#30 Servant Leadership

It's amazing what you can learn from the quotations and thoughts of others. Consider the following from Gen Melvin Zais who commanded the 101st in Vietnam:

"Lets talk a little more about caring....It's an interesting phenomenon and paradox here that we go to school after school and spend 80% of our time on tactics, weapons, logistics and planning and 20% of our time on people matters and then we go to our units and what do we do? We spend 80% of our time on people matters and 20% of it on tactics, weapons, logistics and planning. Just think about it."

That speech was given to students of the National Defense University to members of all 4 uniformed services who were battalion level commanders and higher.

Further on in the speech, Gen Zais goes on to say:

"Well, there are degrees of caring. And there's an attitude you have to develop in yourself. How do you know if you care? You're sitting out there wondering, do I care? Do I really care? How do I know if I care? Well for one thing, if you care, you listen to your junior officers and Soldiers. I don't mean that stilted baloney that so many officers engage in and stand up to an enlisted man and say "How are you son? Where are you from? How long have you been here? Thank you very much, next man. That's baloney. That's form. That's posed. Well, I'm not talking about that stuff. I'm talking about listening. Because a young Soldier won't come out and tell you that everything is all wrong. If you ask him if he's getting along all right and he just shrugs, he's getting along lousy. If he's not enthusiastic, there's something wrong and you'd better dig a little deeper." Somehow it's concerning to me that he would have to be saying this to people who were commanding organizations of 500 men or more. You would think by that point that they would have absorbed that lesson.....

And finally, from a column that he wrote in the post newspaper when he was the 101st Airborne Division, Commanding General:

"You cannot expect a Soldier to be a proud Soldier if you humiliate him. You cannot expect him to be brave if you abuse and cower him. You cannot expect him to be strong if you break him. You cannot ask him for respect and obedience and willingness to assault into hot landing zones, hump back breaking ridges, destroy dug in emplacements, if your Soldier has not been treated with the respect and dignity which fosters unit esprit and personal pride. The line between firmness and harshness - between strong leadership and bullying, between discipline and chicken is a fine line. It is difficult to define, but for those of us who are professionals and have also accepted a career as leaders of men, we must find that line. It is because judgment and concern for people and human relations are involved in leadership, that only men can lead and not computers."

Apparently 40 or more years ago we were still struggling with the human dimension of leading Soldiers. Interesting that we don't appear to be getting any better at it. I also find it interesting - and wonder why it is - that 3 and 4 star Generals seem to understand the criticality of the human being very well, but the vast middle of the military doesn't. I've got a suspicion that it stems from having reached a comfortable, secure place career-wise where they are not risking much by looking holistically at the organization and identifying where there may be short-comings or areas of improvement. In fact, much like the wise old sage who advises the young prince, that may be the role they play. To take a career's worth of experience and wisdom and keep the organization moving forward. General Caldwell's remarks from last weeks post seem to echo these thoughts regarding care, concern and the role of the leader as a servant of the led. One of the first trips Caldwell took after assuming command of the Center for Army Leadership was a tour of Google to see how the organization was able to identify, manage, and capitalize in a rapidly changing environment. Can you imagine a 50 year old 3 star Army General being briefed by a 20 something year old kid? Can you imagine how much institutionalization (on both sides of the fence) has to be set aside for that conversation to even occur? Wow! A general serving today talks of servant leadership. A general from 40 years or more ago talks of caring about a scared young man before a parachute jump....George Washington said quite clearly "When we assumed the Soldier, we did not set aside the citizen."

I say this because as the Division struggles to find ways to assist our Soldiers, I have pressed my case for the Generals and Colonels to start listening. They have to visibly and repeatedly demonstrate that the human beings they serve, who also happen to be Soldiers, are the most important part of the entire organization. By focusing that way, we might create a small cultural awareness that it really is the Soldier - down in a squad, pulling guard in a tower, smoking a cigarette after a firefight or exhausting patrol, who is the reason the rest of us come to work each day. Culture change happens most effectively when the top sets the direction, and the middle feels some pressure to change current practice, and finally, the institution accepts a new norm. Without the Generals telling the Colonels and the Colonels telling the Lieutenant Colonels that we need to refocus our efforts on the human beings that fill their ranks, then we will continue to press forward with a business management model that ultimately causes Soldiers to lose faith and that loss demonstrates itself in a variety of ways, most of which are not good for the Army and do not contribute to mission success. Without pressure to create an environment of servant leadership we will undoubtedly fail.

I was reading the November/December issue of Soldier magazine the other day, and it is celebrating the 20th anniversary of the United States Special Operations Command. In the article on Army Special Forces, is a small box that identifies the '5 Truths of Special Forces'. Interestingly, the first 2 are, "Humans are more important than their hardwear", and "Their quality is more important than their quantities."

In post #29 I started to look at those parts of my leadership 'philosophy' that matter the most to me ad asked readers to do the same. Ever since I have been in the Army, I have wondered why officers are required to have - and post for all to read - their command philosophy, but senior enlisted are not. I believe that while it is important for people to understand the things that matter most to the commissioned officer who is legally in charge of the organization, I also believe that it is even more critical that that process occur on the non-commissioned officer side. Where the Soldier and the leader meet in the day-to-day conduct of unit business. In the thousands of little decisions and interactions and displays of behavior and response that make up the fine line between "firmness and harshness, leadership and bullying" that Gen Zais spoke of above.

But, how do you do this? How do you inculcate these ideas in the next generation of Soldiers? A significant part of this problem is that we all believe that we are good leaders already. And why shouldn't we? Our promotions and positions have provided us every reason to believe that what we have done in the past and the positions we are in now are completely due to demonstrated ability and past leadership performance. That belief - reinforced by institutional promotion and evaluation systems that have a completely different set of pressures placed on them - creates 2 separate but related problems. The first is the belief at the leader level that one can simply replicate the same processes and ideas that were used at a lower level at the higher one. What worked as a squad leader will continue to work at platoon or even company level. Over the course of a career, that would mean that the same thing that worked 20 years ago should still work today. That implies a very static world. That is not the world we live in. The second is the creation of the us/them, leader group/led group mentality, as if being an officer, or non-commissioned officer is some kind of club that some people are let in and others are excluded from. If you change those breakdowns into an Us group with no Them part, and see the officer, non-commissioned officer, Soldier as all parts of one thing (the Army), instead of separate parts, then it changes the discussion. Issues like suicide, rising crime rates, domestic violence, apathy etc cannot be seen as abstracts when they are happening in our own home. They can however, be seen that way if you don't feel as if they are your problems, but rather the problems of some other group.

To lead people you must inherently value them. Otherwise it is simply management. Valuing them implies caring for them. It means acknowledging their importance in the organization and working at all times to serve them to the best of your ability. In order to do that, you have to be grounded in who you are, what you value, and why you do the things you do. You then have to share that with those you serve. They have to know who they are following. They have to trust that their leader has their best interest in mind. Not necessarily their safety, or their comfort, or their physical pain, but their ultimate importance to the organization. A Soldier who believes that their leadership has decided that attacking the enemy or defending a piece of ground is the best way to ultimately care for them, their families and what they value will fight - and in some cases - die believing in that leader. Those who do not feel that way will simply try to survive.

General Zais said it quite nicely, "You have to give a damn."

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