.  What you will see below are some common mistakes that I noticed during my career.

# 1 Trying to Be Buddy-Buddy with Their Soldier

This is probably hands down the biggest mistake that new Army Team Leaders make.  Lots of new E-5/Sergeants were promoted in the same unit that they were a Soldier in.  Even though I am against that happening, it is a reality in today’s Army.  Lots of new Sergeants still have the junior enlisted mentality, because that’s all they know.  To make things worse, the Soldiers they lead are often their friend(s).  I’ve found that it’s next to impossible to properly lead and supervise someone who is your buddy.  It’s next to impossible to give punishment, take care of disciplinary issues or correct mistakes when you are buddy-buddy with someone.  My best advice to the young Team Leader is to be your Soldiers’ leader, not their friend.  You can’t be both!

# 2 Being a Worker, Rather than a Supervisor

I’ll be the first to admit that there will be times that you need to roll up your sleeves and do some work WITH your Soldiers.  When required, do it!  But remember that the Army pays leaders to get things done through others.  As a new NCO, you are now a supervisor and a leader.  It’s your job to delegate, supervise, and inspect.  Make sure that you give clear instructions and then step back out of your Soldiers’ way and let them do the work.  You can’t do everything yourself, nor should you!

# 3 Letting Their Rank Go to Their Head

Another common mistake that new NCOs/Team Leaders make is letting their rank go to their head.  This might be the first time in your military career that you have had some authority and responsibility.  Don’t let it give you an ego or make you think you are better than others.  If anything, your new rank means you now have a job to SERVE the people that you lead.  Treat people with respect and make the people who work for you show you respect, but don’t become an egotist who thinks they walk on water.

# 4 Not Managing Their Time Wisely

Time is our most precious asset.  In the ARNG and USAR, we have to put a month’s worth of work into one weekend.  You will quickly discover that you have a lot of UNPAID work outside of drill weekend.  In fact, a lot of your work is PREPARING for drill weekend making sure everything is planned and resourced.  This might include reading or writing OPORDs, preparing risk assessments, conducting site visits, attending meetings, etc.  Make sure that you plan your time wisely during drill weekend and outside of it.  Look at the day training schedule and OPORD and get a day planner.  Block off time for all the specified, implied and essential tasks that you have to do during drill weekend.  If you don’t manage your time it will manage you!

# 5 Being Scared to Correct Their Soldiers When They Are Wrong

When something or someone is wrong, address the issue immediately.  That is what you get paid to do.  Even if you are a naturally shy or an introverted person, that is your responsibility.  NCOs get paid to enforce the Army standards.  Use your rank in a good way to address issues and fix them when you discover them.  Do not be scared to address someone if they do something wrong.  By all means, use some tact when you do it, but make sure that you do it.  It’s your job.

Final Thoughts

In summary, these are five common mistakes that new Army Team Leaders make.  Of course, not every leader makes these five mistakes, but many new Army Team Leaders do.  My goal is to increase your awareness, so you don’t make these mistakes yourself.

What are your thoughts?  What do you think are the biggest or most common mistakes that new Army Team Leaders make?  Leave a comment below to share your thoughts.  I look forward to hearing from you.

chuck holmes

Chuck Holmes
Former Army Major (resigned)
Publisher, Part-Time-Commander.com
Email: mrchuckholmes@gmail.com

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7 thoughts on “5 Common Mistakes That New Army Team Leaders Make”

  1. Sir, I am so glad you brought to light what is going on with new NCO's and FLL's. These are important issues that need to be taken seriously.

    I'm the only female in my squad, one of just 3 in our platoon, I'm 5'1", 105lbs., and have to have my XS/XS ACU's special ordered. The month I was pinned E-5 was my first month, first day even, with a new Company. As the Company's URC, I sat down with the Commander for my own "blue folder" interview. He asked me to view the Company's latest PT scores behind me, which were not impressive at all. He then asked me how we could improve those scores. I informed the Commander that I didn't have an answer for him at that precise moment, but I would before the weekend was out.

    The next morning, I showed up extremely early, in order to ensure a proper amount of time with the CPT, uninterrupted, and review my "sample" plan to improve PT scores.

    After going over my PT plan with the Commander, he said, "SGT Delaney, you've enlightened me." He called the 1SG and Readiness NCO over and told them he wanted a meeting with all squad leaders immediately after first formation. He did, and to my surprise, he implemented my PT plan that I proposed to him. Due to this plan, the unit's PT scores increased significantly.

