#94 The Investments We Make

I found the following yesterday in one of my source books and then found a copy of it online. This is one of the best documents ever on military leadership. Bar none. It is worth the read.


The amazing thing about MAJ Bach's writing is how clean, simple, timeless and pure it is. Written in 93 years ago in 1917 the document recognizes the universal truths of leading citizen Soldiers and is incredibly appropriate as a framework for our discussions on the profession of arms today. While there are some parts of the paper which obviously reflect the ideas, teachings and customs of that period in history, the vast majority of it has a very universal theme. Consider the following:

"In a short time each of you men will control the lives of a certain number of other men. You will have in your charge loyal but untrained citizens, who look to you for instruction and guidance. Your word will be their law. Your most casual remark will be remembered. Your mannerism will be aped. Your clothing, your carriage, your vocabulary, your manner of command will be imitated."


"In a few days the great mass of you men will receive commissions as officers. These commissions will not make you leaders; they will merely make you officers. They will place you in a position where you can become leaders if you possess the proper attributes. But you must make good—not so much with the men over you as with the men under you."

MAJ Bach's paper coincided with some research I was doing on human capital. Taking human capital at face value, I understood it to mean investing in the people within an organization. However, from a purely business sense, human capital investment is an investment in the development of people with a focus on making them more productive and therefore more profitable to the corporation. And this is where the private sector and the military will separate. The military does not turn a profit - or even try to. At best, the military attempts to improve functions and processes in order to be more efficient to save the taxpayer's money, but it will never pay a monetary dividend to its' shareholders. Any investment in human capital made by the military will have a much different, and arguably, much more important dividend - it will save lives. Any efforts the institution makes to increase the judgment, capabilities, and decisiveness of its leaders pays a much greater return on the investment than money. It provides the opportunity to increase understanding and see more deeply and clearly the possible outcomes of the decisions we make. Those decisions that affect lives, Soldiers, their families, communities, and ultimately the Nation.

But, back to Bach. In his opening paragraphs I found a lot of things that deserve consideration. First, the idea that title alone does not make one a leader. All it does is confer the title. And that title is worthless if it does not have meaning to those whom he or she serves. I think we often overlook that in our leader development programs. 1917, and the idea of servant leadership is expressed at Fort Sheridan, WY. Even then, MAJ Bach understood the idea of the role of the leader as a servant of the led. Today, we send a Soldier to a validating school, and then confer upon them a title. You go to the Warrior Leaders Course and validate that you are a Sergeant and then you are expected to know all those things that are expected of a Sergeant. You go to the Basic Officer Leader Course and are expected to know everything that is required of a Lieutenant. And on and on at each level. You come out of the school with some information (i.e. 'facts'), but we spend precious little time putting those facts into a context. Leader actions designed to serve the subordinate, or subordinate actions designed to serve the leader? What's the role of the leader? I don't remember that in the validating schools I have attended. Do you? And make no mistake, leadership will happen in that context. It will happen at a specific point in time, under specific circumstances, with a specific person. The context of that interaction will have a huge impact on the outcome. What will work for one, will not work for another. And, importantly, the outcome's success or failure can really only be judged by those who are affected by it. Will they perceive the leaders actions as enhancing them, or as enhancing the leader? A critical consideration. I can take two Soldiers through the exact same scenario and will inevitably end up with two different interpretations as to the outcome.

The notion of context also realizes something else that is quite important to human capitol investment which is the totality of a person's life. Not simply the role they are fulfilling now, but all those things that make up the sum total of who they are. My leader actions are taken through the prism of my life from my childhood through present day. They are formed by my Orientation to my world and my understanding of my reality. In effect, my leader actions are formed by my character, my viewpoints, and my individual skills and abilities. Most of which were formed before I ever joined the organization or was given a title. And they are uniquely mine. One goal of human capital investment is to find those unique things and allow me to use them for the betterment of the organization. I decide a lot of things based upon who I am. The value of those decisions is interpreted by my subordinates based upon who they are. Misunderstandings and misinterpretations and differing points of view happen in the gap in between. Part of the leaders job is to remain aware of that gap and work to close it. There must be the recognition that each Soldier is an individual person. They are not all the same. They will not have all had the same experiences or influencing events that we have had. They will not have the same value systems and character traits that we do. A large part of our leadership will be in the recognition of what does or does not influence them and then finding ways to bring those skills and understandings together in a manner that enhances both the person and the organization. As MAJ Bach rightly pointed out later in his speech, leadership must be exercised individually. It cannot be done with the universal application of a common methodology.

