Military Leadership Is Really About Trust

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By Joseph Callejas

Many are familiar with the saying, “if you want something done right, do it yourself.” To be honest, this idea is what I leaned on as a Lieutenant and platoon leader. Continuing with my honesty, I now realize I was a rather immature Lieutenant and platoon leader. In reflecting on why I leveraged this ineffective leadership method, I learned that I wanted to guarantee mission success…I wanted to get results. I was obsessed with becoming the “go-to guy” in my unit; I was a hard-working officer who was committed to achieving the mission. After some necessary maturing and through a caring boss who took the time to coach and mentor me through some of my decisions, I’ve come to understand the problem: I was trying to do everything myself. It is a common trap that many leaders at every level experience. When leaders neglect to trust our subordinates and prevent them from doing their jobs, the organization suffers.

As a company commander, and now a more mature leader, I wanted trust to be the common thread that attached my vision and goals with the competency of my subordinates. Thus, it was surprising when I recently had one of my senior Non-Commissioned Officers (NCO) recently comment to me, “Sir, the NCO Corps is failing, and it’s because we don’t let NCOs be NCOs.” In translation, we as officers and leaders have not held NCOs accountable for leading their formations and their troops. Many leaders (officers) do not hold our NCOs accountable because we have decided that we cannot trust our first line supervisors to handle the day-to-day business of junior leaders. Now, I don’t actually believe our NCO Corps is failing. However, I do believe that we as officers have a duty to ensure that the “backbone of our Army,” the NCO Corps, is strong and that we can trust them to actually lead our Soldiers that we have entrusted to them.

Leading Soldiers is an everyday business, but it’s not my everyday business as a company commander. That is a hard sentence to write because it feels counter-intuitive to everything I have learned in my career. As a company commander, my business is to ensure I am leading my entire unit, not individual Soldiers. My NCOs lead my Soldiers and I need to trust them to do exactly that, lead. It is my business to ensure that my NCOs are held accountable for their leader responsibilities (accountability, counseling, assigned missions, etc.). It is my business to ensure my NCOs receive timely and complete guidance, and direction from me. It is my business to trust and protect my NCOs so that they can lead. Finally, it is my business to let my NCOs be NCOs.

I have a passion that I desire every officer to share. My passion is to grow strong NCOs that know how to do the day-to-day business of junior leaders. First line supervisors are the strength of every unit. Every Soldier (including me), looks to his/her supervisor for coaching, teaching, and mentoring, which influence the day-to-day business of leadership. If we do not trust our NCOs and subordinates to complete the mission, not only do we personally fail as leaders, but our units and our Army do too. As I’m sure many others do, I regularly struggle in assessing if I am a successful commander or not. However, I can say that I will leave this job knowing that I trusted my subordinates to do their job and by trusting them, I have quality NCOs that can conduct the day-to-day business of leadership.

“Sir, one of things I love, is that you let us be us.” –SGT Logan, a junior NCO leader and first-line supervisor in my company

Joe Callejas is a US Army Logistics Officer and company commander currently serving at Fort Carson, CO. He is passionate about the science of Army logistics, the art of military leadership, and combining them both to provide effective sustainment to every unit he serves in. The opinions in this post are Joe’s alone and do not necessarily reflect those of the US Army, the DoD, or the US government.

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