Know Your Troops

By | February 5, 2022

[February 5, 2022]  We hear, on occasion, of heroic deeds of our military personnel; those who put their lives on the line for their buddies in a display of unbelievable courage.  We need heroes like that, and for reasons of necessity, we do indeed love our heroes.  But, there are also many more stories of ordinary troops who, along with their teammates, accomplish unimaginable feats.1  My message; know our troops.

I began my time in the U.S. Army as a Private, the lowest rank; I was a simple foot Soldier.  Over the years, I would learn much from America’s best Sergeants in charge.  I took away something important from that experience and what they taught me.  I will never forget them, for they are the ones who do the heavy lifting and are exposed most to danger and death.

In the past, I joked to my friends that the best-trained Officer was one who had been a Private.  It was no joke; to us, it was true.

At my first duty assignment, I would experience my first lesson in leadership.  I made up my mind that I wanted to be a Sergeant right there.  I also quickly learned that to do a job right, you had to have the right people and leaders to make it happen.  I knew I could help because I understood what needed doing and the right motivation to do it.

Years later, when the Army promoted me to “buck” sergeant, I was happy; my goal in life was achieved.  Still, my experience as a Private led me to swear that I would never give up on them or ever let them down.  I could empathize with what they had to endure from their leaders.

Many leaders today, especially those in the most senior positions, have forgotten the foot Soldier, Marine, Airman, Sailor, or Coastie.  Leaders of our troops are caught up in the affairs of their job, the daily emails, the meetings, the workshops, getting that corner office, going out to lunch with their boss, and even rubbing elbows with politicians.

Many years later, after college and commissioning as an Officer, the Army sent me to Iraq.  I arrived as an experienced Lieutenant Colonel of senior military rank.  I will never forget the promise I made to myself that I would help safeguard those foot Soldiers, the warfighters.  That is precisely what I did.

My leadership philosophy demanded I get to know our troops.

There was nothing more humbling than to be in their presence.  Regardless of rank, most will tell you the truth right away if you ask.  It was the Sergeant that made things work.  But, it was the Private that was doing the hardest work, and they were also the most brutally honest.

Frequent talks with our troops also reinforced my positive view of them.  They had decided to place themselves in harm’s way in combat because their country called and to protect their battlebuddies.  Our troops did this every day, and they did it for the bond of brotherhood.

We can only understand this camaraderie by being there with those troops, talking to them where they are, and being part of their day.  What they did and how they acted is what courage looks like; there is no substitute.

It was refreshing to know the troops.

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  1. Exerts from my new book, “Our Longest Year in Iraq,” (go to article here).

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Please read my new book, “Our Longest Year in Iraq,” at Amazon (link here).

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.

33 thoughts on “Know Your Troops

  1. Yusaf from Texas

    Sadly, we don’t teach leadership any longer. Call it what you will, but this is a great deficiency in our formal educational system.

    Reply
    1. Yulanda

      Yusuf, you are right on target with your assessment of our education system. Less and less do we have basic education. More is today about what to think (propaganda) rather than how to think (reality). Formal education, esp govt education is terrible. Get your kids out of school now before they are indoctrinated. 🇺🇸🇺🇸🇺🇸🇺🇸🇺🇸

      Reply
  2. Max Foster

    Let’s not overlook the importance of this statement, “know our troops (or people, family, etc.).” This is a massively important idea that has been around for the time we’ve been human. But, I don’t see it practiced today much except in a few cases, rare cases when a great politician or military leader comes along. Our society demands our leaders know them, and implied help care for them as well. And that caring means pushing us to be free and embrace liberty. It doesn’t mean food handouts or such but standing by them in times of trouble.

    Reply
    1. Reese III

      Yep, Sun Tzu alright. Gen. Satterfield regularly writes about such. Thanks all. 🇦🇺

      Reply
  3. Wilson Cox

    Know our people (your troops)! There is only one way for a leader and this is it.

    Reply
    1. rjsmithers

      This idea is as old as written documents from our history has shown. I’m sure it goes back even before writing was invented. Know your Soldiers for the leader. Know your people for the politician. Know your flock for the religous man.

      Reply
  4. Rides Alone

    Very few folks today understand (really feel) what comradery is about or how much it affects you. If you don’t know it, you cannot imagine it. Only by being around others in difficult circumstances and surviving can you truly know the power.

    Reply
  5. Lynn Pitts

    Once you get to know them, you create an environment based on trust and cohesion. They will turn to you in times of trouble and need. They will do so because of the bond created when you, as the leader, took the time to get to know them and trust them.

    Reply
    1. Army Captain

      Correct, Gen. Satterfield writes often about trust and confidence. Knowing your people is the first step, in my opinion anyway. You hit this one on the head, Lynn. Both of us were in the US military and one of their most important lessons for junior leaders is that you should get to know your soldiers. Yep, I did. It paid off with great success. They trust you and have confidence that you won’t throw them into an unknown without you having their backs.

      Reply
      1. Greg Heyman

        Appreciate the note, Army Capt. I’m glad you confirmed what is being written about here. But, I find that many young managers fail to do this. Result? Poor overall performance.

        Reply
  6. ZB22

    If you want to improve workplace motivation, there’s no substitute for knowing your people!

    Reply
    1. Frank Graham

      To know your people, you can start with effective communication: speak with each of your employees regularly, ask good open ended questions, and listen much more. (In fact, managers can improve their effectiveness across-the-board by just listening better.)

      Reply
      1. Dog Man

        What you did before your current position in leadership has little relevance to what you do today. Be ready to do what is necessary now. Your past has little to do with today or the future. A legacy is easily destroyed.

        Reply
  7. Pooch T.

    Know yourself and know the enemy, and you will not be defeated in a thousand battles. Paraphrasing here but you get the idea. This is an important part of the human equation for success. Know your troops is part of knowing yourself. Ignore this advice and, well, the result will be obvious to those of us who know leadership.

    Reply
  8. Greg NH

    “My leadership philosophy demanded I get to know our troops.” quote from article. Yes! Gen. Satterfield is giving us some of his ideas that we should all take for its great value. I wish I had a long list of these. Maybe Gen. S. could one day summarize his leadership philosophy into an article.

    Reply
    1. Silly Man

      I understand that Gen. Satterfield is now writing a book on leadership. That will be the place to read them. The sooner the book comes out the better.

      Reply
    2. Willie Strumburger

      Yes, a new book is inbound. Maybe he will share some of the text with us early. ✔

      Reply
      1. Nick Lighthouse

        He usually does. Sometimes he does it for the feedback, I know he values the input from us. Just another reason for reading his blog.

        Reply
  9. Bryan Z. Lee

    Excellent article. I just sat down with my dog at my side and a good cup of strong coffee. Opened my laptop and there your were. A great way to get started on a cold February morning in Minnesota.

    Reply
    1. Tom Bushmaster

      YES! My dog, Hill Billy, is sitting beside me too. ha ha ha… yep, nothing like a loyal good dog.

      Reply
  10. KenFBrown

    Well said, gen. satterfield. Thank you! Now, what is most important beyond knowing your troops? know yourself. If you do not know both, then you wil inevitably stumble and fail. Then it’s a matter of getting back up and recognizing that there are some basic understanding that you must have to win.

    Reply
  11. Audrey

    Gen. Satterfield, spot on comment, … know your people is more important than just about anything a knowledgeable leader can do. If you don’t know them, then you also do not know yourself, and you will fail.

    Reply
      1. JT Patterson

        Sun Tzu, the Art of War, read it. Learn. Study. Speak well and know the ideas of Sun Tzu.

        Reply

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