Top 10 Ways to Be a Better Army Leader

In today’s post, I want to share my top 10 ways to be a better Army Leader.  Most of these tips are simple, easy things you can do to start improving your leadership effectiveness right away.  Let’s get started.

Tip # 1: Learn to Listen More

We have two ears and one mouth for a reason.  Make it a point to listen more.  Be an active listener.  When someone else is talking, put down your cell phone, look away from your computer and look the other person in the eye when they speak.  Don’t think about what you are going to say.  LISTEN to the other person.  Your people will respect you for doing it, because very few people do this anymore.  We live in a distracted, short attention span society.

Tip # 2: Read More Books

One of the best things I ever did to improve my leadership skills was deciding to establish a reading program for myself.  Initially, I started reading one professional development book each month.  Now I read two books a week. Read books on communication, conflict resolution, leadership, military history and other topics.  Read Army Regulations and Field Manuals, too.  Read books that will teach you new skills and help improve your current skills.  If you don’t want to buy the books, go to your library.  If you don’t like to read, get the audio version.  If I could credit one thing to my success in life, it is my love for reading books.

Tip # 3: Do the Work Your Soldier’s Do

You’ll be a much better Army leader when you’ve been in the same shoes of the people you lead.  That’s one of the reasons prior service enlisted Soldiers often make great Officers.  If you don’t have the luxury of being an enlisted Soldier before you became an Officer, you have another option.  Every once in a while at least once a week, or once a month for Reserve Soldiers, do the work your Soldiers do.  Roll up your sleeves and spend 20 minutes doing some of the physical work.  Watch the Soldier do their job and ask them questions about their job.  This will help you connect with your Soldiers and it might give you ideas on what resources the Soldier needs to do a better job.

Tip # 4: Always Give a Task and Purpose

Whenever you tell someone to do something, always give them a clear task and purpose. Tell them why you are having them do their job.  Let them know how their job fits into the bigger picture.  The days of “do it because I told you so” are long gone.  Even though the Army is not a democracy, the best Army leaders always let their subordinates know “why” they are doing what they are doing.

Tip # 5: Provide Constant Feedback

One of the easiest things you can do to improve your leadership effectiveness is to provide constant feedback.  Let your Soldiers know where they stand with you whenever possible.  If a Soldier does a good job on a mission you assign him/her, pull them aside and praise their performance right away.  The sooner the better.  If they messed up on something, pull them aside and tell them what went wrong.  The more feedback you can provide, the better you will be as a leader.  Your Soldiers should never wonder where they stand with you.

Tip # 6: Send Thank You Cards

Sending thank you cards WILL have a huge impact on morale.  So few leaders write a hand written note.  I received two in 15 years of service and I value those two notes 10x more than any award I have ever received.   Make it a point to write at least one thank you card each week.  During drill weekend, take notes of who is doing a good job and make it a point to write one or two thank you cards on the last day of drill weekend.  Get some custom stationary with your name and rank on it.

Tip # 7: Challenge Your Followers to Grow

Another great leadership tip is to challenge your Soldiers to grow.  You want to help your followers learn how to set goals.  You want to teach them the importance of reading and personal and professional development.  You want to assign them challenging tasks and get them to stretch out of their comfort zone.  Do whatever you can to stretch people out of their comfort zones.

Tip # 8: Get To Know Your Followers Personally

You should get to know your followers on a personal level.  You don’t want to  (or need to) become friends, but you should show a genuine interest in them as people too.  Find out about where they are from, how they are wired, what makes them tick, what they are passionate about, what motivates them, etc.  When you know these things, you can do a better job as their leader.  Please note I am not telling you to become “buddies” with your followers. You don’t need to be on a first name basis.  You aren’t friends.  But at least show them that you value them as a person to, not just as a Soldier.

Tip # 9: Teach Your Followers to Set Goals

Learn how to teach your followers to set goals.  Sit down with them and help them map out their career. Teach them to set long-term, mid-term and short-term goals so they can decide what they want to accomplish in their career.  Most people have never had a class on goal setting.  Teaching your subordinates how to do that is very important.

