# 38 Leadership and Vision

I was going through my collection of source material books yesterday and came across a small volume entitled "Military Leadership...In Pursuit of Excellence" 2nd edition, edited by Robert Taylor and William Rosenbach. Since we had an hour long trip to visit some relatives last evening, I brought it with me and started to read it on the way. I didn't get very far along before some passages started to jump out at me. Since my daughter is at her grandparents today and the house is quiet again, I thought I'd explore some of the ideas brought up in the book.

"Leadership is intangible, and therefore no weapon ever designed can replace it." - General Omar Bradley

The book starts out with the following paragraph:

"Leadership starts with a vision for the future. What sets leaders part from others is an ability to "see" and put into perspective what others cannot. The vision is not a daydream; rather it is a goal for the future state of affairs for an organization and it's people. This vision becomes a commitment, a drive and a focus of energy."

That paragraph seems to almost directly contradict the Army model for leader development. "A vision for the future..." Because we label every NCO and officer a leader, the definition implies that each of us has some form of 'vision' for the future of our organization regardless of it's size. The question then becomes, how does one develop that 'vision'? A young man or woman fresh out of college, with relatively little practical life experience, who is still forming their individual sense of self might have difficulty defining a vision for their organization. Especially when taken out of the college or family environment they are familiar with and placed into the Army culture. It also presupposes that what you didn't have on Friday when you were a Specialist, you will suddenly have on Monday when you are a Sergeant. The same can be said for the officer who gets handed a guidon at a change of command ceremony. The staff officer who was executing someone else's vision, is suddenly expected to have one of their own when they assume command. But who helps them develop that? Who provides the sounding board for those young leaders to bounce thoughts, ideas and dreams off of? Who helps them differentiate between the daydream and the achievable goal? Because so little effective personal mentoring actually happens these days, it would be easy to believe that this isn't something that we need to spend anytime looking at. We end up playing follow the leader and imitating the boss...

That is not to say that it isn't important. I believe it is critically so. One of the purposes for this blog is to prompt myself and the reader to think hard about who they are, the roles they play and the world they interact in. And then using those thoughts to focus on developing their 'vision' of themselves and how they will lead. To discover their priorities, their reasoning process, their likes and dislikes, their style etc. That is why I started writing this. I believe that we all must be pushed by outside circumstance, evolving interactions with people and our unfolding worlds to constantly question our methods and ideas. If we do not, we rapidly become dogmatic, disconnected, and caricatures of our true selves. A leader in title only who cannot provide a vision for those he leads.

My self-concept prior to the events of the last 3 years, was largely formed by outside circumstance. Being successful in the Army is generally not all that difficult. As I often say, "It ain't rocket science. We're not flying the space shuttle today." What I didn't have the vision to see then was that my self-concept was formed by simple things. Professional success, accolades, ribbons, badges and tabs. I was continually seeking affirmation and the next "Attaboy" from my superiors. And truthfully, they were not hard to attain. I had no real understanding of who or what I was separate from those other things. I had no vision.

The events of my life in the last 3 years have changed that. When the "attaboys" and ribbons and accolades went away and the harsh light of the events in Iraq and their effects came home, I went missing for awhile and had to redefine myself, my purpose, my relationships and my priorities. I had to question the baseline assumptions of who I was and my place in the Army. To see myself more clearly and to find a way to regain my passion for leading human beings. I had to discover a new 'vision'.

This blog is part of that discovery. I write in order to formulate my thoughts and gather yours for consideration. If I do have a vision now, it is to help in my own way to get people to think actively, view their world critically and question preconceptions loyally. For me, that is the most important thing I have left to offer . To encourage growth through mutual respect, constructive dialogue and the interchange of ideas. And to do that with the 'vision' of improving other young leaders ability to lead their Soldiers.

The book goes on to say:

"Motivating people to work together to fulfill the vision is an exciting challenge. However, leaders do not motivate others; they create an environment in which people motivate themselves."

