[January 28, 2015] As a Captain in the U.S. Army commanding a company, I was always looking for ways to provide more motivation for my soldiers. Awards in the form of medals, passes (time off), promotion, and letters of commendation were all items in my leadership toolbox that had been used successfully in the past.
I wanted more and soon introduced a new “hat” that I’d purchased that made the wearer someone easily recognizable as having done something extraordinary. It was tasteful and of excellent quality; the wearer could keep the hat and wear it in all company areas. Later I discovered through my more experienced Noncommissioned Officers (NCOs) that the hat did not have the desired effect because it was embarrassing for the wearer.
The leader lesson I picked up was that awards can be either motivating or demotivating, depending on how it’s administered.1,2 I was given good advice by my most senior NCO, a First Sergeant … he said that one of the best rewards that a soldier can receive is a simple pat on the back. Recognizing a soldier for a job well done and saying so directly to him meant more than anything else I could do as their commander.
I used the U.S. Army approved award system throughout my command time, but from that point on I used it in conjunction with a pat on the back. Of course, awards should be administered in a fair and impartial manner. I made sure this was the case in my company despite a history of that not happening. Morale improved and motivation got better – at least it appeared to be so. Other factors were at work here but I believe the soldiers thought that I really cared for them and that motivated them more than anything else.
My leadership toolbox is certainly not full. But the lessons on awards that I gained from more experienced soldiers stayed with me and I was later able to bring those to combat successfully.
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