[October 2, 2018] In most armies worldwide there’s a classic story of a Second Lieutenant who was not trusted by his platoon because he was so “green” (inexperienced and untested). Just like this lieutenant, until you earn your spurs in any vocation you will find the road to leadership challenging and frustrating.
Earn your spurs is, of course, an idiom where the original meaning may have been literal but today it is symbolic and refers to proving your worth as a member of some group or organization. At one time or another, we’ve all had to do this. In some circumstances doing so can be both difficult and time consuming.1,2
I had a Civil Engineer professor at Texas Tech University who was on the warpath about this very issue. He believed that there was no reason for recent graduating students to be treated with less respect and confidence typically given to more experienced and older engineers already in the workplace. He never got anywhere with his argument despite his prominence in the field of engineering.
It can be hard to modify human behavior and this is one of those behaviors that seems to resist change more than most. The challenge for new leaders is to recognize that they will be put into this position and they should be prepared for earning their spurs. Furthermore, preventing unwarranted, hazing or similar problems in the workplace is another leader responsibility related to earning your spurs.
In the U.S. military, it is common to move from one unit to another about every three years. During those transitions, troops will once again go through a variation on this principle. How one handle’s themselves will say much about their character and how they will be accepted into that organization. Complaining about its unfairness or using it to justify failure at some point later in time, shows that a leader lacks what it really takes to lead.
So, go out and earn your spurs. Know that it is a part of life and that leaders will be judged based on their actions and words during the process. Best of luck during those times and remember to smile and keep a good attitude always.
- For example, to be fully accepted as a professional, one usually has to earn a college degree in a specific technical field and then work in that profession for several years. Earning certifications and professional qualifications beyond a degree and experience is also part of the process.
- American cowboys claim first use of the idiom but I doubt that is true.