#3 Leadership, Mentorship and Self-Awareness

About 3 months ago, I was asked to bring the marksmanship program to a unit on Ft. Campbell. Their battalion commander had previously been my boss, so it didn't really surprise me when the request came in. While he was my boss, he had heard and seen enough of the program to know that it would benefit his new unit, so he basically just told them that we were going to do it. The dynamics of that week are a subject for another post. Simply put though, because this was a top-driven event, it never really gained the kind of momentum that happens when there is total unit by-in, but nonetheless, we had a successful training week and for some, it turned into the beginning of a different way of thinking.

During that week I had the opportunity to meet a LT in the unit who would be running the range portion of the training for me. This is always important - and somewhat problematic - because I can't run the range myself, the unit does all the leg work, but the actual conduct of the range will be done by me. That means that those who are running it must understand completely what is going to be happening during the live fire itself. Sometimes this understanding doesn't occur and I have had problems with other units because of it, but, for the most part, I can overcome the initial resistance and show the unit how successful and fun marksmanship training can be. Anyway, this LT showed an interest in the how and why of the training and thus began our friendship.

Shortly after that, she called me one day to ask if I would help her with another training event she had been assigned. I agreed and went to meet with her. It rapidly became apparent that given the time, resources and lack of TPI (task/purpose/intent), she was not going to be able to develop a successful plan that would actually train soldiers. She requested - and was granted - a delay to better define the TPI and to secure the proper resources to be successful.

In the interim she and I spent a few days talking about leadership. What it is, what it isn't, how it works, how is it developed etc. She had been raised in the Army ROTC environment - as are many officers - and been told what was required of her, what the Army thought an officer should be, know and act like. She had been told to listen to her NCOs (Non-Commissioned Officers) and that their wisdom and knowledge would be invaluable to her development. Of course that part mostly came from NCO instructors at her college. Sort of a self-fulfilling cycle, no? I asked her where her "power" as an officer derived from? Who ultimately gave her her authority? Whether or not she believed that the leaders is "responsible for everything the platoon does or fails to do?" She, of course, answered in the affirmative. "Absolutely. A leader is responsible for everything the organization and their subordinates does for fails to do." I then explained what had happened to me in Iraq during OIF 3. How members of my platoon had committed a heinous war crime. (Note: This is a whole separate event that I will go into detail more later, but suffice for now that it is the beginning of my personal transformation.) I asked her whether or not based upon the Army definition (...does or fails to do) if I should have been held accountable for those actions. And then the quibbling started. Well, theoretically, yes, but practically no. I responded that you can't have it both ways. Rules have to be absolute or they don't have value.

Those conversations have begun a friendship between us as she continues to learn some of the complexities of leading human beings. We exchange emails, talk on the phone and generally push each other to think harder. To really see what happens in organizations. That, in many ways, a LT is absolutely set up for failure. To understand the broader context of unit dynamics. To look for resources to assist us in personal/professional development. I am interested in her motivations for being an officer. What is it about her that would accept the obvious (injury, death etc) and the not-so-obvious (being responsible for something you cannot directly control) pitfalls of an Army career? What makes a young woman want to try all that in an environment comprised overwhelmingly of men?

Although I am her senior in both age and years in service to the organization, she is mine based upon rank and legal authority. Technically, she's in charge. I carry out her orders. The problem is that she has little experiential knowledge with which to make those orders. She literally often doesn't know what she is doing. And so she has to rely upon her NCOs to guide her. Ahhh, and there's the rub. First, no one teaches or even talks to NCOs about their responsibilities as a mentor to young officers, and second, not many are willing to take the time to do it without imposing their own interpretation on them. It becomes a situation where she has to seek other officers - assimilated the same way she was - for answers, thereby perpetuating the same lack of learning, while the NCOs are carrying out orders that they often know will not produce the desired result, but have no way of successfully explaining that to their officers.

And so, we interact as equals. That is the key. I, being senior, have to learn from her how she sees her world. What's important to her, what's not? What motivates her, what doesn't? How does she see herself in the organization? How does she see her NCOs? Why? What forms this awareness? Education, experience, communication, socialization? I am coming to learn that if the mentoring relationship is to have any value, I will probably learn more than she will. I will give her my experiential knowledge of the system, and ways to make it move more smoothly or where to expect roadblocks and problems, but the real value will be her assessment of my reasoning. If she cannot put my experiences to work for her in the manner she needs, with confidence in the result, then regardless of whether I am correct or incorrect in my counsel she will not take it. In effect, it must make sense in her eyes. The "teacher" is lead by the "student".

Which brings up the OODA cycle. The 2nd O, Orient, implies an understanding both of the adversary, and the proponent. Not only do I have to know you, but it is critically more important that I know me. For it is me that will color my understanding of you. As she and I continue our dialogue, we are both continuously reorienting ourselves to the other. She is forced to clarify her decisions and look at her world differently than her previous experience allowed her to. I have to be aware that my answers are only truly correct for me. I can't start to believe my own bullshit. For the conversation to have merit, I have to learn to see myself as she sees me. And feel responsible to that.

Which brings me to a lunch date we shared the other day. I enquired how her range had gone and she gave me the whole litany of administrative crap that had gone on, but the truth of everything we had been discussing came out when she said, "We qualified a bunch of people, but we really didn't train anyone."

Ahh, I do enjoy when someone gets it. Makes a lot of other crap much easier to deal with.

No comments:

Post a Comment