I want to keep it real with you today. It pains me to write this for the world to read, but I know that it will help at least one other fellow Army Officer, so it’s worth it.
My journey to becoming a competent and proficient Army Officer was a long road.
I was one of those cadets who slipped through the cracks.
Looking back, I shouldn’t have been commissioned to begin with, but I was. I barely made it through the Advanced Camp at Fort Lewis, and I’m not sure how I completed the R.O.T.C. program.
In college, I was a party animal. My priorities were out of whack. I was more concerned about drinking and women then I was about my studies.
Maybe you can relate. Maybe not.
I’m sure I tested the patience of my Professor of Military Science a few times.
On more than one occasion he told me to take my head out of my you know what.
This is not easy to tell you, but it’s the God’s honest truth.
I continued down this path for a couple of years after college.
During my first two years as a commissioned officer, I was HORRIBLE.
And that is putting it nicely. Instead of being a “troubled soldier” I was a “troubled officer.”
Ever known of those?
Yes, I was one of them!
I had a bad attitude, a chip on my shoulder, zero people skills and I was arrogant and cocky.
My heart wasn’t in the Army. I really didn’t want to be there.
This is not a recipe for success when you are leading other people.
Leading Soldiers should be considered an HONOR, not a punishment.
My first duty assignment was Fort Carson, Colorado. I was assigned as a Platoon Leader in a Forward Support Battalion.
For the first 12 to 18 months there, I failed miserably in my job.
I could barely lead myself, let alone other people. I questioned authority. I did not know how to lead others. I was not good at my job.
Even worse, I was not respected by my peers, leaders or subordinates. Heck, I didn’t even respect myself.
No one liked me.
Fortunately, I had a wake-up call. Ever had one of those before?
They can be completely life-changing if you are ready to embrace it.
Looking back, I am so glad this happened to me. I’m glad I was initially a bad officer, and then eventually a top officer.
My wakeup call happened for TWO REASONS.
First off, our battalion got a new Battalion Commander.
To this day, he was the best leader I have ever met in my entire life. He is currently a three-star general.
This guy DEMANDED high standards for everyone on his team.
He knew how to bring out the best in people.
He saw potential in me that no one else saw. He challenged me to be better. He told me I was capable of great things and was not living up to my potential.
No one else had ever told me that before.
He even selected me for a job (the Battalion S4 Officer) over several people who outranked me.
On the day I took the job he said, “welcome to the varsity squad. Don’t disappoint me.”
That was the first day in my life I really took pride in a job. I made it a point that no matter what I did, I would never disappoint the guy.
His two favorite sayings were “dare to be great” and “just get it done.”
To this day, those two phrases are my leadership mantra.
Now, I know what you’re thinking right now. You probably think I was raised by a bunch of gorillas in the jungle.
Nothing is further from the truth. I was raised by great, loving parents who spent a lot of time with me, taught me good values and always made me feel loved.
I was a good kid.
Despite that, from the time I turned 18, up until that point (age 24-25) I fell off the wagon. I was a late bloomer. I didn’t have many positive friends.
Simply put, I was a train wreck.
Around this same time in my life (2002), I found some great business mentors outside of the military as well.
I joined Amway.
First off, I am not in Amway anymore. I only spent a couple years in that company (and yes, I did pretty well with them).
However, the decision to do that business changed my life forever, helped me come out of my shell, and even helped me be a better Army Officer.
Without that experience, I’m not sure where I would be today.
I learned three things in that business that changed my military career (and life). Those three things are:
- The power of setting written goals
- The power of association
- The power of personal development
That experience got me on the self-development journey, which I am still on some 14 years later.
It got me hanging out with positive people. It got me writing down my goals. And most importantly, it got me working on my personal development.
I began to change.
My attitude changed. My posture changed. My confidence changed.
I began to actually like myself and believe in myself.
How did I change and eventually become a good Army officer?
Well, it didn’t happen overnight. I started seeing good results right away, but it took me about three or four years to become the person I am today.
First off, I took responsibility for my own life. I realized that everything that happened to me (or didn’t happen) was my own responsibility. I stopped making excuses and finally became a man!
After all, adults don’t make excuses. Only children do that!
The next thing that happened was I fell in love with reading. I devoured everything I could on leadership, people skills, communication skills, goal setting and more. I was a sponge.
Some of the books that had the biggest impact on my life include:
- Think & Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill
- The Magic of Thinking Big by Dr. David Schwarz
- How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
- Psycho-Cybernetics by Maxwell Maltz
- Acres of Diamonds by Russell Conwell
If you’ve never read these books before, order them on Amazon and STUDY THEM.
The information is life-changing.
Another thing I did to be a better Army Officer was to be a student of my profession.
I studied and learned everything I could about my craft. I read field manuals, guides, books about Army leadership and whatever else I could get my hands on. I talked with respected Army Officers and learned what I could from them.
Next, I worked on my people skills. I became likable. Even though the Army is not a democracy, I realized that being able to get along with others is vitally important.
This was a huge challenge for me. I had to learn how to listen to other people. I had to accept that I didn’t know it all. I had to learn how to get along with different types of people. I had to learn compassion.
It’s easy to be a dictator. Anyone with rank in the Army can bark out orders. But that’s not what leadership is all about.
Leadership is about inspiring people through your own personal example. It’s about getting other people to want to do what you ask them to do. It’s about leading by example.
Although this was my biggest challenge to overcome at the time, it is now my biggest strength.
Once I mastered my people skills and leadership skills, I became a very good officer.
I spent another 10 years in the Army and was a top block officer. I got the tough jobs and I performed well above my peers. I was the guy who could succeed in any job.
I’m proud to admit that.
Heck, if I can do it, anyone can!
You can change. I did.
All it takes is a decision, focus and discipline.
It won’t happen overnight. It’s a process.
But as I see it, you owe it to your Soldiers to make it happen.
Soldiers deserve the best leaders. I hope you will make the decision to be that leader!