Promotions are hard-fought and well-earned by the right troops. After proving themselves to their chain of command, an ambitious troop is rewarded by being placed into a higher rank that’s worthy of their effort. In general, there’s a timeline for promotions. When you’re among the junior enlisted ranks, you can expect to your hard work to be recognized (roughly) every six months and, at your third or fourth year, you’ll be considered for the move up to NCO.
Then, there are troops that get a leg up on their peers by getting that promotion early. With the utmost respect to the troops that have dutifully earned their promotion, I think it’s fair to say we all know some troops that get handed a leadership position for all the wrong reasons.
Just because someone can do their job well and scores high on their PT test doesn’t automatically mean they’ve got what it takes to lead troops into battle.
Any hindrance on the unit may prevent it from fulfilling its sole purpose: fighting and winning America’s wars.
(U.S. Air Force by Tech. Sgt. Christine Jones)
While most soldiers, including myself, can attest to the lackluster leadership abilities of some fast-tracked leaders, the RAND Corporation is finally backing it up with evidence in a recently released report titled, The Value of Experience in the Enlisted Force.
The report explores the relationship between a leader’s experience and junior soldiers’ attrition rate. The three key traits of an effective leader, as found through interviews, were:
- leaders who care about their soldiers,
- leaders who effectively train their soldiers,
- leaders who are knowledgeable.
Soldiers under leaders who mastered all three of these were far more likely to reenlist in the Army. Soldiers who served under leaders who failed in two or more these categories were far more likely to leave after just one term. This is precisely where a lack of experience in leadership positions hamstrings the unit.
Being a leader is more then even book knowledge – it’s finding the balance in all traits of being a leader.
(U.S. Army photo by Timothy L. Hale)
There are two key types of experience that leaders need in spades: Interpersonal experience, which is knowing your soldiers and how they react to things, and technical experience, which can be learned in school and by simply leading. Both of these can only be achieved with time.
Soldiers who are tossed under leadership lacking in this invaluable experience are set up for failure. They’ll be unprepared to handle all the minor things that no one tells you about leading troops, like the insane amount of paperwork required or a complete lack of a personal life.
Most of these problems of inexperience are solved by gradually transitioning a troop into a leadership role. It’s best to start someone with command over one or two soldiers rather than immediately putting them in charge of the entire platoon.
Just be honest with yourself and your superiors. Everyone is affected by a single leader in the unit.
(U.S. Army photo by Pfc. Alex Kilmon)
Now, this isn’t to say that fast-tracking promotions is inherently wrong. It’s more to say that the qualities many units use to identify troops for quick promotion are flawed. These should include leadership skills — not just outstanding PT scores or test results.
As for sergeants, staff sergeants, and sergeants first class, they should only bite off what they can chew. If it takes a trip to the NCO academy before they’re 100-percent confident in leading, then they should go. No one is being helped by shoehorning an unprepared NCO into a leadership position just to maintain the status quo.