7 Mistakes Military Officers Make (Part 1)

By | April 17, 2015

[April 17, 2015] As new (and very young) Army Lieutenants, my cohort of peers did not take long to discover that only a small percentage of us were getting promoted. We didn’t know why at the time. Military officers, like many junior managers, do things or fail to do things that hold them back in their organizations. The reasons mistakes are made are not typically related to their technical competence.

Here they are, in no particular order of importance:1

  1. Poor Social Skills: An officer not knowing what salad fork to properly use is not relevant but being able to “connect” with people is crucial to their success. Showing people you care about them and understanding their concerns is helpful in getting the most out of any person.
  2. Not Knowing How to Sell Themselves: The ability to communicate their strengths and desires is a common problem. Often they assume their boss will simply recognize their talents, will place them in the right job, and give them the right resources.
  3. Not Preparing for the Job: Studying the particulars of any job and keeping up with the latest advancements in developing knowledge and technology will quickly put the officer behind their peers. Officers must also prepare themselves psychologically and physically for the job every day.
  4. Repeated Poor Decision Making: The military is not a zero-tolerance organization because they recognize leadership is not easy. But repeated mistakes, especially on important decisions will get you booted out or held back.
  5. Unable to Adapt to Change: The stereotype that the military is rigid and unchanging is an oversimplification of the demands and requirements of officers and the entire fighting force. The officer doesn’t have to be smart or strong, but those who fail to adapt to a dynamic work environment will not succeed. Creativity is a big help in adapting.
  6. Not Having “Heart in the Game”: Those who lack the passion to be fully engaged in their position as a leader will quickly be recognized for what they are to those who work for them. Trust and credibility come to those with the motivation and drive to do well, only heartache will follow those who lack it.
  7. Failure to Understand and Apply Concepts of Accountability: One of the more common mistakes as junior military officers is the lack of appreciation for the concept accountability and its tie to their responsibilities as leaders.

Senior leaders need to do a better job of mentoring junior officers on these common mistakes. For their part, junior leaders must see that the requirements of leadership are demanding of the human side themselves, not just their intelligence. To insure greater success in our junior leaders, we should better communicate those mistakes that will hold them back.

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[1] Part 1 of this 2-part series I will address those junior military officer mistakes made as officers while serving in uniform. Part 2 is about junior officer mistakes when transitioning to and working in the civilian sector. Both of parts apply to junior managers from all organizations. This list was developed in concert with several of my friends from the U.S. Army and the list applies to whether the officer has been in combat or not. In the end, any mistakes are mine.


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.

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