Leadership: September 27, 1999


1. The unit was there before you arrived and will continue after you are gone. While taking command is a signal moment in your career, for the unit you are just another new face in an endless parade of people coming and going.

2. Standards must be enforced from the first day of a new command. You will never get another chance. Find out what standards your commanders have set and ensure that your unit meets them. Failure to establish and maintain basic discipline and skill standards is the first step toward destroying your own unit.

3. You must counsel your senior NCO in a formal and professional manner. You must tell him what you expect from him and find out what he expects from you. If necessary, get a senior officer or a senior NCO from outside of your unit to tell you how to conduct this counseling.

4. When you make a mistake, and you will, own up to it but continue the mission. If your mistake is in the middle of a critical operation, say "my fault", then do whatever has to be done to complete the operation. (Public self-criticism over the incident can wait until the operation ends.) If this means abandoning your own broken-down vehicle and taking over someone else's, do it. If this means ordering someone else to clean up your mess so that you can do your own job of commanding, do it (and make up for it later).

5. Do not criticize your predecessor. At least some of the people in the unit liked him, and you must establish yourself by your own actions, not by tearing down someone else to make yourself look better. It is more productive to praise your unit (and indirectly your predecessor). This shows that you respect the people who now work for you, and that you are not afraid to have yourself compared with their previous leader. And don't worry about what your successor will say about you; if you did your job right he won't be able to fault you.

6. Make your NCOs enforce the standards. If you see a private doing something wrong, unless there is an immediate danger to someone or something, do not correct him. Have the sergeant in charge of the soldier take care of the matter. This enforces that you expect your sergeants to hold the men to standards but will not interfere in the jobs of those sergeants. By working through the sergeants you will gain better sergeants, and better soldiers. If the men get the idea that you are the only one who will correct them, then you are the only one whose eyes they must evade. In other words, do not try to do everything yourself. Delegate authority and responsibility within the established and traditional lines. Don't just let the sergeants be sergeants, but make them be sergeants. You must motivate your sergeants, get them to show initiative within clearly defined boundaries, and see to it that they get the opportunities for training and schooling that will keep them in the military and help them get promoted.

7. Share the lives of your soldiers and do not accept special privileges. While you must maintain some professional distance, you must also show that you expect no more of the men than you are willing to ask of yourself, and endure for yourself. You should eat what your men eat and sleep when and where they sleep. Taking lunch every day at the Colonel's buffet and sleeping on a cot in the battalion command post will not endear you to a platoon or company that is eating MREs and sleeping in cold foxholes.

8. When you know you are right, stick to your guns. Do not let someone talk you into a change or an activity which you know is not productive just because you want to "get along".

9. Never talk about how much you improved things just by being here. This is bragging and (even if it is true) does not endear you to people who work for you.

10. Enforcing standards will probably not make your men love you, at least not all of them, and at least not at first. 

11. You must maintain a positive attitude as much of the time as possible. You must also remember that all new leaders taking over small units start with limited experience and will not be selected for promotion to general within the first year of their careers. What distinguishes a good junior leader from a poor one is the details. Was the officer (and the unit) on time? Did he and it meet deadlines? Did the officer pay attention to detail and keep careful notes? When forms were turned in to headquarters, did they have to be sent back for revision? Were established policies and standards met and maintained? Keep the marshal's baton buried deep in your knapsack and concentrate on doing your job, and you will at the end of your tour be rated as one of the good ones.

12. Do not lie to your troops; some day you will have to lie to them and you must be believed. Never make promises you cannot deliver, indeed, do not make promises you are not positive that the chain of command above you will not honor.--Stephen V Cole




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