Why Most People Only Have Average Military Careers

In this week’s post, I’d like to share a story with you.

I was running errands the other day and I happened to meet a retired Army National Guard Staff Sergeant.

I won’t mention his name here (out of respect), but he told me the story of his career.

He told me that he retired as a Staff Sergeant.

In his last duty position, he was assigned as a Platoon Sergeant.

He told me that the he didn’t know what he was doing (as a PSG) when placed in that leadership position.

Plus, he was overwhelmed, frustrated and burnt out.

He had spent most of his career “doing the work” and he didn’t really know how to be in charge and “delegate the work.”

He also mentioned that no one ever sat down with him to teach him how to be an effective leader.

No one told him what was expected of him, or how to do it.

As a result, he put in his retirement packet, because he felt he had no other options.

There are a few lessons we can all learn from this story. I’ll cover them in more detail below:

Lesson #1: Nearly 95% (or more) of all military people have NEVER had someone sit them down to really mentor them, tell them what they really expect of them, or give them pointers on how to do their job better.

From personal experience, I’ve only ever had one leader who did this for me in my entire 16-17 year career.

Lesson # 2: Just because someone doesn’t teach you how to do your job does not make you exempt from having to fulfill your responsibility.

You might disagree with me here, but I’ve always believed it is your PERSONAL responsibility to manage your career.

That means you must have INITIATIVE (which most people don’t have) to learn the skills necessary to succeed with any job you are given.

The people who rise to the top of their organizations are the ones who accept 100% responsibility for what they do and fail to do.

Good leaders are also a student of their profession, always trying to learn new tips, get better, and be all that they can be!

Lesson # 3: As a leader, you have the responsibility to sit down with your people and HELP them.

That means you counsel them and you give them helpful tips.

You must tell them EXACTLY what you expect of them (in writing), and you give them encouragement and the resources they need to succeed.

I believe that most people could at least achieve average results (in any job) if their leader does this.

SIDE NOTE: As a leader, you also need to evaluate people’s skill sets to really determine if they should be in the job they are currently in.

Sometimes you might have to fire, move or relieve someone (assuming you followed the advice mentioned above first).

Lesson # 4: You need to know what you bring to the table.

You need to know your personality, strengths and weaknesses.

Let me give you an example.

By nature, I am a doer.

I am happiest in an XO position where I can be the guy who makes stuff happen.

I also enjoy command positions because I like to make decisions, build organizations and lead people.

HOWEVER, I hate staff jobs.

I hate sitting behind the computer making slides all day, or sitting in meetings.

I also HATE easy jobs where I am not challenged.

Please know that I am not saying any of this to brag.

I simply know what I bring to the table.

And I know what I am good at, and what I am not.

This self discovery has helped me land the right jobs for my personality.

I also realize that not every person is right for every job.

And it doesn’t matter which jobs they’ve had in the past.

Being a good Soldier does not mean you will be a good leader.

It comes down to skills, initiative, mindset and personality.

Those four factors are what determine if someone is really qualified for a certain duty position.

Lesson # 5: My last lesson from this story is that we are all in the people business.

As a leader, your primary duty is to handle “people problems.”

It’s part of the job.

It took me a while to learn this lesson.

Sometimes, while I was in command, I would complain to my 1SG that dealing with soldier problems took a great deal of my time.

With his humble wisdom, he replied,

“That’s our job, sir. We’re in the people business.”

And it’s true.

Regardless of your duty position, you will probably have people working for you.

Part of your job is to deal with their shortcomings, challenges and problems.

That’s why the Army doesn’t give anyone more than 5-7 people to personally supervise.

That’s about all anyone can handle.

So, if you are dealing with “people problems” realize that is part of your job.

In summary, I hope this sad but true story provided some helpful tips for you to improve your effectiveness.

If you’re going to make a career out of the military, why not make it fun, rewarding and fulfilling?

Also, if you would like more information on how to have a successful military career in the Reserves or National Guard, check out my ARNG Officer Guide.

If you have any questions, or possibly would like to tell your story, please do so in the comment section below.

Other Posts You Might Enjoy:

  1. The Quickest Way to Ruin Your Military Career
  2. Involving Your Spouse in Your Army or Military Career
  3. How to Map Out and Plan Your Military Career
  4. How to Set Goals for Your Military Career
  5. How to Balance Your Military Career, Civilian Job and Family Life
chuck holmes

Chuck Holmes
Former Army Major (resigned)
Publisher, Part-Time-Commander.com
Email: mrchuckholmes@gmail.com

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3 thoughts on “Why Most People Only Have Average Military Careers”

  1. There are so many people filtering in and out of units people can sometimes get lost in the shuffle. Now, it's no excuse for someone to say "I didn't know what to do" You are supposed to have enough intelligence to ask.
    However, let's keep in mind many of these are 18-22 year old kids straight from home into the service. Some will need a little guidance and some will need a lot. But they all will need SOME. Don't be an absentee officer or supervisor. Get involved with your people. Lead not only by rank, but by example

  2. The biggest thing I found in this story Chuck is: No one showed me. The question I would ask a person who uses that excuse is, “Did you actively seek someone to show you.” In some cases we come off as know-it-alls and others just think we don’t need an education. In many cases we have to get out there and ask for help and mentorship.I agree that leaders need to attempt to mentor, but if your leader is not mentoring you, it is your responsibility to seek it out. I honestly believe that person had many more options than retirement.

  3. The importance of having a mentor cannot be overstated. Having someone to learn from who has been in your position in priceless. Plus they are great to have as a sounding board if something comes up and you need some advice on how to proceed. No matter where we are in our career, we have the position to be a mentor and to also benefit from a mentor.

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