" World War II taught me one important lesson in leadership: the most valuable Soldier was the one who was well informed, encouraged to use his head and treated with respect."
General Omar N. Bradley 'A General's Life', 1983
"Respect for the individual is the basis for the rule of law - the very essence of what the nation stands for. In the Army, respect means treating others as they should be treated. This value reiterates that people are the most precious resource and that one is bound to treat others with dignity and respect."
FM 6-22 Leadership
"The fundamental cause of any breakdown of morale and discipline within the Armed Forces usually comes of this - that a commander or his subordinates transgress by treating men as if they were children or serfs instead of showing respect for their adulthood."
Brigadier General S.L.A Marshall ' The Armed Forces Officer', 1950
I wasn't sure where this post was going this morning until I read the quotations above. As I think about it, individual respect may be the most important value of all, for without it you cannot espouse nor understand any of the others. Respect for the individual, respect for the organization, respect for authority, heritage and tradition, and most importantly, respect for yourself.
This was a busy week for me. I spent 2 bitterly cold days on the range with a unit who has come a long way toward developing a viable marksmanship program and has been asked to share their methods and procedures with their entire brigade as part of their preparation for deployment. I had a luncheon with a battalion commander and his company commanders to discuss my ideas and thoughts regarding training design, and then presented those yesterday to all of that unit's leadership from Sergeant thru Lieutenant Colonel. This last event represents a turning point (hopefully) for me, that will allow more units to look at what they are doing, why they are doing it that way, and how they can accomplish that training in the best manner possible for those we serve - both above and below us.
At one point in the discussion, the battalion commander interjected and spoke of 'ownership'. He was giving ownership of the training responsibilities to the company level officers and NCO's. He would provide his intent and the left and right boundaries, and paint a picture of an endstate, but the units were free to develop the manner in which they achieved it. It should be said here that some of you will say, "Well that's the way it is. Or that's the way it should be." You're correct. That is the way we say we do business, but the truth is that that's often not what's happening. Company level leaders are not only being told what to do by their bosses, but they're being told exactly how to do it as well. And it has been that way for well over a decade, so there is a whole generation of officers and NCOs who don't know that it hasn't always been this way. So, a battalion commander who is willing to give the design of training back to his subordinates does equal something of a revolutionary thought process if you haven't been in the Army for more than twelve or fifteen years.
But it occurred to me that what he was really doing for his subordinates was offering the handshake of respect. He is demonstrating the value of respect. He is reaching out his hand and in effect saying, "I respect you. I respect your talents, your ideas, and your position. I will continue to respect you until you know longer demonstrate the you are worthy of it. I know you will not let me down."
Acceptance of this by his subordinates will begin with their sense of self-respect. Who am I? What do I value? What will I surrender? What will I not? As leaders we must spend more time with ourselves and try to answer those questions. Those answers form the backbone of who we are, what we stand for, and how we view ourselves. But those answers have nothing to do with our positions as a leader. The answers are for the person with or without the position. I think that most folks blithely adopt grandiose words like duty, loyalty, honor, respect etc, without ever really understanding the depths those words possess. The power and shape of them. The way they provide warmth and shelter when circumstances drive that person to ugly places where hard choices and decisions have to be made. Soldiers will fight and die for a person they respect. His or her position is inconsequential. Conversely, they will resist the positional leader who they do not respect as a person.
Respecting yourself does not absolve you of responsibility for recognizing your weaknesses and working towards correcting them. In fact, self respect demands constant self evaluation in order to ensure that you remain true to those answers as life and circumstance move forward. I care enough about myself to look me clearly in the eye and see if I really measure up to those things that I say I do. One cannot respect oneself if one will not look unflinchingly in the mirror and constantly evaluate whether or not the answers remain true.
Once I determine my level of self respect, I can now respect other people. All of the definitions above have one theme that is unstated. The individual. A unique being unlike anyone else on the planet. Respect means accepting that, and more importantly, valuing it. A leaders job is not to create people in his or her own likeness, but rather to find, develop, and nurture their own sense of self respect. Acceptance of others as singular, unique, people will drive a leader outside of themselves and teach them to see others as they truly are, not how the leader wishes them to be. We don't do this very well in the Army. The system we work in has a tendency to push 'leaders' toward making clones of themselves instead of valuing the diversity that the individual brings to the organization. In my opinion, this is what has created some of the high level of disaffection in the junior officer corps and certainly in the junior enlisted corps. We have a generation of Soldiers who see themselves as unique individuals and they resent the hypocrisy of senior leaders who seem intent on creating little clones. Cloning implies a fundamental disrespect of the individual.
When I have come to understand and gain a measure of self respect and then have learned to respect the uniqueness of others, then we together can come to respect the authority, heritage and tradition of the organization. But, you cannot force this without the first 2. Every regulation, standard, policy, courtesy etc, makes up the culture of a place, be it the Army or IBM. Individual acceptance of these norms of behavior demonstrate a respect for them. In essence, the group norms fit into the individual sense of things that he/she respects in themselves. However, if you force the institutional respect over self respect, and those of other individuals, they rapidly become hollow words which will not stand the test of time. Only after I have a solid sense of myself, and value the individuality of others can the group absorb, accept and respect the values of the organization.
In a broader sense, the ability to develop self respect, value the uniqueness of individuals and willful acceptance of the norms of the organization has an effect on how we view our environment. We gain the ability to see others individually and without self or organizationally applied labels. Consider the Afghan man who is trying to live and provide for his family in the difficult grey area between the Taliban, a corrupt Afghan government, and the US promise of a better future. If we respect him and the difficulty of his circumstance and that he is doing what he must to provide for those in his charge, then we are looking at one individual. He may be our enemy, but it is equally possible that he is not. That also, is a measure of respect. I respect him enough to understand that his choices will not be simple or easy. I understand why he joins with the Taliban. I understand why he does not trust his government or mine. The choices he makes will determine my actions, but I do respect and understand his position.
At the local level, the battalion commander has offered his hand in respect to his subordinates. The big question is will they take it? Right now, I'm not sure. It will be uncertain ground for many of them because they do not have - and cannot see - the outcome. They have not ever been offered this kind of freedom before and they are somewhat frightened to move away from what they are familiar with. To walk down the road of freedom will mean questioning many of the very values and norms that raised them. It will turn leaders into followers and followers into leaders. It upsets the hierarchical order of structure. It will lead to disagreement and friction. It will require thought and consideration. Most importantly, it will require trust, and the bedrock foundation of trust is respect.
As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome.