12 Biggest Mistakes Junior Officers Make

By | March 16, 2020

[March 16, 2020]  I was a junior military officer and saw many self-inflicted mistakes made by my peers.  These errors formed a pattern, and, at the time in the 1980s, I wrote them down in my notebook (that I found recently tucked away in an old footlocker).  Here are the 12 biggest mistakes junior officers can make:

  1. Thinking leadership is a “job” rather than a lifestyle.
  2. They are not prepared to take on demanding leadership roles.
  3. They are not learning the military culture, its history, and why tradition is necessary.
  4. Believing they are essential and that the world revolves around them, their friends and family.
  5. A general lack of self-awareness and not understanding their strengths and weaknesses.
  6. They lack physical and moral courage.
  7. Believing they are exempt from the rules and cherry-picking rules to disregard or enforce.
  8. They are making the wrong kind of friends (who are lazy, involved in illegal or immoral activity).
  9. They are not questioning assumptions and “facts.”
  10. Rejecting mentorship and not asking for help.
  11. They are making uninformed decisions without any proven, logical process.
  12. Lacking self-motivation and not following their heart.

Looking back over my time in the U.S. Army and that of hundreds of friends, I got to see what worked and what didn’t work. Therefore, I found having the right attitude, honor, integrity, and loyalty to those around you is crucial.  These are the baseline attributes one should have before entering military service.  They will not teach you these; you must come to them with a given set of the right-fit personal characteristics that will help you succeed in the military.

What I’ve done here, with this list of a dozen mistakes, is to give the average person an idea of what it takes to veer off the right path.  Leadership positions are not handed out to just anyone.  Leadership means doing the hard things others don’t want to do; it’s complicated, confusing, complex, and ambiguous.

There should be no one that arbitrarily picks up the leadership mantle.  It is a responsibility that comes with a big price tag but also with a massive reward for doing it right.

Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article everyday on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

22 thoughts on “12 Biggest Mistakes Junior Officers Make

  1. Ed Berkmeister

    I say just develop some good habits, focus your efforts, say no to wasteful activity, and have good friends. Then you will be successful.

  2. Mr. T.J. Asper

    Now that my High School, where I work, is closed due to the Coronavirus, I have a little more time to read and think. Of course, working from home has its advantages (like being around my wife and dog) but also disadvantages (how to you teach football from your living room). I’ll take this in stride like most of us do. It is okay to have some ‘social distancing’ to maintain my health and that of others. What I do want to say is that this practice of preventing the spread of the virus is good practice when a real deadly one comes along in the future. Just my thoughts early this morning.

    1. Kenny Foster

      Now that is a good comment, so thanks Mr. TJ. TIme for THINKING is here. TIme for ACTION is also here and that is why we need to be thinking a few things thru before we act.

  3. Lynn Pitts

    Being in the US Marines has made me think more about what it takes to be a leader than at any point in my life. We ‘see’ leadership every day. We experience it wherever we go and we also ‘see’ the good and bad of leadership. When it fails us, bad things happen. That is why the Marines study leadership and practice, practice, practice every chance we get.

    1. monica

      Well said. Leadership matters and when it doesn’t happen, very bad things happen to us. Just look at the Coronavirus and how the leadership in China failed grossly to act properly. Now the world is infected just like in the Pandemic of 1957 (origins also China). Is there some kind of pattern here? I think yes.

    2. Willie Shrumburger

      Good comments, Lynn. I didn’t know you were in the US Marines. Thank you for your service.

      1. Scotty Bush

        Yes, Lynn, thank you for your service to our nation. Good that you commented today. I always look forward to what you have to write.

  4. Nick Lighthouse

    This is why leadership is a ‘lifestyle’ and not a job. It is what makes a job successful or not and what makes us a better person or not.

  5. Eric Coda

    No. 6 “They lack physical and moral courage.” is common for everyone who is not paying attention. This courage takes a special person and there is no other way around it. Those with courage are those who help make us greater peoples. Just like my grandma who stood up one time to the KKK back in Arkansas in the 1950s.

    1. Joe Omerrod

      You are lucky to have a grandmother who was so brave.

    2. Mikka Solarno

      Hi Eric. My best to your grandma who pushed away the KKK (an American terrorist group). Let’s just acknowledge bravery when we see it. Like a beautiful painting that is hard to describe, we know it when we see it and that is what bravery is too (we know it when we see it).

      1. Randy Goodman

        You got that right Mikka. We should all acknowledge them because they give us an example to follow.

  6. Yusaf from Texas

    I enjoyed reading your list this morning and shared it with my brother who is a CEO of a medium-sized company out of Chicago. He got a kick out of it because it follows something he’s been thinking about for a number of years and wanted to publish an article or book on it sometime in the future.

    1. Tom Bushmaster

      Yusaf, thanks for the note about your brother and him recognizing the value of knowing common mistakes that junior leaders make in their positions. However, I will point out that #7 believing they are exempt from the rules is common even for more senior leaders and one that is a great danger for the org as well. Keep that in mind if we make these mistakes, the results of a more senior leader doing it is problematic. Thanks everyone for any comments.

  7. Valkerie

    General Satterfield, another spot-on article. You are ‘kicking butt’ with your blog recently. Keep it up.

  8. Len Jakosky

    Good article and loved the list, BTW. Classic junior leader mistakes in not just the military but I will suggest across the board. That is why being a junior leader is okay. You make these and move on, learn from them, and know that it was not that serious. Just don’t make such mistakes when you are in a more senior position.

  9. Army Captain

    You always make my day, Gen. Satterfield. Great list.

    1. JT Patterson

      Yeah, mine too and this article is quick to get to the point. I hope you are all hunkering down now with this coronavirus and “working from home”. The military can certainly get its work done from all those home computers – just avoid the office. Ha Ha a little sarcasm I think you can see.

      1. Darryl Sitterly

        I’ll say you are right on target with your comment about hunkering down. Some of us simply don’t have that as an option.

        1. Harry Donner

          Thanks Darryl. You’re so right. What about police, ambulance and all the other first responders. Also those who deliver packages from UPS, the mailman, etc. What about those who operate the electric, water, sewer systems, etc. They can’t “work from home.” I think that is a bit ridiculous.

    2. Greg Heyman

      And this is why, I will write again, that I keep coming back to this leadership blog. I’ve looked for many more and found them good but this is where I can get consistent great ideas and have others talk about them in real time. I actually get feedback here and there is no PC in that feedback.

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