5 of the Worst Traits in New Army Officers

By | January 5, 2021

[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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

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

23 thoughts on “5 of the Worst Traits in New Army Officers

  1. Pollie Frankenletter

    Exceptional blog post, Gen. Satterfield,,, thx. I enjoyed your two-part series and always learn when you provide us with lessons and prof developmental ideas. I too see many of these bad traits in new leaders. And, it’s getting worse as time goes by, not better.

  2. Eva Easterbrook

    Thanks Gen. S. …. I like the list and while my list would be a bit different, these are certainly traits that should never be found in a senior leader.

  3. Doug Smith

    Many are just simple a##holes. What? Of course that should come as no surprise.

    1. Willow456

      Well, there are worse. Speaking of ‘senior’ leaders (I know this is about new leaders), we can see what bad traits are when bad decisions are made. Gen. Williams of West Point is an example of a failed leader. Fail to control a cheating scandal that will mar the us army for decades.

  4. Mr. T.J. Asper

    Excellent two-part series, Gen. S. Thanks. Very useful for my time in the High School classroom. I’ll be using these as talking points for my students.

  5. Orange Man

    IMHO, leaders who are not prepared are the worst. Well, maybe behind those who are disloyal. But if they are loyal AND are not prepared, they frustrate the he11 out of me. Not just that but they seem to just be unable to make any timely and proper decision as well. Why? THey are not prepared. I attribute this to them being giving everything while growing up and having few challenges in their lives.

    1. Jerome Smith

      I think you will find this anywhere, Orange Man. Look around. You see that most expressed in our lack of leadership in politicians. Those in politics are most likely to be elected if: 1) they look good, 2) they talk good, and 2) the have a political machine behind them. Note that substance is not required.

  6. Willie Shrumburger

    Loved today’s article. I have found these same traits in everyone and hate them all. Not just frustrating but, frankly, all are a show of immaturity. How to get others out of such bad habits is really really tricky.

  7. The Kid 1945

    Another spot-on article about leadership. Yes, please publish another article about what the five BEST top traits in new army officers, Gen. S. I think we all would appreciate it. Oh, and please don’t make it just the opposite of the worst traits you listed here. Please! 😊

    1. JT Patterson

      I agree with the Kid. Good luck, Gen. Satterfield, I’ll be looking for the article in the near future.

      1. Max Foster

        We all are looking forward to it. But I will offer some suggestions for the best leader traits:
        1. Great attitude.
        2. Always there and being prepared.
        3. Have a vision, clarity in communicating it.
        4. Caring.
        5. Courage, esp. moral courage.
        How’d I do, Gen. Satterfield? I based this on what you’ve written in the past and what I think you have in your mind.

        1. Douglas R. Satterfield Post author

          Max, this is an excellent list and, yes, it you have correctly identified most of what I was going to write about tomorrow. I’m happy that you can see a pattern in my work, but really you are “seeing” a pattern in leadership traits of the best leaders.

          1. Max Foster

            Thank you, sir! I look forward to reading tomorrow’s article.

    2. Dead Pool Guy

      Yep, The Kid 1945. I agree and why I also keep coming back to this leadership blog, so well constructed by Gen. Satterfield.

  8. Yusaf from Texas

    While this is a great list, I will suggest that the ‘complainers’ are the most frustrating. They liars I can deal with because you just fire them or ignore them. But the complainers just keep on whining. I wish they would stop.

  9. Army Captain

    Great list. These are right up there with what always frustrates me with new officers.

    1. Janna Faulkner

      Army Captain, thank you for providing some additional credibility here, not that Gen. Satterfield is not credible. But the more that say they agree with any article the better for us all. I would like to know if other, military types, agree.

    2. H. M. Longstreet

      Right, Army Cpt. I think this list applies not just to “new” army officers but to ALL leaders.

    3. Greg Heyman

      Yep, you got that right Army Captain. Thanks for the reinforcement. 💖

      1. Army Captain

        Thanks guys for supporting my observation. I’ve been now in the Army for over 10 years, not counting my ROTC time. Plus, I was an Army brat, growing up on Army bases around the world. I had plenty of experience will all people in the military. I can say, without any doubt, that Gen. Satterfield surely has his finger on the pulse of the military and leadership overall.


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