Leadership and Discipline in the United States Army

The tasks of an infantryman can range from mundane activities like scraping wax off of floors to adrenaline pumping activities like jumping out of airplanes or avoiding enemy gunfire.

Whether a United States Army Infantryman is conducting area beautification in garrison or clearing a landing zone during a deployment, the common denominator in all infantryman tasks is leadership and the discipline of the soldier to follow the directives and orders of his leaders without questioning the task, the motives behind the directive or order, or the judgment of the leader issuing the directive or order. This is the essence of discipline; maintaining individual creative thought, while at the same time carrying out tasks and duties assigned in accordance with the instructions to which they were assigned.

Discipline is doing the right thing at the right time. Leadership is the ability of an individual to motivate and accurately direct the efforts of individuals for whom which the leader has charge to accomplish a task or goal. It requires instilling confidence in the soldiers and providing them with enough direction so that they can achieve the goal in a given time period. In the United States Army Infantry, good discipline and leadership are essential to successful mission accomplishment. Soldiers need to have the discipline to obey an order to attack a machine gun nest and face death.

At the same time, leaders need to have the skills to motivate their soldiers to accomplish difficult goals. Discipline and leadership form a symbiotic relationship in which soldiers will recognize good leadership decision making processes and in return, develop a greater trust in the abilities of the leader. This trust will enable the soldiers to work harder to achieve the tasks put forth by the leaders in a manner that s conducive with how the leader would want the tasks to be accomplished.

Leadership and discipline are like two opposite sides to one coin. While the infantry soldier should unquestioningly put his life at risk to accomplish a directive or order put forth by his leader, the leader needs to use his best judgment, knowledge of infantry tasks and skills, and experience to give the correct command in accordance with the situation at hand. While the soldier needs to be able to trust the judgment and decisions of the leader, the leader needs to ensure that the trust given to them by the soldiers is not misused.

The question arises as to what would constitute misuse of trust on the part of the leader. Soldiers are taught in basic training that the NCO is always right. If an NCO says that two plus two equals five, then the soldier should agree. This is not done so that soldiers will blindly follow their leaders. Instead, it is to show the soldier that they should listen to their NCO and do what their NCO tells them to do. As the soldier begins to develop trust in his NCO, he will more readily strive to put forth his full effort in accomplishing the task put forth by his NCO.

Even if an order given by and NCO does not make sense to the soldier, the soldier would do it anyways. The NCO is privy to more information than the soldier. Additionally, the NCO has more experience, knowledge and infantry skills than the soldier. The reason why a directive or order might not make sense to the soldier is due to the fact that the soldier is not able to see what needs to be accomplished in the same light as the NCO sees it.

For an infantry leader to misuse the trust given to him by those under him, his directives or orders to the soldiers would need to be geared towards something other than the mission as put forth by the leaders leader. His motivation in giving the order would to be in line with mission accomplishment. However, the higher an individual progresses in either the chain of command or the NCO support channel, the more ambiguity is present in each order or directive. The leader must be able to think through the best way to accomplish the mission given to him.

Sometimes mistakes will be made. Judgment lapses are an inherent part of human nature. However, misuse of trust occurs when a leader knowingly does the wrong thing. This not only takes time and energy away from accomplishing the mission, it also has the potential for the leader’s soldiers to lose trust and confidence in the deader further deteriorating a unit’s ability to accomplish the mission. From the fire team level to the service branch level, missions are accomplished by groups of people or units.

It is the leaders job to ensure that the group successfully accomplishes this mission in the most efficient manner possible. The mission of the infantry is to close with and destroy the enemy through maneuver and fire. In order to accomplish this specific mission, individuals need to be able to function well in their units. There needs to be group cohesion in every fire team, squad, platoon, company and upwards. It is the leader’s job to ensure that this cohesion exists.

Sometimes the only common aspects among members of a fire team is that they are in the United States Army Infantry, they all have the same team leader, and they are all tasked with the same mission. Their leader needs to ensure that they buy into this mission and are all trying to accomplish this mission. This accomplished through effective communication of the mission to the unit and through setting a good example on how to accomplish the mission by the leader. Anyone can communicate orders; the leader gets his soldiers to want to accomplish the tasks put forth in the orders.