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.