#29 My Thoughts

So far, most of these blog posts have been centered on what I believe is wrong with the leadership training system that is currently in place in the Army. I have focused my thoughts on the failure of the institutional approach to leader development and tried to find examples from different sources to 'prove' that there is a better way to do business, and that the very survival of the leadership corps demands that we re-look our current assumptions and methods and see if there is a better way to produce value-based Soldiers who posses the skills and analytical qualities required for the current operating environment.

Along the way I have often repeated the phrase that "the top needs to start listening to the bottom." I still believe this is generically true due to the vast number of 'disgruntled employees' out there, but after doing to some searching this week, I found that maybe the top is listening. Maybe they actually do understand the types of leaders we need to produce. Maybe the very very top of the Army has a very clear understanding of what skills and abilities our Soldiers need to posses in order to be successful in the current age. As proof, I offer the following thoughts.

LTG William Caldwell is, or was, the Commander of the Combined Arms Center at Ft. Leavenworth, KS. I have found a lot of interesting information there, including the blog post that he started regarding strategic communication that helped focus my thoughts and started a dialogue with CR that has been immensely helpful. Yesterday, I printed the text of some speeches that LTG Caldwell gave throughout his tenure and I think they are appropriate here.

First, a quote from a speech given at West Point to the class of 2011.

"Your service in our Army will likely be defined as a period of persistent conflict against decentralized 'flat' enemy organizations like Al Qada, Hamas, and Hezbollah. To fight and win in this environment demands agile, adaptable leaders who are creative, critical thinkers."

"Somewhere at this very moment there is a Soldier in training in places like Ft. Benning, who is preparing for war and expects a leader of character, who possesses the will to win, the personal courage and mental toughness to inspire, and lead them in the most trying of times."

"Many people you encounter while deployed will not understand English, but they will watch your actions and judge America by your integrity, your sincerity and the respect you show their women and children."

"Our military is beginning to accept the merits of this approach to warfighting. We are slowly changing a culture. Rest assured however that we are merely catching up to our adaptive enemy. For years, Hamas has built medical clinics and schools in Palestinian refugee camps and has the popular support of many."

I think these 4 quotes are important because they set the stage by properly seeing the environment as it is...not how we might wish it to be, allude to the human qualities that must be developed to lead Soldiers, understand that violence of action must be intimately coupled with empathy, compassion and respect, and accept that we, as an organization, are playing catch-up to an enemy who, by design and structure, is out-OODAing us at basic levels.

Even more impactful for me however, was a speech that LTG Caldwell gave to private sector industry leaders on November 13, 2008. He was the keynote speaker at the Giant Impact Servant Leadership Conference in Washington, D.C. During that speech, he made some comments that I think are critically important to all leader development, not just the very bottom. They are a call to each of us to consider who we are, what we stand for, and how we go about impacting out world. Below are some excerpts:

"The most effective leaders do not seek power, wealth or fame - they seek to make a difference in the lives of others" As quoted from the book "The Case for Servant Leadership" by Kent Keith.

"Be humble - never take yourself too seriously"

"Be teachable - Have a willingness to learn from others. I've found that I often times learn the most from talking with our new Soldiers and officers. When I was the Multi-National Task Force - Iraq spokesman, a young 23 year old contractor came up to me and asked me if we'd ever thought about using You Tube to tell the story of the American Soldier? I said "You what?" I had never heard of You Tube, but after a quick tutorial we approved this young man to build and hang videos on the site. I was not the expert at new media, but I was willing to learn......Seek knowledge from all sources: Reading, writing, listening (Reflect, Rebalance, Refocus."

"Be Yourself - Leaders must seek out the unique skills of all those who work for them. Find their strengths and bring them out. Maximize your own strengths. Each of us in a unique individual - diversity builds the team strength."

"Along with Be, Say, Do, a Servant Leader must have a vision. A vision is a defining characteristic necessary for a strategic leader to change a culture. Without a vision the people will perish and the organization will flounder. It's important to note you need to know how to define success because it will drive many important decisions. It will impact every decision you make as a leader. How does a servant leader define success? A servant leader defines it as serving others."

If you look throughout this blog, you can find references by me or by others who post here that reflect most if not all of these themes. The themes and ideas seem to have an almost universal feel to them. That the 'best' of industry, academia, government etc share a sort of over-arching ethos. A sense of themselves, a desire to serve, a high value on their people, and a vision for a better world.

And so, I started to ask myself what I believe in. What are my rules for successful leadership?

1. I truly think that successful leaders must be themselves. One of the best pieces of advice I ever received was "Go with what got you here. If you were a nice guy before, stay that way. If you were an asshole, don't try to change now." It's important to understand that "being yourself" will change over time and circumstance. Accept that and hold on to those things that become the marrow of your character. Let the rest slide by when it no longer serves you. It's called growing and it is the very essence of successful leadership. As I continue to grow I am slowly becoming more comfortable in my own skin. The highs and lows, victories and defeats, miracles and tragedies that have made up the 41 years of my life have created the person I am today - warts and all. While I will never stop trying to improve myself, I am slowly becoming more comfortable with who I am and how I operate. That is important when leading others because regardless of the type of person you are - good or bad, angel or asshole, there is a purity to that which makes your followers more comfortable and confident with you and the decisions you make. They feel secure in your personality. Without vanity, study yourself and learn about who you are and why you are the way you are. Other people's impressions of you are fleeting - they see you at one particular place in time - they will not define the whole of your life.

2. Be ever watchful for your own hypocrisy. Most good leaders have character traits that one might find distasteful. They may be arrogant, or boastful, or demanding. These can all be accepted however if they are not hypocritical. Be careful not to believe your own bullshit.

3. Treat them as people first and Soldiers second....you'll get a better Soldier. It's funny, but if you look at the previous post that talked about AR 600-20, you'll see the same thing. We work to provide the physical / material / mental and spiritual needs of the individual in order to build a more complete and more capable Soldier. Meet those individual needs and the Soldier you help to create will become the citizen who posses those qualities that are uniquely American

4. Another quote from a mentor: "Whenever your assumptions prove false, check your pretenses. In that, reflection is always a positive thing."

5. I do not profess to be very religious. Although raised Catholic, I have not come back to the place of organized religion yet. However, when I was a young man my father gave me a copy of a document called "The Desiderata". In place of anything else, it has provided me a valuable guide throughout the years. You can find it at: http://www.fleurdelis.com/desiderata.htm

These are the leadership guides that are important to me. They are generally hopeful, and very universal. I believe that having some sense of your value system and a recognition of who you are is the critical component to becoming a successful leader. I'd be interested to hear what yours are. They will demand objective self evaluation and a re-evaluation of whether you are a servant leader, or a leader who sees others as serving them in search of a larger goal. Mind you, I'm not judging either way, only recognizing that there is a difference and knowing which side of the fence you are on right now will play a large part in determining how you will lead in the future.

1 comment:

  1. A follow up. The November Issue of Soldier Magazine is dedicated to Special Operations Forces. Consider this: The top 2 principles of the "5 SOF Truths" are 1) Humans are more important than their hardware and 2) Their quality is more important than their quantities.

    These 2 statements say a lot about what you can create with a 'people first' concept. Caring for your folks, creating an environment of excellence and personal accountability, and truly valuing the individual contributions to a shared value system and mission orientation. Everything we do at all levels of leadership should be working towards these ends.