I hadn't thought of that before. Because the Army's definition of leadership begins with the phrase "Influencing people by providing purpose, direction and motivation....." it has always seemed clear to me that one of the first responsibilities of a leader is to motivate. But the quotation raises an interesting point. What if the purpose of being a leader isn't to motivate other people, but rather to create an environment where they motivate themselves? Seen this way, my leader responsibility would be to recognize the strengths and weaknesses of my subordinates and find and create opportunities for them to motivate themselves. Not necessarily in the ways that I get motivated, but in the manner and method that best suits them. What would this accomplish? First, it allows a young leader to worry less about whether he/she is doing something 'right' or 'wrong' (in terms of leadership method) and focus solely on the impact that those methods are having on the subordinate. Is the subordinate demonstrating increased or decreased self-motivation in achieving the organizations 'vision'? Is he/she creatively and actively involved in achieving success? Are they taking ownership for the outcomes the unit is producing? If the answer is yes, then the leader has likely created an environment where the subordinate is valued, content, and developing. I do this as a leader by creating a place for self-motivation to occur. I cannot guarantee it will occur, but knowing that if it does then the unit 'vision' will be much more rapidly advanced due to collective rather than singular ownership.

In another section written by General S.L.A Marshall I found this paragraph which had fallen under my highlighter a long time ago when I read the book for the first time:

"Coupled with self control, consideration and thoughtfulness will carry a man far. Men will warm to a leader when they come to believe that all the energy he stores up by living somewhat within himself is at their service. But when they feel that this is not the case, and that his reserve is simply the outward sign of a spiritual miserliness and concentrating on purely personal goals, no amount of restraint will ever win their favor. This is as true of him who commands a whole Service as of the leader of a squad."

I think this paragraph to be especially important at this time in our Army. There is a real sense of disconnectedness between many leaders and those they lead. And I think it comes from many of the led not believing that their leaders are exercising consideration and thoughtfulness on their behalf. I'm not sure if it is true or not, but the perception is real and it is having devastating effects. This paragraph also highlights one of the critical components of successful leadership which is communication. A leader may have his subordinates best interests in mind at all times, but if they do not feel that that is the case, then he may have nothing. He must communicate to them why he is doing the things he is doing in order to increase their trust in his methods and reasoning. These communications take his 'vision' and begin the process of sharing it with the entire organization.

This maybe one of the greatest lessons I learned in Iraq. I felt I had a very clear understanding of my platoon, what had happened before my arrival and why things needed to be done in a particular way. I never ever had anything but the platoon's best interest at heart. I have always understood that whatever successes have been attributed to me ultimately came from the successes of my Soldiers. People who know me personally probably count that as one of the reasons they like and respect me. It truly isn't about me, it's about doing the right thing for the people I serve. What I may not have done very well is demonstrate/communicate to them my view, my perception and my vision. And in failing that, I may have left them to think that my interests lay purely with me. I do believe that as time progressed and especially after the catastrophic events in June 2006 changed our circumstances in such a way that everyone was walking blind, that the Soldiers came to see that I never had anything but our platoons best interests at heart. But, I will never know that for sure. And the lesson I learned is to always communicate the 'purpose' of the endeavor. To not do so can lead to misperception, miscommunication, and mistrust. To do so, however, gains the willing obedience of subordinates even at times when they do not see the larger vision.

And so, as we all enter the second decade of the 21st century, with 8 and 1/2 years of war behind us and the prospect for continued conflict in front of us, there has never been a more important time for each one of us to think about, develop and cultivate our 'vision'. We need people in every walk of life, civilian and military - teachers, activists, cops and volunteers....Generals and Servants alike - who know where they are going, why we need to go there, and who can create environments where those who follow them can participate in, and be part of achieving that vision. We need leaders.

# 37 Duty


"Something that one is required to do by either moral or legal obligation." - Dictionary.com

"An action or a task required by a person's position or occupation" - Dictionary.com

"Duty is never simple, never easy and rarely obvious" - Jean Dutourd

"The first duty of a Soldier or good citizen is to attend to the safety and interest of his country." - Thomas J. 'Stonewall' Jackson

The Army speaks of duty in almost hallowed terms. There is a reverential sense that 'doing your duty' brings with it a comforting warmth knowing that one has performed their required tasks and done so in support of a larger cause.

However, Duty happens in both large and small ways. And, most certainly, is not the sole purview of those of us in the military. In all walks of life, from the single parent who continuously strives to provide a better life for their children, to the hospice worker who eases the suffering of the aged, ill or infirmed, to the teachers who dedicate themselves to educating future generations, everyday people fulfill their duty. We all do. We are spouses, children, parents, community members. We have obligations to fulfill in those various roles. Most are not really contractual either. Most stem from the personal associations we have and our expectations of ourselves and others.

