Officer-Enlisted Relationships in the US Army

Throughout the eight interviews I conducted, every officer talked about the prevalence leader-follower relationships within the US Army. The US Army has two different career paths for soldiers. The first is for enlisted soldiers. The second is for commissioned officers. Enlisted soldiers are trained to be subject matter experts at a specific skillset (mechanics, cyber operations specialist, infantryman, etc.). Commissioned officers, whose role within the Army is to command enlisted soldiers and officers below them, enter a branch of the Army and act as managers for many soldiers with different skillsets.

The leader-follower relationship in the US Army can get a little complicated. I spent a large amount of time in my interviews trying to get a better understanding about the leader-follower relationships between commissioned officers and non-commissioned officers. As enlisted soldiers progress through the ranks, they become non-commissioned officers. Non-commissioned officers are subordinate in rank to commissioned officers, yet they typically have more time and experience within the Army. This confused me. In less than a year, I will be a commissioned officer and will be required to lead enlisted soldiers and non-commissioned officers, the majority of whom will know more than me and will understand the Army better than I do. How can I succeed as a leader?

During my interviews, the officers made it clear that to succeed as a leader in the officer corps, one must be humble, ask questions, be confident, and trust your non-commissioned officers. Being humble is a major part of succeeding as an officer. Even though you are the leader, you do not know everything and that is okay. The important thing is that if you do not know something, you find someone who does and you learn from them. This ties in with the second point, asking questions. As an officer, asking questions should not be seen as a weakness. Instead, it should be looked upon as a motivated individual trying to gather as much information as they can to better themselves. Although an officer must be humble and ask questions, they must also be confident. They are the leader and must accept responsibility for what their soldiers do and do not do. Thus, to become a confident commissioned officer, you must master your skills as a manager of soldiers, and if you do not know something, you must study and train yourself to acquire that new knowledge. Lastly, an officer needs to trust their non-commissioned officers. Although your job is to lead, officers should delegate tasks to their subordinate leaders and trust that they will get the job done. This will build mutual trust and respect by showing non-commissioned officers that you believe in them, you understand that they are experts in their field, and will give you more time to focus on plenty of other roles and responsibilities that you have as a commissioned Army officer.