What I Learned About Leadership From the NCO Creed

I am very proud to say I served for 9 years in the U.S. Army. I was fortunate in many ways– not the least of which is I was never given the ‘opportunity’ to deploy to either Iraq or Afghanistan. The closest I came to combat during my service was when a Jordanian soldier proposed to me at the PX (Army store) at Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo. He was serious. It freaked me out. End of story.

The lessons learned from my military service could fill many books, but I think the one thing that has made the biggest impact on my life since leaving the Army was the fact that I was a Non-Commissioned Officer, an NCO, for 6 of the 9 years I served. I am constantly reminded in both my professional and personal life that the leadership principles espoused by the NCO core, and articulated in the NCO creed, form a firm foundation for leadership best practices across just about any organization.

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What I Learned About Leadership From the NCO Creed

So, what have I learned about leadership from being an NCO? From the NCO creed?

  1. My two basic responsibilities will always be uppermost in my mind: The accomplishment of my mission and the welfare of my Soldiers. Take care of people and the people will take care of the mission. Honestly, I don’t know how to say it any more plainly than this. I don’t think it matters if your mission is defined as running a successful business, working in the medical field, government, the non-profit sector… or even your own family. When leaders take care of their subordinates, the people that are under their authority, organizations tend to flourish. Leaders who focus on the mission first, without taking care of people, will tend to burn out those who work for or with them. Eventually, the mission will suffer.
  2. I will strive to remain technically and tactically proficient. In the military this means that the NCO will not only know the skills needed to perform their occupational specialty (cook, sniper, linguist, etc…), but that every NCO will also be proficient in basic Army skills such as first aid, navigation, …fighting. In the non-military world, this means that leaders should not check out. A great leader will not be the expert in every subject, but a great leader should have a basic understanding of what the people who work for them do and how their contributions help achieve the goals of the organization. A leader must master leadership skills: self-awareness, time management, strategic planning, or whatever skills are necessary for the leader to effectively guide their organization to success.
  3. I will communicate consistently with my Soldiers, and never leave them uninformed. Great leaders communicate. They provide feedback to those that work for them. Great leaders set clear expectations and let their folks know if they are meeting or exceeding those expectations.
  4. I will exercise initiative by taking appropriate action in the absence of orders. Great leaders, and individuals who are great at ‘leading’ themselves (ie: effective people), are proactive. Even the newest, most junior employee in an organization can exhibit great leadership by identifying something that needs to be done, a problem that needs to be fixed, and then setting about to do something about it. Great leaders and highly effective individuals do not need someone to tell them what to do. They act.

What leadership principles do you think are important? What kind of leaders have inspired you?

I love working with and for people who exhibit these qualities. I try to nurture these leadership principles in my own life and know that my time as an NCO equipped me well for that challenge. I hope they will inspire you as well!

Thanks for reading!



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  1. You go, Sara! I love your blog! The design is lovely and your posts are So You. I really enjoy your writing and this post is just too perfect. To answer your question on the post, and not just gush at how pretty your new site is, one of my favorite leaders came from a military background and above *everything*, took care of his people. Greeted all visitors at the airport, no matter the time of day or night (off the clock), knew about my family and goals, made sure I was fed during long late work nights, and knew his mission down cold. He may have had little idea how to do my job, but it didn’t matter, I wanted to do the very very best I could so I could do him, and our mission proud. He has since retired and I hope one day I am an ounce of the leader he was!

    Keep it up! -Kate