[January 5, 2021] I am fortunate to have worked with, as well as worked for, some of the worst officers that the U.S. Army ever produced. I’m happy for the opportunity because, as Army senior leaders often note, you can still learn much from a poor leader. Some of the worst leader traits I found in new U.S. Army officers did not destroy the military, but they did make for some educational opportunities.
I was an enlisted Infantry Staff Sergeant when commissioned as a brand-new Second Lieutenant in the Infantry. Those seven years were good and helped me develop good leadership traits and what to look for in bad leaders. As a new Second Lieutenant, I got a different perspective on poor leadership, as many were my peers. This is my opinion only, and though others might share my thoughts, they are still just that, my opinion.
- Lying: By far, the most common of worst traits of new Army Officers are not telling the truth. Being a leader means being a leader all the time. There is no time off. Tell the truth no matter when or where you are, period. There is no compromise. New leaders often do not know that exaggeration, omissions, selective information are also forms of the big lie. Yet, I find that new leaders don’t believe they will be discovered, or perhaps their ego is just too big. Their reasons for lying are irrelevant. It shows they cannot be trusted with other soldiers’ lives and cannot be good leaders.
- Disloyalty: Not as common as lying, but far worse is disloyalty to America, the U.S. Army, and to the soldiers assigned to them. Those who have read 14th Dante’s Inferno about his nine Circles of Hell know that the worst sin imaginable is treachery (or betrayal). For Dante, betrayal is worse than violence against other persons (like murder, rape, and suicide), heresy, anger, lust, or fraud. The way I see it, either you are completely loyal, or you are not. There are no shades to disloyalty. Those who fail to care for their troops properly fall into this category.
- Lack of Accountability: Nothing is more frustrating than a new officer who denies responsibility for his acts. Or one that fails to act when required. Leaders get things done, period. That is their job. No obstacle can stand in the way of a good officer who accepts responsibility and does everything he can to succeed (within moral limits, of course). Officers who stand aside and fail to adopt responsibility and the associated accountability are useless as leaders.
- Complainers: There are always those that make excuses for failure. They are the ones standing behind someone else telling us that any failure is not their fault and that they told us it wouldn’t work. The leaders are always on the sidelines, willing to armchair quarterback those in action. Complainers don’t give us solutions; they give us grief. Excusing failure is a severe character flaw and is common in immature and inexperienced leaders.
- Not Prepared: I was a Boy Scout, and the first thing we learned was to Be Prepared. It’s the Boy Scout motto. Even my son, when he was 12 years old, learned about being prepared. If you go camping, bring water, food, gear, and be ready to live outside with the insects, wild animals, and the unpredictability of the weather. I’ve seen new Infantry officers fail to bring their rucksack and even their weapon when going out on a training exercise. It boggles the mind. Sometimes I think they are waiting on a leader to tell them what to do. Maybe they are right.
This is my list of the worst leader traits I found in U.S. Army Second Lieutenants. The next article will be about the best leader traits in junior leaders.