#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."

#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.