This has been one of those weeks. They come along every once in a while, and you have to be ready for them when they show up. I had no expectation on Monday that it would be as great as it was. It'll take a little bit today to work through it all. Bear with me. The thoughts aren't fully formed yet.
Periods of my life seem to define themselves by associations with others - either individual people, or groups. When the marksmanship program started, it was marked by an almost magical time that a unit and I went through. Erica, LD and the whole staff at that unit embraced me and the training and it led to the formation of friendships and many many conversations about training and Soldiers and leadership etc. Now, that time has passed. When I think back on it, I realize that it was 2 years, and a deployment to Iraq or Afghanistan, ago. People have moved on and the unit is no longer the same. While some folks remain, and those friendships still exist, and I expect that I'll work with the unit again, it won't be exactly the same. New people, new leadership, new expectations. I'll need to remember that when I walk through their doors. Can't live backwards.
There is a new group now, different but just as special. They are a company of folks who have embraced me, and the training philosophy I espouse. It's an exciting time. What started out as the marksmanship program has quickly become much more. We have become friends. Tuesday night, I was invited to a gathering of the officers of the unit to kick around thoughts and ideas and to talk about my thoughts and experiences on why the Army is the way it is today. I had a really great time. I think most of them did too. At least I hope so! Sometime during that conversation - which was pretty far ranging for only 3 hours, the issue came up that these officers don't feel like many of their NCO's are meeting their expectations. That the NCO's aren't quite the "ultimate professionals" that the officers had been told they would be during their commissioning training. In fact, their actions, attitudes and behaviors - in many cases - fell well short of the mark. That led me to ask the question, "Do they know your expectations?" "Do they know what it is that you are looking for them to do or be?" I also went on to explain that today's senior NCO corps came of age - their formative years - were in the mid to late 90's and that Army was very much different from the one we are in today. The old one actually has a name now. It's called the "Legacy" Army. Today, we are trying, in fits and starts, to become an "Expeditionary" Army. Very different focuses for both. The "Legacy" Army was going to fight the former Soviet Union in some grand WW 3 scenario in Europe that would settle once and for all the Democracy / Communism debate. Massive force thrown against massive force in one huge cataclysmic battle for the world's soul. Today, we face multiple, ill-formed, ideological threats from non-nation entities that are not necessarily tied to one national political aim. We have been attacked on our homeland with no way to strike back. While the threat is violent and real, it is amoebic. Hard to define, much less pin down. Even more difficult to explain to the general public. There are as many reasons for insurgencies as their are insurgent groups. The ally themselves together when necessary and break apart when their needs no longer converge. The threat is vague, the fighting is done on every level - military, political, technological, religious, etc - and is marked by rapidly changing realities. The "Legacy" NCO corps was not designed for this fight. Generally speaking, it cannot think fast enough nor broadly enough, nor deep enough. It wasn't trained to. Nor can the institutional Army keep up with the pace of change necessary for this fight. If it takes 2 years to formalize a program of instruction for a class or school, my guess is by the time it gets taught for the first time, it'll be 1 year and 11 months out of date. That's just the nature of this war.
The next day I went to work and started an email chain with the folks who had participated the evening prior. In it I outlined what I thought were the highlights of the conversation. Interestingly, one of the officers responded and replied that he wasn't even sure he could identify clearly what his expectations were. That he didn't know exactly what he was looking for in himself, let alone how to express it to others. His quote is below:
"I'm taught by a book how to be an S6 and what the expectations are of the shop. Nowhere does it say how to deal with people. Nowhere does it say how an Aviation unit operates completely different from an Infantry unit. And they do, different requirements. It's my job to figure out how things need to be. I'm running into an issue of the shop running a score of "par for the course". The NCOs feel that that is enough, just enough to get by. As a leader, how do I empower them to do better and do more even though the mission requirements are being met? I don't know how to communicate very well, I'm not taught how to deal with people."
I spent Thursday and Friday with the same unit a rifle range. They were going to run my marksmanship program by themselves with new folks who hadn't done it before, so they asked me to assist them to get things moving and keep everything safe and on track. The LT in charge had been part of the discussion a few nights prior, and was trying very hard to run a successful training event. The first day went fine until late in the afternoon when he and I became aware that maybe some of the results the Soldiers were getting were a little too good. See, it's supposed to be 40 rounds for 40 targets, NOT 45 or 50 rounds. But, it happens. It was easy to see that he was upset. He had put a lot of hard work and energy into the training event, and now he questioned the legitimacy of the whole day. We had both watched NCO's, who were supposed to be coaching the shooters blatantly break the rules. They were helping the Soldier cheat by over-stacking the magazines. Whether the shooter knew that or not was hard to tell. Another people issue. How to deal with the situation? We couldn't force the Soldiers to reshoot - not enough time or ammunition, we couldn't determine how many previous shooters had been "assisted", nor did we want to ruin something that, by all Soldier comments, was an otherwise excellent training event. There was no denying though that this was just another example of the NCO Corps not meeting an officer's expectations. Another nail in the coffin of trust that is essential for units and people to be successful. We made an adjustment for the 2nd day of shooting and the situation was resolved, but in many ways the damage was done.