    The 5 mistakes you listed above, Sir, are ALL valid mistakes new NCO's or FLL's make, however, in my opinion, #3 should be #1 and that's not a "mistake" in my eyes, so much as it's a lack of maturity. Mistakes happen to the best of us, the worst of us, and everyone in between. Mistakes are things you do, unaware that it's wrong, even if you have the best intentions. Letting your rank go to your head and abusing that authority you have is a conscious decision. If not addressed and corrected immediately, those individuals will continue to abuse their rank throughout their career, just as my former E-8/NCOIC does. I respect the rank, but I don't have to respect the person wearing it! I digress….

    Do you know what my plan was that I pitched to the Commander? Simply putting First Line Leaders responsible and accountable for their Soldiers' PT, both at drill and at home. To me, it was what I thought was supposed to be happening anyways. You are responsible for your Soldiers. But Team Leaders weren't talking to their teams, getting to know them and their habits, encouraging them, meeting them for PT outside the unit, giving them the tools necessary to PT and diet and record both at home, FLL's contacting them and family to show support and check progress. Basically, I reminded the CPT that FLL's have basic responsibilities that they either are forgetting, don't care about, or think that their role as a FLL is just there for shits and giggles.

    I was made Alpha Team Leader in 1st squad when the former Team Leader couldn't pass the APFT. So I had a SGT, SPC, and 2 PV2's in my team. I felt that if any of them failed at PT, as well as H/W/T, marksmanship, or anything else, it was my fault. After becoming Alpha Team Leader, none of my team failed at any company wide qualifications or tests. Even being the only female, as well as extremely petite, I earned their respect, too. I even have senior NCO's from other platoons who come to me for assistance on various issues, both civilian and military, because they know I will assist them right then and I won't leave them until I get them an answer or the right person who will. And I always ask if they need anything else from me before I leave them. First Line Leaders need to think like a parent. They need to have the mentality that their team needs them as a child does a parent. Don't treat them like a child, but rather address every issue they have as if it's the only thing that matters in the world right now. That they are your entire focus and nothing is more important at that moment.

    A lot of new Team Leaders make that big mistake of forgetting that his or her team is not only to be proficient in movements and such. There is a lot more than Team movements that make up a team. There are Soldiers. As their FLL, YOU are responsible for teaching, assisting, correcting, and making them better Soldiers. Team Leaders seem to think that just because they delegated to their team what they need to accomplish, that their job is done, but it's not.

    I completely agree with General B.B.Bell's "under the oak tree" leadership style. Get to know your Soldier's. Know them personally and know their home life. If you have a Soldier that is all of a sudden slacking their duties and napping in a corner and being short with you, it helps to know that the Soldier and his wife have a newborn at home, only weeks old, and they are first time parents, too, so your Soldier isn't getting enough rest and dealing with the pressures of being a new parent. Tell him to go nap in his vehicle for a couple hours and fill in for him. Tell him you understand, but he needs to be more aware of his attitude in front of others. If you didn't know this was going on at his house and just wrote him up, you are going to cause more problems. Getting to know them, understanding what's going on in their lives, and being able to pull them aside and have a private talk with them, reassuring them that you are there, taking on their workload if need be, and yet maintaining your authoritive position, instead of, like you said, Sir, being their friend, helps EVERYONE as well as helps the mission at hand.

    1. Thank you so very much for sharing all of this with us Laura. With persistence we can help change leaders who have let the position go to their head. Even Generals have learned from Privates, and we always need to realize that our complete military career is a learn and do experience.

      Again, thank you for giving this detailed comment. Hopefully other leaders share this and learn from it. May your military career keep growing strong.

  2. I think becoming a new leader is hard. By not having the boss-worker relationship with your Soldiers, it’ll be hard to correct them and tell them exactly what to do instead of collaborating on minor decisions. Yet, steps need to be taken to ensure that the new leader is effective – and understanding the new responsibilities is paramount.

  3. I'll comment on #5 first: Not being able to correct someone; I see this a lot in the Reserves. People are afraid to call someone on bad behavior or other problems because they either don't feel they are in a position to do so or they figure it's one weekend a month. Both of these are terrible reasons.

    You have to strike the balance between being buddies and not being a stripe toucher (what I call someone who points to their stripes in lieu of giving you a reason to do something) You can be friends and still be the boss as long as all parties involved understand work is work and off duty is off duty.

  4. This is another good article. All of these mistakes, especially time management issues and letting power go to ones head, are common issues with new leaders, no matter what the industry. Perhaps the most worrisome mistake on this list is being afraid to correct subordinates when they are wrong. Many employees, and soldiers are the same, will deliberately test a new leader with insubordination. How the new leader addresses that can be a make-or-break deal.

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