Military Leadership Mistakes: 7 Reasons Your Subordinates Don’t Respect You

Today, I want to talk about some different reasons why your subordinates and subordinate leaders might not respect you as their leader.  I want you to know that it’s important to earn the respect of the people you lead.  Yes, they will respect your rank and do what you tell them, but to really gain their respect as their leader, you have to EARN IT.

Personally, there’s nothing I hated more in my military career than working for a weak leader.  I always wanted to work for someone who was a BETTER leader than I was, so I could learn from them and improve my leadership skills in the process. Maybe you can relate.  Maybe not.

If your section or your unit isn’t functioning the way you want it to, it’s your fault.  That might sound harsh, but ultimately units are a reflection of their leader.  Fix yourself and your unit will naturally get better too.

Listed below, I want to share some of the common mistakes that leaders make that really cause problems with the people they lead.  I hope that you will evaluate yourself in each one of these areas and see where you can improve.

1. You don’t give clear instructions.  One of the biggest signs of a weak leader is someone who doesn’t have a solid game plan.  You need a game plan for yourself and for the people you lead.  You must articulate this game plan to your Soldiers so they know what is expected of them.  You can’t assume your people know what to do and you should never try to make them read your mind.  Make sure that EVERYONE under your authority understands the game plan each drill weekend and make sure they know what their responsibilities are.   Make sure you COMMUNICATE these instructions clearly to each person.

2. You are indecisive.  Ever seen someone go to a restaurant and take more than 20 seconds to look over the menu and pick what they want?  That drives me crazy.  Ever seen a leader who just couldn’t make a decision?  Or worse, have you ever seen a leader who constantly changed their mind?  If you do any of these things, STOP.  Soldiers want a leader who is decisive and doesn’t change their mind all the time.

3. You don’t provide good feedback.  Soldiers want to know where they stand with you at all times.  You should CONSTANTLY provide feedback to each of your direct reports.  You shouldn’t just say “good job” either.  You should be specific, so the person knows what they are doing right and doing wrong.  Praise good performance and reprimand bad performance.  When I say the word reprimand, I simply mean let the person know what they did wrong, tell them what the standard is, and fix things quickly.

4. You don’t stand up for your Soldiers like you should.  Soldiers want and deserve a leader who has a backbone and is willing to stand up for them.  As a leader, there will be times when you have to stick your neck out on the line for your troops. There will be times when you could even hurt your own career by sticking up for your troops.  You better do it anyway.  Your job is to be an advocate for the people you lead.  If you aren’t willing to do that, you shouldn’t be in a leadership position.

5. You avoid issues because you don’t like confrontation.  Some people naturally do not like confrontation.  I don’t like it myself, but I am not scared to deal with it when needed.  Whether you are outgoing or shy, you will be put in positions that are uncomfortable for you.  Maybe you need to talk with a Soldier who isn’t meeting the standards.  Maybe you need to demote someone or discharge someone from the service.  You better do what is right!  Avoiding issues only makes things worse and shows your Soldiers that you don’t have a backbone.

6. You don’t enforce the standards.  The Army has standards for a reason.  As a leader, your job is to enforce the standards EQUALLY to everyone under your authority.  If you see something wrong, fix it!  This goes hand in hand with the previous issue. Deal with things quickly.  Set a good standard yourself, know the Army standards and enforce those standards to everyone under your authority at all times.

7. You play favorites.  I understand you have Soldiers and subordinates leaders that you might naturally “like” more than others.  Heck, everyone has their favorite troops.  However, don’t play favorites.  Give everyone the same opportunities.  Hold everyone accountable to the same standard; the Army standard.  The day you are start playing favorites is the day you lose your credibility as a leader.

Final Thoughts

These are just seven common reasons and mistakes why your subordinate Soldiers and leaders don’t respect you as their leader. I really hope that you will evaluate yourself in each one of these areas, so you can improve.  Even if you are a great leader, you can still improve.

What are your thoughts?  What do you think are the most common reasons that your subordinate Soldiers and leaders might not respect you?  What drives you crazy about certain leaders?  Leave a comment below to share your thoughts.  I look forward to hearing from you.

chuck holmes

Chuck Holmes
Former Army Major (resigned)

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9 thoughts on “Military Leadership Mistakes: 7 Reasons Your Subordinates Don’t Respect You”

  1. Staying an effective leader is paramount in the military, and a huge part of that image is respect. If those under you do not respect you, they will not listen to you. Think about that one a**hole boss everyone has had. Did you want to do what he told you? I bet not. The same applies in this situation. Listen to the points above, all are valid.

  2. A lot of these comments point to a certain type of supervisor that I've seen. The wishy-washy supervisor. This is the guy that gives unclear direction, never tells his guys if their doing good or bad and then hangs them out to dry when something goes wrong. Don't be that guy.

    It's better to be a stand up guy who is honest with their troops. If someone isn't getting the job done it's best that they know that right away. Keep them informed and take some flak for them and hopefully it will pay dividends for you in the long run.

  3. Hi Chuck – I love that you don’t pull any punches here. I absolutely agree that a weak unit is in direct response to poor leadership. Here’s one more to add to your list (and probably at the top of my pet peeves): When someone hasn’t earned that leadership spot. I am a firm believer that being a good leader means you know how to do the subordinate’s job as well as your own BECAUSE you’ve been there. Anyone who skips steps or is appointed a leadership position because they know someone will have to work double-time to get my respect.

  4. Exactly! Everyone in every occupation wants a strong leader. After all, if you have to follow someone, you want them to be worth following, especially in the military. Clear instructions and decisiveness can literally save your life.

    Even business leaders on top need a strong mentor. Yet again, you have given advice that can be applied to many different walks of life.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Faye. I agree. Everyone wants to follow someone worth following. Working on your leadership skills is one of the best investments you can make.

  5. This is a very accurate list. Hopefully, leaders will read this and recognize their downfalls and make a determination to fix them. I believe one of the top ones is not standing up for soldiers. When someone is saying something out of line about one of your soldiers, it is your responsibility to get it straight immediately. This goes right along with avoiding confrontation. Leaders all need to be willing to confront and deal with issues that face them.

    Great post Chuck.

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