Top 5 Traits of Successful Army NCOs

The Non-Commissioned Officer, or NCO teaches individual and collective training, develops unit cohesion, fosters the values of loyalty and commitment and builds spirit and confidence. An NCO evaluates performance oriented training and, through coaching and counseling, grooms young enlisted Soldiers (and junior Officers) for future positions of increased responsibility.

An NCO teaches everything from the making of sound and timely decisions to physical training to ethics and values.  But, what makes an NCO a good NCO?  We all know what traits make a good or bad Officer (just ask any Soldier or NCO and they could go on for days) but the discussion of what traits make up a good NCO often goes unspoken.  As a prior NCO (before coming over to the “dark-side” as an Officer) I have my own Top 5 Traits of Successful NCOs list which I will share with you:

1. Initiative: This is, to me, the number one trait of a good NCO.  Initiative is taking action even though you haven’t been given orders. It means meeting new and unexpected situations with prompt action. It also includes using resourcefulness to get something done without the normal material or methods being available to you.

2. Knowledge: Knowledge is the understanding of the science and art of being a Soldier, and sharing that knowledge with your subordinates. Knowledge means that you have acquired information and that you understand people. Your military and professional knowledge should be broad, and in addition to knowing your job, you should know your unit’s policies and keep up with current events.

3. Military Bearing: Let’s face it, successful NCOs are often the ones who are the “hard asses”.  The ones who just ooze military bearing and professionalism.  Bearing is the way you conduct and carry yourself. Your manner should reflect alertness, competence, confidence, and control.  Illustrating such behavior will ensure that people will follow you and your subordinates take you seriously.

4. Decisiveness: Decisiveness means that you are able to make good decisions without delay. Get all the facts and weigh them against each other. By acting calmly and quickly, you should arrive at a sound decision. You announce your decisions in a clear, firm, professional manner.  An NCO who is decisive allows their superiors to trust them and their judgment and create an environment of unwavering discipline from their subordinates.

5. Enthusiasm: Enthusiasm is defined as a sincere interest and exuberance in the performance of your duties. If you are enthusiastic, you are optimistic, cheerful, and willing to accept the challenges.  I can’t even begin to tell you how many NCOs I see weaken over the years and it is primarily because they have lost their enthusiasm that they had when they became an NCO.  Understanding and belief in your mission will add to your enthusiasm for your job. Try to understand why even uninteresting jobs must be done.

FINAL THOUGHTS: This is just my opinion.  Please feel free to post your own list! I would love to hear your thoughts…

If you have any questions, you can post those below too. Thank you.

chuck holmes

Chuck Holmes
Former Army Major (resigned)

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1 thought on “Top 5 Traits of Successful Army NCOs”

  1. Justin,

    I think your top 5 traits for successful NCOs is spot on. If I could add to your list, I would add in:

    Team Player: The best NCOs I’ve ever met were team players. Even if they led a team of Soldiers, they understood that they were part of someone else’s team too.

    Mission Focused: Successful NCOs are always mission focused. The mission is always the top priority. Soldier care comes in a close second though.

    Great article.


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