[July 29, 2017] This article has been a long time in development. It took me nearly a year to get results back from over 250 soldiers, sailors, Marines, airmen, and coastguard personnel and then “rack and stack” the results on their best advice.1 I asked them a simple question; “If you were to give one piece of advice to someone entering the military, what would it be?”
Their feedback to those who might enter the military (or into a leadership role in a commercial company … emphasis on any company) was not a big surprise. If we look back at the common advice you would find on most leadership development programs, those given to me will pretty much mirror most of those.
What did surprise me, however, about the results were the emphasis given; those things they recommend a young person should do first and stick with the hardest. Although this list could be an easy fit for any leader, it applies to everyone.
Here is their feedback of the top 20 in recommended order based on how often they chose it:
- Check your attitude: develop a positive attitude and keep it regardless of the situation.
- Listen to feedback and criticism: one of the hardest things to do.
- Learn the rules quickly and follow them better than others.
- Never lie, cheat, or steal, nor tolerate it elsewhere.
- Do your best, always!
- Develop friendships with good people: this is the beginning of your network.
- Never complain: find out how you can be part of the solution (see #13 below).
- Never quit: power through and give it everything you have.
- Learn to listen well: this is much harder and takes considerable practice.
- Don’t use excuses for failure: for yourself or others.
- Have patience: learn to get along with people.
- Never compromise your integrity: once gone it can never be replaced, fixed, or mended.
- You deserve what you tolerate: if you let problems slip past you, others will see you have set a lower standard of behavior.
- Get educated: use the military and civilian education system to the maximum.
- Respect others: don’t fight, name call, insult, or instigate problems with others.
- Don’t be part of the problem: be part of the solution
- Learn to speak properly: as well as the correct meaning of your profession’s words and concepts
- Know the history of your profession, its culture, and its mission.
- Don’t be a “grab ass.”
- Keep yourself, your uniform, and gear clean and in good condition, always.
What also surprised me was that they admitted that they entered the military lacking the character traits necessary for success.
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- U.S. Army (144), U.S. Navy (33), U.S. Marine (28), U.S. Air Force (27), U.S. Coast Guard (19), and miscellaneous Army in Britain, Australia, South Korea, Japan, Mexico, Panama, Honduras, and Poland (14).