[September 1, 2019] “Does not respond well to authority.” This was written in my friend Wilson’ first Officer Evaluation Report after one-year on the job as an Army Second Lieutenant. He was mad as hell about the comment but knew, deep down in his psyche, that it was true. His mom and dad would agree. He always had trouble with authority but now he was in charge of 33 young soldiers.
Being told what to do was not Wilson’s way of getting along in his new career. Military peers would say he was a bit of a rebel; that “Lieutenant Wilson R. wanted to be ‘asked’ to do something rather than ‘told’ to do it.” Such a comment was on his second evaluation and seemed to be a career-ender. His wife would tell people that he was a walking contradiction; being in a highly structured, top-down organization yet resisted orders, guidance, and even mentoring.
Yes, Wilson adapted. He always had a love-hate relationship with the Army and for several years he was on the verge of either quitting or being kicked out. I witnessed many soldiers like Wilson during my long career. These folks were often more creative, less amiable, and less analytical. Psychologists that treated him, found Wilson to be the kind of person you would like to have as a friend but structured environments grated against him.
Initially, Wilson was an Infantry Officer in the U.S. Army. He struggled and seemed to never be happy. Until one day, an Instructor from the Fort Huachuca Intelligence Center happened to speak with Wilson. By chance, the Army happened upon a solution where they found the right spot for my good friend.
Wilson retired a full Colonel from active duty several years ago. I asked him what made the difference in his life and what he thought of the U.S. Army. Surprisingly, it was not the Intell instructor who made the difference but his wife. I think she mellowed him a bit. What he did say was that changing occupation skills from an Infantry officer to an Intelligence officer was a decision that allowed him to stay in the Army.
Wilson was one of those rare people who are leaders but who also have an anti-authority streak in them. For example, even giving orders to his subordinates grated on Wilson. In the Intelligence field, he had fewer people who worked for him. But because Wilson had an uncanny ability to “see” the whole picture from only a few disparate pieces of information, he was successful.
People can adapt to their job if they try or they can be lucky. Better sometimes to be lucky like Wilson – the anti-authority leader.