The Top 5 Mistakes Most Army NCOs Make

As a current Officer, this article is difficult to write…but, having been an NCO prior to, I think that I can write this article without fear of being viewed as biased or beating up on the great NCOs that make up our Army.  Now, talk with an NCO and they will tell you that NCOs don’t make mistakes and that they are the best thing since sliced bread…but, they are human and make mistakes.  Oftentimes, I see NCOs making the same mistakes at every level (E-5 through E-7) and some of these mistakes are a result of the NCO Corps mentality/mindset and some a result of the structure of the Army and its processes.  That being said, here are my Top 5 Mistakes Army NCOs Make. 

#1. Thinking that Asking for Help is a Sign of Weakness: Many NCOs feel pressure to have all the answers.  Becoming an NCO and a leader means that people depend on you.  After all, isn’t it your skills and experience that got you promoted in the first place?  But, no one person knows everything or has all the answers.  NCOs for some reason often believe that asking for help, especially from an Officer, is a sign of weakness or inability to perform.  Being a life-long learner, in my opinion, exhibits strength, courage and TRUE leadership.  You are modeling for your Soldiers and junior NCOs openness and willingness to learn and are committed to creating greater overall success. 

#2.  My Way or the Highway Attitude: Go to any unit and you will see NCOs who have a “king of the hill” mentality or justified “leadership style”.  This style of top-down leadership is toxic and prevents empowerment of your Soldiers.  “Because I said so” works in some situations (mostly young children), but it does not carry much weight all the time with grown men.  NCOs should reject this type of leadership attitude in favor of a style that allows their Soldiers to reach their full potential and support the mission through their leadership.  

#3. The Absence of Affirmation: I still remember my first Platoon Sergeant.  Hard nosed, disciplined and nothing but negative criticisms.  He had no problem telling you what you did wrong (even if he was wrong as well) and criticizing you.  But, good, effective leaders realize that affirmation and encouragement motivate most Soldiers more than anything else.  A huge leadership mistake NCOs make is neglecting to praise and reward their Soldiers for what they do well.  They are always focused on destroying them at every mistake.  Everyone likes an honest compliment and empowerment from their superiors.  It is not a sign of weakness to praise and reward your Soldiers for doing well! 

#4. Practicing “Dirty” Delegation: All leaders understand the importance and necessity of delegation to get things done.  Afterall, “I would rather get 10 men to do the job than do the work of 10 men.”  Oftentimes I see NCOs “shitting” on their Soldiers and delegating work that 1) they should be doing themselves or 2) is a form of punishment.  Let’s get things straight…delegation is a TOOL to get things done, not a form of punishment.  You want to lose authority and credibility with your Soldiers or show them that you don’t care about them?  Start “delegating” them with BS jobs and tasks and see how quickly that happens.  Always, always, ALWAYS! Give your Soldiers a clear Task and Purpose every time you delegate them to do something.  Do not use it as a form of punishment. 

#5. NCOs “Help” Soldiers by Giving them the Solution:  I may get my head ripped off for this one, but all too often I see NCOs giving their Soldiers the answers.  They never explain the WHY for the answers just that it is the answer.  NCOs often advocate when they should be inquiring.  This trickles down the line and as younger Soldiers become NCOs they known the answers but never really understand the WHY.  To that I say, encourage your Soldiers to figure things out on their own.  Train your Soldiers to ask questions and FIND THE ANSWERS!  This not only makes them better Soldiers, but better NCOs when the time comes as they know how to think critically and find solutions. 

FINAL THOUGHTS: What do you think?  What are some of the most common mistakes YOU see NCOs make or have made as an NCO yourself?  Leave a comment and let us know. 

chuck holmes

Chuck Holmes
Former Army Major (resigned)

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4 thoughts on “The Top 5 Mistakes Most Army NCOs Make”

  1. I believe that anyone in a new position of power over others runs a risk of letting that power go to his or her head. All five of these mistakes that you list are very good to point out, and they are all symptoms of the underlying problem: someone got too big for their britches. A nice self-humility check is good to take every once in a while. Are there people that you can learn from? Is there a good leader that you look up to that you can get feedback from?

  2. Candace Ginestar

    Justin, I completely agree! Very much so. Thank you for writing this. I think this should be an NCODP topic given on a drill weekend, I may use this sometime, so thank you for writing this.

  3. I think the problem for a lot of NCOs is not having been in positions of power or leadership. So they behave the way they THINK someone in a position of authority should. But instead they end up alienating their squad and risk being as a bully rather than a leader. They’re afraid if they ask for help it will reveal their inexperience and make them look weak, when the opposite is true.

  4. Wow, I am proud of you for posting this well made article. It takes a strong heart and mind to step out and point these out. Sometimes, we as humans know that something is wrong, but fear keeps us from speaking it. Justin, you didn’t allow fear to control you and for that I commend you.

    Every point you made here should be mandatory reading by all NCOs. The first point you made is the whole truth. We all make mistakes and to admit and own up to them makes a true man/ or woman.

    I would be proud and honored to serve under you in any combat situation. As I have read your comments and posts, I believe you have much wisdom. Thanks.

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