In many ways though the military has co-opted the word and made it their own. When people speak of servicemembers you often here how "So and so always did his/her duty." We seem to have given it a new depth of meaning that applies only to a profession where someone is, or could be, placed in mortal danger on a routine basis. You hear it applied to policemen and firefighters this way as well.

My point is that Duty happens everywhere, everyday and in every manner. It's the little things that matter. It's what happens when someone moves beyond their legal contractual binds and does something 'because it is right'.

I found Dutourd's quote above to be very interesting. "Duty is never simple, never easy, and rarely obvious." Doing your duty is never simple. It requires the constant balancing of priorities, people, and roles. I am a husband and a father. There are times when I have failed in my duties as both of those in order to attend to the requirements of my profession. Times I have failed my profession in order to attend to my duties as a member of a family. And now we find ourselves in a place where many leaders seem unable to balance these various requirements and are struggling to find a middle ground. The 'duty' to prepare for the next deployment vs the 'duty' to dedicate as much time as possible to my family. Both require 100% of my energy, my devotion, and my abilities. But, I am always forced to choose. One more hour spent in training may be the difference in whether one of my Soldiers lives or dies. One more hour checking and rechecking a unit's preparedness may have a great impact on the outcome of my little portion of the war. But, at what cost? Am I expected to sacrifice my family? To lose those thing that ultimately provide me my greatest joy and comfort? How can I balance both? How can I do my duty?

I remember a time about 3 years or so after I was married when I was coming into my reenlistment window. My wife said she 'hated the Army' and that she wanted me to get out. I remember telling her that she would go before the Army. That the Army was my home and that I was good at it and that I enjoyed it and that it provided me those things that I needed to have a sense of purpose and belonging. Now, 12 years later I see that argument as wholly unfair. I have duties and obligations to my family as well as the Army. And each must constantly be balanced out. Thankfully, she is still with me, still loves me, and still 'hates the Army.' It's one of the things that keeps the balance. It's what makes fulfilling your duty "never easy."

Duty has another component to it that is what I think sets it apart from other virtuous behavior. Morality. The moral obligation to do what must be done, to correct universal wrongs, to espouse the 'better angels of our nature.' When required behavior moves beyond mere legal requirements.

This is the one that gets hard. The moral courage of a student standing in front of a tank in Tiennenman Square, the reporting of the crimes committed by my Soldiers by another member of their platoon. The requirement to question the purpose of an order that makes no sense. These are the harder parts of doing one's duty. These are the incidents and experiences that we need to look at and study.

I have mentioned in the past the 'loyal opposition'. It is probably in thinking about the word duty that the idea of the loyal opposition becomes most clear to me. I love the Army. It is no longer my simple duty to go to work and perform a task working for the Army. The Army, and all that it requires have become a part of the marrow of my being. However, I count myself among that group called the 'loyal opposition'. Due to experience, observation, and thought, I can no longer blindly follow anyone. I have a duty to pass along my views and interpretations of issues, concerns, needs etc to my subordinates, peers, and superiors. None of them may agree with me, and ultimately they may choose not to accept my viewpoint, but that does not mean that I do not have an obligation to stand up and express myself. In fact, my love for the institution is such that it demands that I do. I view it as my duty to the organization.

FM 7-22.7, "The Non-Commissioned Officers Guide" says the following about Duty:

"Take responsibility and do what's right, no matter how tough it is, even when no one is watching. "

We are in a period of change in the Army and with many confusing and differing viewpoints as to the correct balance and direction we need to move, it may be more critical now than ever in our recent history that we support the idea of the loyal opposition and foster the ideas of both personal responsibility and the toughness required to live up to it. In my opinion that is something we do not do very well, and probably haven't for the last 30 years or so. This has created the blind obedience view of duty. As General Patton once said, "If everyone is thinking alike, then someone isn't thinking."

Duty requires thought, contemplation, and dedication. Regardless of profession, taking a hard critical look at yourself, your organization, and it's purpose - and being able to take the hard steps required to admit when you've gotten it wrong and then take corrective action, may be the absolute achievement of the highest sense of both the legal and moral requirements of doing your duty.

In light of this, consider the following. The Army has recently finished the first part of a critical review of our actions in Afghanistan. You can find a draft of it here :


It is 412 pages long and was commissioned by the Army itself. The understanding that taking a hard look at what you have done, why it was done and the results those actions generated is absolutely critical to the health of the organization. Although many will disagree with parts of the findings, the Army leaders who commissioned it must be given credit for fulfilling their duty to the Army and the nation.