Top 5 Tips for Army Officers

Our unit Readiness NCO is an E-7 with a lot of time and grade in his boots.  He has served Active Duty, National Guard, is a Ranger, rocks lots of chest candy and is one of the best NCOs in our Brigade.  Ever since I have joined our unit, he has been a mentor to me and I strive to achieve his level of expertise and leadership.  Now, as an Officer, I feel a different mentorship relationship with him as he is not a fan of “OCCIFERS”, as he likes to call them.

Being a prior NCO myself, I totally feel his pain.  Many NCOs feel this way.  There is something about Officers that really strike a cord with many NCOs and irritates them and makes them shake their heads in disgust.  The day I Commissioned, I gathered up my own personal perspective from when I was an NCO and some tips from SFC Wicks on how to be a good Officer and not one that NCOs despise.  Here are my Top 5 Tips for Army Officers:

1. Don’t Be a Douchebag.  Ok, now I know I have your attention and you’re probably like, “There is no way that is me…” but I assure you, you might be!  What I mean by don’t be a douchebag is, do not treat people like their job is to serve you, amuse you or accelerate your career.  Don’t come rolling into a Platoon or assume Command and act like a hard-ass just for the sake of projecting some hard-ass ego.

The very first thing I learned about leadership from the NCO corps is that the foundation of leadership is integrity and a love for your Soldiers.  Everyone has their own “leadership style” but at the end of the day, it has to be founded on doing the best for your Soldiers, not yourself.  We’re all going to be civilians someday, no matter how much you love the military or how long you serve.  Years from now, the fact that you made Colonel or Sergeant Major won’t erase the fact that you threw some unsuspecting subordinate under the bus to avoid punishment, and it certainly won’t remove a stupid decision you made based on pressure from above that got someone killed or injured.  Every leader I’ve ever respected has been willing to stand in the line of fire when it mattered.  If you’re not willing to do this for your people, be honest with yourself and quit.  Join corporate America – you’ll just annoy people, not get them killed, and you’ll make more money.  Everyone wins.

2. Be Good at Your Job: Every day you should be working your butt off to be technically and tactically skilled… not just proficient – you need to be better than that!  You should be asking questions, reading, practicing, and training.  You can be a super-nice guy who loves your Soldiers, but if you don’t know how to train them, lead them, and they aren’t ready for combat, you are a colossal failure.  If you look deep inside, you’ll know the truth of where you are in this regard.  I can’t tell you how many times an E-5 has sat in silence shaking his head during a PL’s OPORD briefing in shear amazement in his leader’s incompetence and frustration that “this dude actually gets paid more than me…”

3. You’re NOT the Smartest Guy in the Unit:  Look, you are an Officer, but you are not the best and the brightest dude standing around just because you have some brass.  You’re not in charge because you’re the smartest or most talented or anything else – you’re in charge because you signed up to be an Officer.  Don’t act superior, because you aren’t – just do your job.  This tip goes back to Point #1: DON’T BE A DOUCHEBAG under the pretense that you are better than everyone else…especially your NCOs.  Those NCOs have years and years of practical experience that, in some cases, trump all the doctrine and shit you think you know.  I still see it in the Officer Corps as well… CPTs who outrank me refuse to listen to things I have to say because…well, what do I know?  I am just an LT, not a CPT.

4. It is Not YOUR Unit…But, it Kinda is…:  You may be a new PL or a new Company Commander, it really doesn’t matter, but one thing you don’t do as an Officer is act like the unit you are in charge of is “yours”.  What do I mean by that?  Well, if you have been a PL you know that while you are the “boss” your PSG is really the one running the show.  Your job is to learn from him and ensure that you are there in moments where the Platoon needs your judgment and guidance.  I know, only the Army could create such a situation, but it is the nature of the Army.  The quicker you understand that you are “in charge” but you aren’t “in charge” the better off you will be and the more successful you will be.  Many will disagree with this tip, but I assure you that I only write this based on experience.  The best thing you can do is show up, day #1 and say to your senior NCOs, “Hey, I am CPT Soandso, and I am pleased to be the Commander of YOUR Unit for the next year or so.  I look forward to the opportunity to work with you guys and do what I can for you.”

