Leadership Lessons I Learned from the Infantry

Today, I want to share some valuable leadership lessons I learned from the Infantry.  I should start out by telling you that I am NOT an infantryman, nor was I EVER a combat arms Soldier.  I spent my entire career in the combat service support arena and enjoyed it immensely.

That being said, almost every single dynamic leader I ever served with in the Army had an infantry background.  Yes, I had some great leaders that weren’t combat arms, but probably 90% of the leaders I respected, trusted and admired most were all infantry officers.  Sure, I used to crack jokes about the infantry, just like they do about POGs (personnel other than grunts).  I think that is expected and is quite normal in the Army.

However, there is something about infantry and leadership that go hand in hand.  The infantry produces some exceptional leaders, both in the Officer and NCO ranks.  I think the infantry does a better job teaching leadership than any other branch/MOS in the Army.  I think this happens because the infantry has a unique mission.  They have to be tough.  They have to get things done.  They typically have higher standards.  And they are no-nonsense.

To make it clear, I am not knocking people who weren’t infantry. Anyone can be a good or bad leader!

In the paragraphs below I want to share some leadership lessons I learned from the infantry.  These lessons are listed in no particular order.

# 1 Results are What Counts – The infantry are all about producing results.  And results are what counts.  Most people focus on EFFORTS.  I would argue that effort is irrelevant if results are not produced.  Yes, you want people to work hard and give it their all, but if they can’t produce the results you want, they need to be rehabilitated, transferred or separated.

# 2 Don’t Baby Anyone – Quite perhaps the best lesson I learned about leadership from the infantry is not to baby people.  The combat service support field tends to baby people, especially young Soldiers.  They are all about making people feel good and be happy.  They tend to be VERY soft on their Soldiers.  They let them get away with a lot of things the infantry would never let slide, especially discipline and attitude issues.   Not so in the infantry.  In the infantry EVERYONE is expected to perform and pull their weight. Everyone is expected to maintain their self discipline.   This is probably what I admire most about the infantry.

# 3 Leadership is Not a Popularity Contest – Most infantry leaders are pretty hard core.  They are really MISSION oriented and training oriented.  They’re not there to win friends and make everyone happy.  They have high standards, they are typically hard nosed and they expect everyone to do their job.  They aren’t trying to win a popularity contest with their Soldiers or followers.  They’re trying to get the job done!

#4 Hold Everyone to  High Standards – High standards.  This is another thing I really love about the infantry.  They set high standards in their units and expect everyone to follow those standards.  They never go for the minimum.  They always try to go above and beyond.  They don’t tolerate slackers and people who try to get over.

Final Thoughts

Of course, there are exceptions to every rule.  Just because you are infantry doesn’t mean you will be an exceptional leader.  Yes, I have met a few slacker infantry leaders too.  And I’ve also met some amazing combat support and combat service support leaders as well.  But for the most part, the infantry leaders have been absolutely amazing, especially compared to many leaders outside of the combat arms arena.

I think that everyone in the Army can learn something from the infantry.  What do you think?  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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4 thoughts on “Leadership Lessons I Learned from the Infantry”

  1. Theresa Williams

    The biggest takeaway from this LEADERSHIP IS NOT A POPULARITY CONTEST. Life is not a popularity contest! This is so huge. So many try to continually win people over and play politics and lose sight of what they’re really there for. You are there for the mission and for the country. Do that right and the rest will fall in place. Thank for this!! The whole list is awesome and I’m sure the merits of serving as an infantryman go well beyond this. A short but sweet list.

  2. Infantrymen have the potential to be great leaders because of the training they undergo and the high standard against which they are assessed. Infantrymen are trained with a very serious end goal in mind: one day, these soldiers will be in real-life combat and experience true danger. These soldiers need to be tested and trained in such a way that will prepare them for such an experience. Babying soldiers isn’t going to keep them safe. Infantrymen who slack off will be a hazard to themselves and others during combat. The ones who don’t train their minds and bodies will not be able to cope with the harshness of war. With these things in mind, a motivated Infantryman can’t help but develop all the skills necessary to become an excellent leader.

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