Tip # 10: Reward Good Behavior

Don’t forget to reward good behavior.  Of course, you have to punish bad behavior.  That’s part of your job.  But don’t forget to invest a lot of time taking care of, helping and rewarding your people who constantly exceed the standards.  Put people in for awards, unit coins, certificates of achievement, time off, etc.  Take care of the people who take care of you and make you look good.  Let them know that you appreciate their extra efforts.

Final Thoughts

There are many ways to improve your effectiveness as an Army leader.  You should always consider yourself a “work  in progress” and look for little things you can do to be a better leader.  This article provides 10 helpful tips to be a better Army leader, but there are many other things you can do.

I’d love to hear from you.  What are some of your best leadership tips?  Just leave a comment to share your best leadership tips. Also, if you have any questions, you can ask them below and we will attempt to provide an answer.

chuck holmes

Chuck Holmes
Former Army Major (resigned)

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8 thoughts on “Top 10 Ways to Be a Better Army Leader”

  1. Great ways to become a better leader Chuck! I especially like the reading one. I believe good leaders will attempt to read at least one book per month or more. As you know, and have wrote about, there are a good supply of leadership books out in print and as eBooks. There really is no excuses why every leader cannot find just a bit of time each day to read a chapter or 2. #3 is also great. When soldiers see that you are willing to do even the dirtiest and hardest jobs, they will be more willing.

  2. Great tips here. I think the best way to be a better Army leader is to have pride and want to improve. None of us are perfect. We can all get better. If you can just get a little bit better every day, you will become a great leader.

  3. The days for The days of “do it because I told you so” are long gone for the military and the public school system. I am really pleased to see the tip to write thank you notes on the job once per week. The notes definitely have to be honest and not over-complimentary about things that do not really deserve recognition, or people will not take them seriously. One more possible leadership tip is learn to answer questions by asking the right awesome questions in a calm manner like Socrates that lead your soldiers to come up with the answers on their own.

  4. Neil O'Donnell

    There are so many great bits of leadership advice here. Being an Active Listener is crucial, because those you supervise often have great ideas on how to improve a unit’s efficiency. More than that, taking time to listen shows you care and that your team matters to you. This level of respect shown to troops will often encourage them to be more productive and focused. As far as thank you notes, that’s a dying art form that needs to be revived. Thank you notes have the power to instill pride in and encourage others. Additionally, thanking those who help you is just the right thing to do.

  5. I couldn’t agree more with your methods for becoming a better leader. I don’t think enough emphasis can be placed on getting to know your soldiers and talking with them all on a personal basis. I know for higher positions that gets harder and harder, but your soldiers want to know that they’re dealing with someone they can respect. Nothing gains respect like looking a soldier in the eye as their superior and showing them respect as well. That mutual respect is what makes the Army the force that it is.

    1. All military leaders should spend some one on one time with everyone they lead. Even if it is just to “connect” with them and learn a little bit about them, the payoff is huge. After all, no one wants to feel like a number.

  6. Getting in there and working with your Soldiers will definitely earn you some respect. There are times that you will legitimately have more pressing demands on your time, and if you’re supervising the task, you can’t get so involved in the actual work that you lose the ability to supervise, but as an NCO I’m not too good to get my hands dirty. I’ve had Soldiers try to take work away from me because they felt that as a first sergeant I “shouldn’t be doing that,” but it gives you a perspective that’s invaluable to a leader. In Basic Training I was the platoon guide, and one day I took a few of my guys to go fill water cans. A drill sergeant took me aside and told me–in appropriately colorful drill sergeant terms–that I should be supervising and not working, but I stuck to my position. I could supervise filling water cans just as well carrying two as I could with empty hands, and there was nowhere I needed to be more at the time.

    1. There’s a time and a place to roll up your sleeves. But whatever rank you are, you should still do it from time-to-time. Of course, we get paid to supervise others and get things done through other people, but we also need to earn their respect and show them that we are capable of doing the same tasks we ask them to do.

      Chuck Holmes

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