I mentioned at one point that I felt as if I were somehow defending the incompetencies and failures of the NCO corps to these young officers. That it would appear as if I were making excuses for their lack of ability, or knowledge, or moral short-comings. But although that's how it felt, that's not what I'm doing. I am trying to explain how we got to this place and how some things have gone on for so long that they have become the norm. The "Legacy" Army, with no war to fight and no immediate need to justify it's expense, became an Army of numbers and efficiency ratings. Charts and graphs and green blocks became the standard for the effectiveness of the unit. An indicator of it's combat readiness - since without a fight we had no other benchmark to use. In many ways, even though we have been at war for 7 years now, the same mentality still pervades the institution. It is only slowly beginning to change.
But back to Nick's comments quoted above. I think the key to leading others is having a very clear understanding of yourself first. You have to be comfortable in your own skin. And that takes time. You have to know and understand what you value and what you don't. A sense of self. A willingness to see yourself as both your personal and professional selves. They are not necessarily the same. When you can define for subordinates those qualities, characteristics and traits that you value, then they have an understanding of what your motivations and priorities are. Then you put them into play on a day to day basis. He mentions that his NCO's are willing to settle for "Par for the course". What's wrong with that? Why work harder to improve something that works just fine right now? The issue may be that he values a higher level of personal excellence and professional behavior than they do. He defines himself partially by the comparison of his work against his predecessor's. His NCOs may not. They may see it as a system that works with or without their personalized input. Is it broken, or just not being executed to the high level that he personally desires? If it's actually broken, then change is easy. He will be expected to fix it. And he will have the latitude and backing to do so. If it's not actually broken, though, and is only underperforming based upon his high expectation level, then he's got a tough road ahead of him. How can he effect change when no one else sees a problem?
And so I went searching, as I normally do, to see what's out there in Army cyberspace and found the following link: http://www.carlisle.army.mil/usawc/dclm/slp2ndEd.pdf . Chapter 7 of this document deals with the human dimension of sustained combat. While the entire document is designed as strategic (global) leader primer, I took particular interest in this chapter. I found some quotes that jumped out at me. "A fundamental understanding of this human dimension can only be achieved through personal study and contemplation." Chapter 7 goes on to look at leader qualities and requirements as outlined in FM 22-100 "Leadership", and also to look at strategic leader requirements. It identifies 6 competencies that strategic leaders need to focus on. They are Identity, Mental Agility, Cross-Cultural Savy, Interpersonal Maturity, World-Class Warrior, and Professional Astuteness. Since I believe that in the current environment, every single Soldier has the capacity to have strategic importance, these competencies are as relevant to the lieutenants and captains as they are to the colonels and generals. Here is what the document says about identity.
"Identity. This metacompetency is derived from the work of Douglas Hall who heavily influenced the conclusions of the Army Training and Leader Development Panel-Officer (ATLD Panel). According to Hall, identity is “the ability to gather self- feedback, to form accurate self-perceptions, and to change one’s self-concept as appropriate.” The ATLD describes self-awareness, and describes it as the ability to understand how to assess abilities, know strengths and weaknesses in the operational environment, and learn how to correct those weaknesses. The metacompetency of identity moves beyond simply knowing one’s strengths and weaknesses as connoted by self-awareness. It includes the understanding of one’s self-concept as an officer in the Army. Identity also includes an understanding of one’s values and how they match up to the values of the Army. Identity implies maturation beyond self-awareness as officers come to an understanding of who they are, not just how well they do things. Identity, as opposed to self-awareness, also brings in aspects of development over a career. As senior leaders gain responsibility, they focus less on their own contributions and more on the accomplishments of others. The metacompetency of identity acknowledges that as an officer develops strategic leadership capability, his role extends beyond personal contributions and shifts to serving as a catalyst for success for subordinates."
I think that both Nick and Leo can be found in that quotation. Nick's thought that he might or might not know what it is he expects from his subordinates might be generated from a not fully formed understanding of what he expects of himself. I think for all leaders, the sentence "As senior leaders gain responsibility they focus less on their own contributions and more on the accomplishments of others", is critical. During your young leader development, it's all about you being better than the other guy/girl. I know it was for me. As you grow, that becomes a zero sum game because there are too many other variables - interpersonal relationships, politics, the structure of the system etc. Eventually, you realize that focusing your efforts on the development of those you serve becomes the truest measure of your leadership. It becomes your legacy and you form your legacy each and every day. One Soldier at a time. But those people who create your legacy might have very little understanding of what you are actually trying to accomplish.
Which brings me back to the rifle range: Identity: A young leader running a new type of training event and wanting to do well. Mental Agility: His ability to see the non-quantifiable goodness in the Soldiers who went through the training. Cross-Cultural Savy: His awareness that the norms of the past are hard to break and ability to see it as a cultural difference, not a moral difference. World-Class Warrior: A very tiny first step taken by a group of people to create a more confident, competent and capable Soldier and person. Professional Astuteness: The gained awareness of training design and where the cracks are in the details.
My Mother sent me a book once. It's title is "And Wisdom Comes Quietly". I didn't get to this place overnight. It took time and people and experiences. I'm looking forward to the future.