5. Never Quit….EVER!  Look, your Soldiers will watch every single thing you do.  They are extremely aware of you and what you do.  They are constantly watching.  But, this doesn’t mean that they expect perfection…some may, but for the most part they don’t.  You don’t have to be the fastest runner or do the most push-ups or whatever…but you better not ever, ever, EVER! Let them see you quit or give up under pressure.  The second you do this, you might as well hang it up.  Seriously.  I had a Commander who was smart, quick witted and everything on the exterior seemed like he was a squared away dude.  We took a PT test and on his run, he quit, walked the last lap or so.  Then, the NCOIC wrote on his PT card that he had “PASSED” and wrote a bogus time.  It was that second that I lost every ounce of respect for that Officer.  No integrity or guts.  Your Soldiers depend on you to be that example of never quit and to push them beyond their own perceived limits.  Can’t do that if you can’t even do it yourself!

Final Thoughts

These are my top 5 tips for Army Officers.   Follow this advice and you should have a very successful career.  Break these rules and you will fail as a leader!  What are your thoughts?  What are your best tips for Army Officers?  Leave a comment and let us know.

chuck holmes

Chuck Holmes
Former Army Major (resigned)

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7 thoughts on “Top 5 Tips for Army Officers”

  1. I had to laugh like a hyena when I saw this post. I love it when people are blunt; “Don’t be a douchebag,” is about as blunt as you can get. Good one Justin!

    I see this attitude in the civilian world too. You give a person a title and they think they have conquered the world and everyone works for them. The fact is… It is usually the people at the bottom of the ladder that are keeping the whole system working. Yes, leaders are there for a reason, but the key is to not forget about where you came from. You were once in the position of the person you may be getting ready to treat like crap, and you may be there again.

    Great post. I hope it gets read by many.

  2. Candace Ginestar

    Justin, as another mustang, I completely 100% AGREE! Thanks for writing this article. I try to mentor new officers, as someone who didn’t roll fresh off the boat from ROTC, I know I can offer them good advice (in the form of a counseling so they learn what right looks like). Unfortunately, some just don’t want to listen. It’s rather like leaving home for the first time…sometimes they just want to make the mistakes on their own. I feel bad about that since these are people’s lives that are being affected, not just selfish college-age choices that only affect you…

  3. As a former platoon sergeant (and current first sergeant), I have to say these are all great points. Officers come and go from units while the NCOs will be there for years; that’s just the Army way of things. Believe me, I want my officers to succeed and I want the Soldiers under their command to respect them, but the sorts of errors Justin describes can make that a real challenge. Soldiers can smell BS at a range of at least 300 meters, so hiding behind it won’t help and in fact will make matters worse. If you’re a new lieutenant, just remember that your Soldiers don’t expect you to know everything. Make it clear that you know that and that you want to learn–even if that means learning something from a “lowly” E-2 or E-3–and you’ll be fine. You can be a competent, confident leader without knowing everything, and pretending that you DO know everything will only backfire.

    1. NCOs definitely keep the unit grounded. Officers move around all the time, normally every 6 to 12 months. Without the NCOs keeping the unit going it would be in big trouble.

    2. That’s right, Dan all they expect out of you is 100% commitment and working to better yourself and the platoon. Another item I might add is to not take yourself so damn seriously. Definitely take your JOB serious but don’t have so thick of skin that every time your Soldiers bust your balls you get upset. It is not a good look and the jokes are usually all in fun.

  4. Amy Skalicky

    Motivation is definitely worth examination by anyone in a leadership role, because, as you discussed above, if it’s all about you, you are on the road to failure. True leadership is a servant’s role, and by serving your soldiers, you build them up, provide guidance and training, and mentor them to success.

    Your point, Jason, about integrity, is so right, and the example you gave under “Don’t Quit” is a great one. Bogus times on PT training cards or stealing are all in the dishonesty category, and what your Commander probably brushed off as no big deal S a big deal, for the loss of respect by a good soldier because of poor judgement and setting a bad example is a very high price to pay.

    1. All leaders should be servant leaders. Our subordinates are not there to serve us, contrary to what many leaders think. If you have a bunch of people working for you, consider yourself lucky. And do what you can to help them improve, help them do a better job and help them develop new skills. All of those things will make your life easier and will improve your value as a leader.

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