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Honest Mistake or Unforgivable Sin?

Company Command: The Bottom Line - Army Leadership Guide

Leaders are responsible for both the good and the bad within our area of responsibility or scope of influence. We are also responsible for helping to shape, mentor, and grow the future leaders of this great nation. As part of that responsibility we must be able to recognize the difference between an honest mistake and an unforgivable sin. I will begin by putting rough definitions around these terms.

What is an Honest mistake

Honest mistake or unforgivable sin - Saftey first

One of the best ways to avoid accidents is making sure your rules and safety guidelines are clearly understood.

In my opinion an honest mistake is a mistake that does not result in serious injury or significant property damage. Subordinates learn valuable life and/or leadership lessons from honest mistakes. Others in the unit can learn from them as well. These mistakes can take many forms. Some examples are:

  • a minor vehicle accident that results in minor property damage
  • a failure to recognize an unsafe act due to inexperience
  • failing to check or follow-up on a task to ensure it was completed to standard

Honest mistakes are most often made by inexperienced Soldiers. Once the lesson is learned, they will probably never make the same mistake again.

What is an Unforgivable sin

In contrast, an unforgivable sin cannot be classified as a mistake. These are acts or events in which a Soldier made a conscious or willful decision to do something they knew was wrong or allowed an act or event to occur that was unsafe, illegal, immoral, unethical, and/or resulted in serious injury or significant property damage. Some examples are:

  • driving under the influence
  • abuse of illegal drugs
  • adultery
  • stealing
  • lying
  • gambling with subordinates

There are also times when an individual makes an honest mistake that is of such magnitude that it becomes unrecoverable. If a pilot accidentally pulls the ejection handle in an aircraft he will not recover from this honest mistake. He is leaving that aircraft. Likewise, a leader who fails to safe a weapon and causes a negligent weapons discharge that injures an individual cannot undo the damage. Personnel who leave classified material unattended and later find that the materials have “disappeared” have no definitive way to know who has seen or taken the material.

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Mark is a Retired Command Sergeant Major with 26 years of military leadership experience. He held 3 military occupational specialties (Field Artillery, Nuclear Weapons Tech, and Ammunition Ordnance). Mark is one of the leading military authors in the fields of leadership, counseling, and training.

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