I wrote this article while sitting in a hotel room in Madrid contemplating how I got here. I was visiting the Spanish and Portuguese militaries as part of my experience in the Army’s Schools of Other Nations (SON) Program. I have spent the last nine months studying at the Colombian Superior School of War, and I sometimes pinch myself to make sure I am not dreaming.
In 2007, if you told 2LT Player, a “CHEMO” for 3-7 Field Artillery, what the next decade would look like, he would have told you to stop teasing him because he had to finish the USR.
I am confident about what he would have said, because I am him, just ten years later. However, in the next ten years, I served in multiple leadership positions at the platoon and company level. I also served in a joint special operations unit, taught ROTC, and was selected to attend a foreign service’s ILE.
I arrived at my first assignment at Schofield Barracks with doom and gloom ringing in my ears. During my Basic Officer Leader Course, my small group leader told me that as a 74A headed to the 25thInfantry Division, I most likely would not have a chance to lead and it would be a constant struggle to be viewed as a serious professional.
Fortunately, the battalion operations officer changed my outlook during our initial counseling session. He listened intently as I told him my concerns of being “stuck on staff” and my desire to lead a platoon. He said: “There is no such thing as a bad branch, only bad officers.”
He went on to say that if I wanted to lead Soldiers, I needed to demonstrate my leadership potential by performing well. He had a good point. In the Army, we do not always have control over duty assignments, but we have complete control over our performance. I committed myself to earning the right to lead Soldiers and developing the skills and attributes required for success.
As a result, I discovered what I consider the “Eight Essential Characteristics of Officership.”
Leadership is more than knowing where you are, where you want to go, and how you are going to get there. Leading includes inspiring others to take the journey with you.
All officers are leaders, regardless of duty position. You must be ready to make decisions, move the mission forward, and lead by example.
Great leaders never ask a subordinate to make a sacrifice that he or she is not willing to make. If we hold ourselves to the same standard that we hold our Soldiers, they will strive to meet or exceed that standard.
Keep an open mind and seek advice. Every team has experienced members that are an extremely valuable resource.
These team members can provide historical examples of past issues and help guide your decisions. But first, you must be approachable and willing to listen.
SUPPORT YOUR COMMANDER
An officer who understands mission command and commander’s intent is worth 10 officers who don’t. When you are given a legal and lawful order, execute and stay within your limits.
When a commander decides on a course of action, it is not your place to second guess. We advise and make recommendations, commanders make decisions and assume the risks.
LEARN AND IMPROVE
Superior leaders are acutely aware of their strengths and weaknesses. They actively build on their strengths and improve upon their weaknesses.
Complacency is a fatal leadership flaw and we should never find comfort in remaining stagnant. This goes for every aspect of the profession of arms. Make realistic and achievable goals and then work to achieve them.
REQUIRE MINIMUM SUPERVISION
Officers who require constant oversight are detrimental to high op tempo organizations that operate in complex environments.
Valuable members of the team understand their responsibilities and execute with little supervision. Asking for the occasional azimuth check is important, but don’t inundate your boss with questions you should be able to answer yourself.
Counseling is the most important tool that leaders have at their disposal. Clearly communicating expectations and standards provides a baseline for measuring performance and ensures that both the rater and rated officer understand expectations.
This is especially important when managing your rater profile and justifying the contents of evaluation reports for both officers and NCOs.
ENSURE THE SUCCESS OF YOUR SUBORDINATES
Leaders who take a genuine interest in their subordinates will see their teams achieve amazing feats. This goes hand in hand with counseling.
You must get to know your Soldiers and help them personally and professionally. Find out their goals and help develop a plan to achieve them. If you take care of your Soldiers, they will always take care of the mission.
BE A STUDENT OF HISTORY
As a professional, you must immerse yourself in your profession. Military history is full of lessons and examples that you can compare to your situation.
“Top block” officers read history and apply it regularly in their work. Taking the time to learn from the past will increase your ability to answer the tough questions when they arise.
While the above list is by no means comprehensive, Officers who adhere to these principals will be given the opportunity for increased responsibility.
The Army needs and rewards good leaders. If you strive to be a true professional, take care of your Soldiers, and solve problems within the commander’s intent, your branch won’t matter. You will have an amazing Army Story, even as a “CHEMO.”
Major Nathan Player is currently a student at the Superior School of War in Bogota Colombia. He is assigned to 3rd Special Forces Group at Fort Bragg following graduation. He has 13 years of combined enlisted and officer service, has commanded at the O3 Level, and has served in various Joint Staff and professional education assignments.