Top Four Mistakes That New Army NCOs Make

In an ideal world, we would be perfectly prepared for any job we get. We would know everything, and never make a mistake. We would be a combination of Audie Murphy, Douglas MacArthur, and Paul Revere. Well, reality isn’t always so neat and awesome. We are humans, we have a learning curve, and we make mistakes. The great part about that is the military expects this from us, we all have people who can mentor and train us.

Nobody is ever truly all-knowing. One way that we can learn from each other is to share our experiences and give advice to those who come after us. I want to share with you what I think the top four mistakes that new Army NCOs make, and why you should avoid doing them.

1. Respect needs to be earned. This should go without saying, but some new NCOs make the mistake of thinking that just because they pin on some stripes, they can do whatever they want and still get respected for it. This is not okay. You still need to be at your best, seek to be excellent in all ways, and work hard FOR your Soldiers. If you do this, they will work hard for you. This is true at every level of leadership, but I see this happen more with newly promoted NCOs and 2LTs.

2. Being “buddy buddy” with your Soldiers is a no go. I get it. We work our fourth points of contact off together in the E-4 Mafia, we are all SPC together in the same unit….until one of us gets promoted. Nothing has to change, right? We can still hang out, and call each other by our first names…and you don’t have to stand at parade rest for the new SGT, right? WRONG. This is a very common mistake – and it is the new NCOs responsibility to nip it in the bud. It is very hard to do. I usually recommend that you change units if necessary. However, once managed, this mistake goes away pretty fast, but you have to set the tone as soon as possible.

3. More rank doesn’t mean less work. Actually, it means more. Junior enlisted are used to doing details. This is just the name of the game. I remember doing so much more odds and ends when I was a private, it was no big deal, though. It was just the way things were. While you aren’t going to be tasked out to do every detail when you’re an NCO, it doesn’t mean the workload is less. You should not take your new rank as an excuse to be lazy. You’ll be out there supervising details, and if a hand is needed, you should also be willing to put in the work. In my old unit, the NCOs were very plentiful, so we HAD to do a lot of work just by virtue of being the lower ranking Soldiers in the unit.

4. Social networking sites should be revised; consider keeping everything private. I think we all know where this point came from. Recently, we’ve seen a flood of inappropriate photos, some from NCOs. While Facebook and Instagram allow us to post whatever we want, that doesn’t mean we should take the liberty to do so. If you identify yourself as a Soldier on your social media profiles, you can be held accountable for anything you post. I would just caution you to be careful about what you post. If you wouldn’t feel comfortable with saying it to your leadership in person, then maybe it shouldn’t be posted – just use good judgment. Even if your commander isn’t your Facebook friend, someone else on your list might be.

These are just a few mistakes that new Army NCOs make.  What are some of your observations? Leave a comment and share your thoughts.

chuck holmes

Chuck Holmes
Former Army Major (resigned)

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4 thoughts on “Top Four Mistakes That New Army NCOs Make”

  1. Candace, this is a great article. In my opinion, respect is definitely earned but if you are working your way through the ranks then chances are your peers are already looking to you already. Even as a civilian, being buddy-buddy with work friends after a promotion is weird. The transition stinks but I’ve noticed that most memories are fleeting and your someone else will replace you at their proverbial table before long. You are correct about nipping it in the bud quickly. Establishing rank and responsibility is vital. I love that you included privatizing or cleaning up your social network sites as well. Being in a position of greater responsibility has a certain perception to it. You don’t want drunk party photos popping up!

  2. This is some great advice; I must agree with Chuck about dropping the buddy-buddy situations. Even if you have a friend as a soldier, as an NCO, you need to explain to he/she that friendship is not to be used to “get over.”

    I also am highly strong about what you said about privatizing social media. Facebook and other sites have been the cause of many issues. In some cases, a person may misread a post or picture. By privatizing these, you just take all possibilities away.

  3. I think the biggest mistake that new Army NCOs make is still trying to be buddy-buddy or friends with their Soldiers. This almost always backfires and makes it next to impossible to be an effective leader.

    Once you become an NCO you have to maintain that separation between the people you lead. It doesn’t mean you are better than your Soldiers: you’re not.

    But, it’s extremely difficult to reprimand a friend! It’s hard to punish a friend. And if you hang out and party and have fun with your troops, they will have stuff to hold against you!

    The bottom line is to respect your troops, but don’t try and be their friend. Maintain a barrier of separation and you will be much more effective as a leader.

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