He who will not reason is a bigot; he who cannot is a fool; and he who dares not is a slave. ~William Drummond, Academical Questions
Six months ago I started this blog in order to help sort out some of my personal thoughts on the Army, leadership, and my role in the organization. Over that time, I have done a lot of reflecting about who I am and the conditions that created my professional being. I have started to challenge my assumptions about who and what a leader is. I believe it is healthy and necessary to do this. I'm hoping that by sharing this experience, you might be doing the same no matter what your career field is.
Each week I set aside some time and try to cobble together thoughts and ideas on whatever has gotten my attention and try to look at a particular issue from some other point of view. I have always solicited your comments because I must be willing to challenge my thought processes and vision. It seems to me that this is the only way I will continue to grow and learn.
As this little mental journey has progressed, I must admit to being pleasantly surprised by the academic freedom that the senior leaders of the Army allow. Every week I find a new professional document where the organization is calling into question some long held belief or norm. I wish more of my peers were doing this. It would truly challenge a lot of what they consider to be doctrine.
Earlier this week, I brought the Effective Training Design brief to a company on post. Interestingly, while there will inevitably be a marksmanship portion to it, I was not hired principally for that. The unit wants (or at least says it wants) to develop it's junior leaders and challenge them to become more creative, responsive, and invested in the training of their Soldiers.
I spent the day with around 25 mostly junior (Sergeants) NCOs and we talked through OODA loops and tried to see if we could come up with a way to look at ourselves and training differently. We began with a simple event - land navigation. The issue was that the Soldiers couldn't navigate with a map and compass anymore and the 'old timers' found this ridiculous and unacceptable. As one SSG put it, "This is a baseline Soldier skill. Everyone is required to know how to do it." He was very sure of himself. He could do it, the Army said everyone needed to be able to do it, so everyone should be able to do it because he can. What he didn't see immediately was how much the proliferation of technology, both in and out of the Army, had changed the dynamic. Is traditional land navigation really something we need to invest much time on considering that every vehicle has a navigation system in it and almost every Soldier carries a personal or issued GPS system with them? That's the very question his Soldiers were asking. Does the task itself still have relevance? We spent a hour or so taking that apart and re-orienting ourselves and looking at ways we could conduct the required training in a manner that ultimately resulted in a Soldier who had acquired a skill that makes them more competent and confident on the battlefield. More importantly, that we could provide them a purpose for acquiring this skill.
The we took a break and looked at an entirely separate issue, - suicide. As I have mentioned before, my post has struggled a lot this year with Soldier's taking their own lives. We have invested a lot of time, energy and resources toward reversing this horrible trend. In this group, the idea was that we could maybe we could OODA that as well. We spent about 2 hours doing that. We took apart what we had observed and then these young leaders began to re-orient themselves as to why they thought we had a problem. The wheels for some were beginning to spin a little more freely. In others, you could still hear the gears grinding away. We didn't come up with any answers, but you could plainly see that folks were starting to think - really think - about the issue and not just throw pat answers on the table.
In the afternoon we deconstructed the parts of OODA again and focused on Orientation. These junior leaders finally began to understand that they are the true center of leadership. That the way they view themselves, their priorities, their organization, and their life forms the manner in which they lead others. Folks were starting to sit up straight and focus a little harder now. You could see that, in some cases, they were beginning to understand their responsibility as a leader starts with their responsibility to understand themselves. Even the 'old timers' were paying attention. Whether or not they would change what they had been doing wasn't the issue, that probably wouldn't happen. It's hard to teach old dogs new tricks. But, they were paying attention to the more junior NCOs who are just starting their leadership journey. They did recognize that there was a new excitement in some of them.
At the end of the day, I asked each one of them what they had taken away from the days discussion. In mostly quiet voices they all replied. We wrote the responses down. Maybe the best comment was from a Sergeant who said, "Maybe I need to re-look how I treat one of my Soldiers. What I'm doing now isn't working very well. Maybe there's a better way." Another said, "I need to figure out what's important to me, before I can help them figure out what's important to them."
My job requires me to meet my audience where they are on the leadership spectrum and then move them to a different - and hopefully better - place. My hope is that they willingly choose to do so. I cannot tell them where their individual journey will lead. I cannot tell them what to think. What I can do is show them a method of thinking about themselves, their Soldiers, and their world.
And that is the reason I write this. My leadership journey is no more or less complete than theirs. As I offered them a new viewpoint the other day, so to do I get offered new ideas and ways to look at myself with each experience.
As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome.