Editor’s note: This month, around the United States, cadets at service academies and ROTC programs are commissioning and taking the next step in their careers as members of the profession of arms. We originally published this advice for new lieutenants from Gen. Tony Thomas in 2018, while he served as commander of US Special Operations Command.
1. At your first meeting with your first platoon sergeant:
Shut the door, tell him or her, “I think I’ve had a pretty good preparation to be a PL, but before I do anything, how about you tell me what you expect of me?” If they are good, and most of them are very good—and you aren’t the first or last PL they’ll have the privilege of serving with—they’ll say, “Be our leader, make the tough decisions, don’t try to be our buddy (we may eventually like you, but that’s not the objective), enforce the standards.” (And, while they may never say it, you can take to the bank that they will strive to never let you fail). You may be an LT, but you are their LT.
2. Care for people.
They are our most precious resource—the decisive, competitive, comparative advantage.
They are more important than hardware.
If you don’t really know them you won’t really care for them.
Active mentorship: Who are your “12 Disciples?”
3. Effect change. When in charge, take charge.
4. Strain to listen: make your transmissions count.
5. Control your emotions.
7. Be accountable.
8. Invite dialogue and constructive criticism.
9. Be the example—intuitively, as the professional, but less intuitively as the person.
Strive for balance. If you don’t have a life, neither will your subordinates. Take leave. Don’t work ridiculous hours. Think about the ripple to your people.
10. Make it your mission to make your subordinates more successful than they are already going to be. Relish their success.
Give them credit.
Take the blame.
Embrace your mistakes.
11. Don’t let dysfunction and bad experiences frustrate you. Make it better—row harder.
12. Enjoy the ride. If you are having fun as a leader, your people will as well.
13. Keep the long view in mind—the final objective—the things that matter most when it’s all said and done.
“Peacock to Feather Duster”: You will leave command and the Army one day. Have your life, health, family, wits, and a sense of having left it all on the playing field.
Keep the long view while you embrace the moment.
Gen. Raymond A. “Tony” Thomas III is a retired US Army officer who served from 2016 to 2019 as the commander of US Special Operations Command.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the United States Military Academy, Department of the Army, or Department of Defense.
Image credit: Tech. Sgt. Angelita M. Lawrence