Lesson # 3 from Starship Troopers

Today, we’re going to cover the third lesson I learned from the book Starship Troopers.  This is the third 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 # 3: In combat, leader’s must be confident and poised

starship troopers bookQuote: “There mustn’t be any shadow of doubt when you give an order, not in combat.”

My Take: This isn’t rocket science.  I’ve always believed that you never really knew if a military leader was good or not, unless you saw them in action in combat.  In garrison, and in peacetime, anyone can be a successful military leader.  Stress is lower, the mission isn’t as important, and even an average or low performing leader can get by.

In combat, everything changes.  When the shit hits the fan, Soldiers look up to their leaders for confidence and direction.  If the leader is NOT confident, or is worrisome, that will spread down to the troops and lead to chaos.  Leaders must analyze the facts with the information that they do have and then make a decision.  More importantly, when they share that decision with their subordinates, through some type of verbal mission order, they must appear confident.

Even tough missions can seem doable when the leader is confident.  When you can look at your leader and know that they have analyzed the information, formulated the best plan possible, and weighed all the options, you will be much more confident in your mission, even if it is a tough one.  Anyone who has ever worked for an indecisive or timid leader can validate what I am talking about.

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

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10 thoughts on “Lesson # 3 from Starship Troopers”

  1. Excellent, critical point. Even when an officer is completely convicted of the right action, if it’s delivered with ambivalence and lack of conviction, it’s worse than no order from the officer. It seems that the soldiers then, with no order, they still wait for the officer’s order with, hopefully confidence and obedience. But with an order given with no confidence on the part of the officer, the soldiers not only don’t have an order they can believe in, they’ve lost confidence and respect for the officer and any future orders. That would be deadly. Again, I liken it to my experience in health care. When a patient’s heart and breathing stop, or is bleeding to death, my voice better rise above all the others with commands that tell others what role to take, what action to take. It’s different though, when it’s medical with a lame physician, at least others there can suggest, clarify, whatever. The soldiers can’t pick up giving orders or make suggestions, and a lot more lives are at risk than would occur in the hospital.

  2. Though I have never been in a “combat” situation, I have worked jobs where every passing minute equated to millions of dollars in lost revenue until the situation was resolved. Not the same as life and death, I know, but the stress level was high and a confident leader was essential. Even more important than a calm, cool, and collected individual is one who is honest about their short-comings. Just as Daniel mentioned in his comment, integrity in a leader can encourage confidence in the crew.

  3. To some it might seem a terrible deception to feign calmness or certainty when you feel anything but. In some settings I suppose it is, but in the military it’s often necessary–and the worse the situation, the more necessary. It doesn’t necessarily mean lying, either. There have been times I’ve told subordinates something along the lines of “No, this isn’t what I expected, but I’m going to figure out the solution.” There’s a fine line between honesty and maintaining credibility on one hand and maintaining the unit’s confidence on the other.

    1. Very true. Instilling confidence and lying are two different things. Sometimes you need think about how you “word” things when giving orders and talking with subordinates. It’s not always what you say, but how you say it.

    2. I don’t think it’s deceptive at all. Sometimes it is a matter of survival. People will take their cues from you, and their responses will reflect your demeanor. Children are one good example of this. As an example, recently the tornado warning sirens went off where I live, and my daughter immediately looked at me with an “Oh, crap!” expression on her face. I calmly told her she should go to the basement, and I would get the radio and be down in a minute. Her expression immediately change and she headed down with no questions. Had I responded differently, the likelihood of her panicing and not doing what I needed her to do immediately would have been significantly higher. The same applies to human nature in general. If you lose it, those around you will lose it. Sometimes there is a fine line between providing necessary information (keeping in mind how you do it is important) and keeping things to yourself to avoid distracting those around you, in your case, your soldier when there is specific action you need from them.

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