Lesson # 1 from Starship Troopers

Today, we’re going to cover the first lesson from Starship Troopers.  This is the first lesson in the mini-series.  If you haven’t read the previous post yet, please do so right now and try to follow it in order.

Lesson # 1: Set a Good Example, Hold Your People Accountable, and Expect Them to Do The Same With Their Subordinates

Quote: “But Jelly didn’t have to maintain discipline among privates because he maintained discipline among his non-coms and expected them to do likewise.”

starship troopers bookMy Take: In the Army your job is to lead your direct reports and then to make sure they lead their Soldiers. At most, you never want to manage more than two levels down.  One of the most common mistakes in the military is micro-managing  your people and trying to do their job for them.  Here are a couple examples:

  • A commanding general is obsessed with how well trained the platoons and companies in the division are
  • A Company Commander is managing his unit all the way down to the team level
  • A Platoon Sergeant is handling an individual Soldier’s issue in their platoon

There might be some rare occasions when this is necessary, but 95% of the time it’s not necessary.  In fact, it’s micro-managing.  What you are really doing is doing your subordinates‘ job for them. And that is a complete disservice to your subordinate leaders.  Remember your job is to train and supervise NO MORE than two levels deep.

More importantly, you need to empower your subordinate leaders and make sure they do their job right.  Don’t do their job for them. And don’t micro-manage.  If you are so busy doing their job for them, you won’t have any time to do your job. And you certainly won’t be preparing them for success in combat or in their career.

I saw this all the time in the military and I realize how easy it is to do.  Heck, I’ve been guilty of it myself.  After all, it’s easy to micro-manage when you have a poor performing Soldier as a direct report.  But look, you don’t want to fall into this trap.  Remember, set a good example, hold your people accountable and expect them to do the same with their subordinates.  Follow that advice and you can’t go wrong.

What are your thoughts? Leave a comment and let me know.

10 thoughts on “Lesson # 1 from Starship Troopers”

  1. Faith A. Coleman

    Definitely, setting a good example is vital. For everyone in leadership, this concept should become a mantra, especially because the Army is like a family – you can’t escape, you can’t pick different parents, you can’t decide where you live, you can’t decide what you do, you can’t tell your superior “I won’t”, you can’t rebel…. A good example is all they should see. Same thing with accountability. If someone holds themselves accountable, they can build more respect than if they had never messed up in the first place. When an officer says “I messed up” what happens. Does it work against them with their superiors?

    1. I don’t think there is anything wrong when you admit that you are wrong. Depending upon what you did, your superiors could hold it against you. Even still, I think people should be man or woman enough to admit when they messed up. That’s part of setting a good example and being a good leader.

      1. Faith A. Coleman

        I agree with you. And someone who keeps secrets about their own mistakes has to suffer the angst and shame of compromising their own integrity. That’s worse than taking the consequences of whatever the mistake was.

  2. This is a great lesson for Military and civilian leaders alike. Lead by example and empower your subordinates to do the same. It’s been my experience that when micro-managing occurs it’s often due to a breakdown in communication and a lack of confidence in the group as a whole. However, when one leads by example and holds subordinates to a higher standard of accountability and excellence, the remainder of the group can’t help but rise to the occasion because they become acutely aware of how vital their performance is to the success of the group – which, in some cases, can be the difference of life and death.

    1. It’s very important to do this and it’s much easier said than done. We are all part of a team and we need to step up to the plate and be good at our job so we can help the team succeed. This especially holds true in the military.

  3. Daniel Slone

    As a platoon sergeant, I told my NCOs that if it became necessary for me to discipline a Soldier in my platoon, both his E-5 team leader and his E-6 squad leader had failed to do their jobs. One person cannot effectively manage 30-40, which is the reason for the military’s hierarchical structure. Leaders have to let that structure work and evaluate results, not scrutinize every step along the way from task assignment to completion.

    1. Good point. When I was a Company Commander I always told my Soldiers that if you bring a problem to me, you probably won’t like my resolution to the problem. I did my best to make sure my subordinate leaders were doing their jobs, not forcing me to do their job for them because they were uncomfortable doing something.

      1. Exactly! I like the way both of you articulated this. Leaders who cannot relinquish control and rely on their NCO’s have a major control problem, and are setting themselves and their soldiers up for failure. A true leader is not insecure and insistent on tightly holding on to perceived power. Empowering is powerful. Daniel, you said it best when you stated “which is the reason for the military’s hierarchical structure.” The leadership model was put in place for a reason.

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