How to Bring Out the Best in Your NCOs

I once heard that the people who work for you are the ones who ultimately get you promoted, or fired.

It’s simply the boss that delivers the “you’re fired” message, but your subordinates directly impact your boss’s decision.

If that statement is true, which I think it is, you should devote a good portion of your time, energy and resources to helping your subordinates succeed.

You should learn how to “bring out the best in your NCOs.”

By doing so, you improve your effectiveness as a leader.

So, what is the key to success to help your subordinates excel?

And how do you bring out the best in your NCOs?

My goal today is to answer those two questions, in order to help you improve your leadership skills.

Listed below are ten simple things you can do to “bring out the best in your NCOs.”

1) Set Clear Expectations: Everything starts with formal, written counseling.

As the leader, you have the responsibility to establish expectations for each of your subordinates.

You do this through formal, written counseling.

You need to sit down with each of your direct reports and tell them what you expect of them.

This includes professional conduct, job performance, standards, expectations, etc.

By doing so, you will ensure they know what to expect.

2) Communicate Often: I don’t know about you, but I hate when the only time I get feedback from my boss is when I mess up.

One of the most common mistakes military leaders make is to not give constant feedback.

When someone does something good, tell them.

When they do something wrong, tell them.

The secret to success is “how you tell them.”

Remember that they are people too.

Follow this advice: “punish in private and praise in public.”

3) Lead by Example: There’s nothing worse than having a slacker boss.

As the leader, you set the tone for your organization.

Therefore, you need to set a strong personal example.

People don’t care what you say.

Instead, they watch what you do.

And they do what you do.

So lead from the front!

4) Support Each Other’s Decisions: If your NCO makes a decision regarding “something in his lane” or “something concerning his subordinate, have his back.

Unless his decision is unsafe, unethical or just plain horrible, you need to support his or her decisions.

And they need to do the same for you.

If they don’t like your decision, they should be allowed to pull you aside in private to talk with you.

Yes, you have the final say.

But good leaders listen to their NCOs, even if they don’t follow their advice.

5) Be Honest with Each Other: All good officer-NCO relationship encourages two way communication.

I always tell my NCOs to pull me aside and correct me if I am doing something wrong.

And I do the same for them.

As a leader, put your pride on hold and encourage your people to communicate with you.

If you can’t tell each other the truth, you are doomed for failure.

6) Reward Good Performance: If your NCO is doing a good job, reward their performance.

You can do this by providing feedback, submit them for an award, give them a four-day pass, take them out to lunch, or something else.

The secret is to get creative.

When possible, reward them in front of their peers.

7) Punish Poor Performance: The leaders I respect the most are the leaders that hold their people accountable.

As a leader, you can’t be scared of confrontation.

If you don’t punish poor performance, all of your superstars will notice.

And it will negatively impact morale.

So, when someone doesn’t meet the standard, tell them.

And create a plan of action to get them to standard.

8) Focus on People’s Strengths: Let’s face it; we all have strengths and weaknesses.

Not everyone is good at writing OPORDs, giving briefs to the Old Man, or reading a map.

As a leader, you need to figure out your subordinates’ strengths and weaknesses, so you can assign them tasks they are capable of performing.

If they aren’t good at something, train them.

Send them to school or pull them aside and give them a class.

Most importantly, please realize that no one is good at everything.

And some people shouldn’t be in certain jobs.

9) Explain the Big Picture: I like to know the big picture.

I like to know why I am doing what I am doing.

As a leader, you have the responsibility to explain to your subordinates the big picture.

Whenever possible, you should let them know why they are doing what they are doing.

Simply put, this is best described as Commander’s Intent.

Although the “because I said so” method will work, the “this is why you’re doing it” is much more effective.

10) Don’t Take Yourself too Seriously: As a leader, you should take your job seriously, but you shouldn’t take yourself too seriously.

You must realize that you are human and will make mistakes.

You need to be able to laugh at yourself and take your mistakes with a grain of salt.

Other Posts You Might Enjoy:

  1. Army 46Q and 46R MOS: The Public Affairs NCO
  2. Army 38A/38B MOS: My Experience as a Civil Affairs NCO in the Army Reserves
  3. How to Empower Your Subordinate Army Officers, NCOs and Soldiers
  4. 10 Leadership and Career Lessons I Learned from my Army NCOs

In summary: The Officer-NCO relationship is a beautiful thing when it works properly.

Good leaders understand that their subordinates ultimately make or break them.

They realize that good subordinates will improve your real estate and make you more valuable to the organization.

On the other hand, untrained and unmotivated subordinates can negatively impact your performance as a leader too.

Therefore, to achieve success, you must know how to effectively manage your subordinates.

To do so, simply follow the ten tips outlined in this article.

Do you have any questions or comments?

Please post them below.

chuck holmes

Chuck Holmes
Former Army Major (resigned)

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4 thoughts on “How to Bring Out the Best in Your NCOs”

  1. An open line of communication between NCO's and their officers is essential. At the end of the day the officer is the boss, but you both need to be able to be honest with each other in private.
    In public you should always have a united front. You can always change a decision later after some discussion (I'm talking day to day decisions, not life or death)
    A great unit will have a great leader and a great set of NCO's at the top. They will support and carry each other.

  2. There is great information here. So much of demonstrating great leadership is about communication and really helping those in your command succeed and feel ready to do their job and to do it well. Leading by example, both in physical manner and morale character is great advice. If your reports cannot strive to perform at your level, it’s difficult to motivate them to do much of anything at all. Good tips. Thanks.

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