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NCOs confront leadership challenges

By Crystal Bradshaw

NCO Journal

March 30, 2018

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NCOs confront leadership challenges

"The value of your advice, whether good or bad, depends on the leaders you advise and your ability to influence them."1

-Command Sgt. Maj. Jamie K. Price, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault)

Leaders, regardless of their skills and expertise, run into challenges. However, noncommissioned officers can perceive these challenges as ways to grow and develop their leadership skills. According to Army Doctrine Publication 6-22, Army Leadership, "good leadership does not just happen by chance, it is a developable skill."2

"I don't think leadership challenges ever change," said retired ninth Sgt. Maj. of the Army Richard A. Kidd. "You might change the equipment; you might change the uniform; you might change a lot of things; but the leadership challenges are primarily to lead, train, and care for the troops."3


Communication is key to successful interaction between leaders and their subordinates. It is a collaborative effort. However, a lack of communication often results in issues for the subordinates.

"A bulk of the challenges I have faced as a senior NCO revolve around communication," said Command Sgt. Maj. Jamie K. Price, Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault).4 "I have had leaders in charge who refused to listen to the advice I provided based on my experiences and training. Often, this has led to failure."5

Price also stressed that communication is not merely day-to-day interaction with Soldiers, but also email messages, phone calls, texts, and counseling. NCOs carry the responsibilities of communicating effectively, leading Soldiers, and mitigating leadership problems. To be effective they must be mature or skilled enough to communicate with their subordinates and leaders in order to influence outcomes.6

"I thought my [previous communication] methods were effective due to my efforts to treat everyone the same," Price said. "However, as I matured, I realized every individual is different and that a single method of communication is ineffective and causes more issues in professional relationships."7

Poor communication is also a challenge for junior NCOs because they are often the last to receive information after it filters through several levels of leadership.8 When this happens, the details often change and become inaccurate which, Price explained, keeps many junior leaders in a reactionary mode and ultimately creates a disconnect.9

Related: "Sergeants Are Not Crusaders" by Sgt. Sam White

Leadership Development

When Soldiers cross the threshold from junior to senior NCOs, their roles and responsibilities shift. While junior NCOs execute senior leaders' plans, senior NCOs assist in plan development. Senior NCOs also advise their commanders in developing their intent/end state, monitor plan execution, and train officers, junior NCOs, and Soldiers on all aspects of their roles in the organization.10

Along with shouldering more responsibilities, transitioning from junior to senior NCO requires additional leadership development to address increasingly complex challenges. Though leadership challenges can be frustrating and daunting, especially when one is unsure of how to address them, they play a crucial role in developing leadership skills by creating platforms to measure success and failure.

"The true development came after a majority of failures and required a true look in the mirror," Price said. "When dealing with people, there is no formula, nor doctrine, that can ensure success. Understanding my prejudices, shortcomings, and controlling my ego greatly contributed to my personal development."11

Situational Leadership

NCOs may eventually encounter issues that seem daunting and frustrating. It is important to remember to adapt actions to the situation at hand. ADP 6-22 states, "Leaders adjust their actions based on the situation. A situation influences what purpose and direction are needed. Situations include the setting, the people and team, the adversary, cultural and historical background, and the mission to be accomplished."12

How Price responded to the significant challenge of an organization that did not have stable support is an example of situational leadership. In his particular instance, the organization's operational tempo was extremely high and within the first five months, he had four different senior raters. The leadership often ignored his advice, yet they held him accountable when goals fell short. How did he apply situational leadership?

"I continued to advise my leaders but chose to lead by example and display resilience [by] accepting my limitations, preparing the Soldiers for the unpredictable, and making sure they saw me alongside them in the many challenges we faced," he said.

Price was able to strengthen the relationship with his Soldiers by taking care of them regardless of the difficult situation. He strove to build trust, maintain open communication, and revive the team's morale.

Related: "This NCO's In Charge" by Staff Sgt. William H. McMichael, Soldiers magazine

Words of Wisdom

Below are words of advice that NCOs may find beneficial for their professional development, military duties, and personal lives.

Command Sgt. Maj. Jamie K. Price

  • Understand your strengths and weaknesses.
  • Develop effective communication skills.
  • Remember everyone has value to add.
  • Do not be afraid to ask for help.
  • Do not let your ego prevent you from receiving the help you need.
  • Read something daily for self-improvement.
  • Do not let the way we have always done it stop you from being innovative.
  • Make time for yourself and family.
  • Most importantly, remember the only thing you have control over is you. Control your actions, reactions, and all will fall into place.
  • Lead by example.

12th Sgt. Maj. of the Army Jack L. Tilley

"The leadership stuff you did for years is not going to change, but technology and equipment are. What I see as challenges are recruitment, retention, suicide prevention, safety and similar topics. I think leaders have to have more communication today. There are a lot of people who just aren't sitting down and talking to their Soldiers, not only talking to their Soldiers but talking to their chain of command."13


  1. Command Sgt. Maj. Jamie K. Price, interview with author in collaboration with Master Sgt. Tonya C. Polk, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) Public Affairs NCOIC, February 2, 2018.
  2. U.S. Army, Army Leadership, ADP 6-22, (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, September 10, 2012), 1,
  3. Dave Crozier, "Leadership challenges: lead, train, care," NCO Journal, vol. 14, issue 2 (April 2004): 15.
  4. Price, interview with the author.
  5. Price, interview with the author.
  6. Price, interview with the author.
  7. Price, interview with the author.
  8. Price, interview with the author.
  9. Price, interview with the author.
  10. Price, interview with the author.
  11. Price, interview with the author.
  12. 12. ADP 6-22, 4.13. Crozier, "Leadership challenges: lead, train, care," 17.