Another part of Bach's speech that struck me was his instant recognition that all leaders are role models. Role modeling is inherent to the position - it goes along with the title. I don't think that many 'leaders' understand that. I really don't. If a leader has a true understanding that they are a role model for everyone below them then I think they would scrutinize their own actions a lot more carefully. The full impact of understanding role modeling has never really been dealt with by the Army. We talk about the role of the leader a lot, but the idea that a leader acts as a powerful behavior agent simply through their personal behavior and carriage is not really something we deal with. We don't often express in explicit terms that what you do and how you act have a much greater impact on your subordinates than the decisions you make. One of the ways that this awareness demonstrates itself is when Soldiers think you are acting. When they think you are simply role playing. If you have fully absorbed the understanding of role modeling, then it will become very difficult for your subordinates to discern where the real you ends and the professional you begins. We need to spend some serious time looking at this if we are to truly enhance the profession.

Role-modeling also brings with it certain characteristics that good leaders possess. Principally, self-awareness and humility. I told one of my subordinates once that there are actually three you's. There is the real you - who you are left alone in the dark with no one watching. There is the professional you - the one that puts on the uniform and fulfills the role of the title. And then there is the you as seen through the prism of your subordinates. The goal of any leader should be to bring those three together in such a manner that no one can tell where one part stops and another part begins. We probably need to take a close look at this as we study the profession in the year ahead. What people are now throwing out there as examples of toxic or poor leadership are more likely the lack of self-awareness to recognize when the three parts do not match up. I have worked for people who I did not like, but as long as they were role modeling and not role playing, then ultimately, I could find things to respect them for. I may not like the way they did business, but at very least it was true and honest. The choice remained with me to accept their role modeling or not. Bach stated it like this:

"Be an example to your men. An officer can be a power for good or a power for evil. Don’t preach to them—that will be worse than useless. Live the kind of life you would have them lead, and you will be surprised to see the number that will imitate you."

The greatest compliment a leader can receive should be the desire of their subordinates to model themselves after that leader. If no one wants to be like you, then in all likelihood you have failed. On the other hand, if all of your subordinates can see something to aspire to in your actions, demeanor, and behavior, then you have fulfilled potentially the greatest requirement of leadership. You have been a role model. And if you use that tool to help them move beyond mere imitation and toward their own understandings, then you have moved to another important level of leader/servant which is mentor. You are no longer trying to create others in your own image, but trying to help them find their own.

In the Army, we do not produce a product that enhances any one's bottom line. We do not make human capitol expenditures like business with an eye toward enhancing profitability. What we produce are people. People with the character, wisdom, knowledge, skills, and human awareness to do the Nation's business in a manner consistent with it's expectations. When I was younger I used to tell folks that my job was not to produce Soldiers. Rather, that I used the process of soldiering to produce better people. Sometimes I think we lose sight of that. We get so caught up in the X's and O's of tactics and mission and training, that we lose sight of the fact that all of those things only serve to do one thing - to develop, for better or worse, the person. Tactics and combat and training can be the crucible by which that development is enhanced, or they can be the pyre on which a leader is broken. Our human capitol investment is in the young people who fill our ranks who are looking to us to develop in them those characteristics and traits that they can one day pass along to those who look up to them. Every ounce of our energies must be dedicated to that end.

In an earlier post dealing with calling subordinates by their first name, I made the comment that knowing who Jeff Fenlason is is a hell of a lot more important than knowing who Master Sergeant Fenlason is. If I am role modeling correctly then the two become almost seamless. If I am not, then I am just an actor. The human capitol that the organization invests in is me. The return on the investment is my ability to pass along to the Army another young leader who has the abilities and judgment necessary for the circumstance they are faced with. Someone whose subordinates view him or her as a role model and not a role player.

I received an email from a Soldier the other night that contained the following:

"....you really helped develop me as a human and as a leader."

Hopefully, that sentence is my return on the human capitol that was invested in me over the last 20 years or so. It is also the finest compliment I have ever received. I am humbled that the Soldier took the time. That's the return on the taxpayer's investment. It is our job to make sure it is money well spent.

As always, your thoughts, comments and ideas are welcome.

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