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