#95 "Along the Way"

When I started this discussion a year and a half ago, I didn't really have any idea where the journey would lead. I knew going through the "Black Hearts" experience had changed the way I viewed my world and that I would be a different type of leader because of it. I just didn't know what type. I had lost the anchor points that had previously shown me the way. I started writing the blog as a way to sort out my own thoughts and see what I could learn from that time. What I did not want to do was dictate where the discussions took me. I determined early on that I would simply let things go and follow where they led. And it has certainly been a learning experience to do that. Since writing each week requires some sort of reference material to work from, I have been forced to look a little deeper at leadership - what it is, why its' needed, and in what forms it is most and least successful. Because of that search I have gained an awareness that there are four or five recurring themes that have risen to the top of my consciousness. First, the requirement for self-awareness and self-study. You cannot simply put on a title or a rank and then call yourself a leader. Or worse, let the institution term you one. Your leadership abilities encompass much more than that. Second, the idea of using the OODA cycle at the human being level. While Boyd extrapolated OODA outward from the individual to grand strategy, I have found that it is a great method of focusing inward which leads to a much greater understanding of your immediate surroundings. And, as you have routinely seen throughout these posts, the idea of Orientation as the linchpin of that process. Third, the notion of servant leadership. I see the concept of leadership now as a choice between two paths: The leader is served by the led, or the leader serves the led. I think there are pros and cons to each, but I do believe that every one of us has to choose which road they will follow. And finally, that the institution itself acts as force upon all of the above. Maybe others have an innate understanding of this concept, but I did not. The idea that the Army as an institution is a living entity that, in many ways, acts exactly like its' people do. It has almost human needs to be fed, nurtured, approved and corrected. It has wants and needs and those two work to form the ethic and the manner in which it operates. Tied closely to that is the idea that the skeletal structure of the Army, it's hierarchy, also plays a large role in determining how the institution itself receives those things. As the Army takes a look at itself over the coming months and tries to figure out what adjustments it needs to make to it's leader development programs, hopefully some of my thoughts might help to inform the discussion. And, while that might sound like a pretty arrogant statement, I do believe that I can help, if for no other reason than because my writing has forced me to do some research and to look at the problem from a variety of points of view.

Leadership is an intensely personal experience and in order to lead others, you must first have a solid understanding of yourself. Self-awareness and self-study are critical parts of leader development and encompass the entirety of your life. What are your priorities, values, weaknesses, blind spots etc? Why are you the way you are? Why do you view your world the way you do? A large portion of our earliest leader development programs should focus on this area for a couple important reasons. First, it alerts us to how we view our world and the different filters that we drop in place that color our understandings. What motivates us and what does not? Second, this awareness recognizes that others will have a much different viewpoint based upon their understandings and filters. Self study allows for those differences of view without moral judgment of those who you are opposed to. Leadership at the human being level is recognizing those differences and finding ways to either reconcile them, or to ensure that the right people are put in the right place to accomplish the mission. Sometimes the most critical decision a leader will make isn't what to do, but rather who will do it. The arguments regarding 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' will probably demonstrate this very well, as will the discussions regarding mission command and decentralized operations down to the squad level. The idea of the right person will play a much greater role than people think. A leader fundamentally opposed to homosexuals openly serving in the Army will make decisions in line with their belief and value system. A leader who is not opposed will make other decisions in line with their belief and value system. The issue will not be the institution's response, the issue will be how it is interpreted and enacted at the lowest level. As a leader of others, one of my jobs is to understand my feelings about an issue and to understand how they affect my actions. And my self-awareness presupposes that the same is true in others. In periods of change the ability to determine who to place where and when is an important skill. We'll no longer be 'plug and play' with interchangeable leaders. In fact, we'll probably find ourselves moving in the opposite direction all together. We'll probably end up emphasizing the merits of one individual over another for a particular task and the leader piece will be the ability to recognize which person is more suited to that mission and why. That will require programs of instruction in our development schools that are less 'mass production' and much more personalized. I go to school in order to find out about myself, in order to understand my influences, in order to learn how I think, in order to recognize that others do not think the same way, in order to take advantage of those differences, in order to effect the outcome successfully. In short, I'm learning how to put the right person in the right place at the right time instead of just anyone who happens to have been spit out of the leader development machine. Personal leader development takes advantage of the differences between individuals and spends less time trying to make everyone homogeneous.

Once we have impressed upon people the importance of figuring out who they are and why they are that way, we can move on to another theme - that "How to think is more important than what to think". My constant references to the OODA cycle reinforce this. To me, it is the single most important teaching lesson we need in the Army right now. OODA is not a discreet process. It really has no beginning and no end. It is not a finite thing. It's a way of interacting critically with our world that, when developed, brings clarity, and the ability to see ourselves and our adversary more clearly which reveals opportunities and identifies shortfalls faster. OODA accepts the differences of filter and then presents ways to work through them dynamically. The more you do it, the faster you can act. Now, you are operating inside other people's decision (and behavior) cycles and affecting the outcome. While Boyd originally saw this concept as happening between two adversaries, I believe that it can also be used very successfully within our own formations. If leadership is defined as influencing someones behavior in pursuit of an objective, then the OODA cycle does not only happen outside of our formations. It happens inside them as well. It happens with every interaction we have with people. This is another critical viewpoint that we must develop as we try to work through some of the issues with destructive behavior and other human being problems that have surfaced after 10 years at war. The same skill sets we are developing that allow us to better understand the enemy and the populace in Afghanistan can (and should) be used to assist us in understanding our own Soldiers. The skills required are no different - the ability to define the problem, the judgment - the empathy, the willigness to set aside our own viewpoint and actively pursue another's - to understand it's causes, the determination to change an entrenched behavior and the willingness to constantly scrutinize those interactions to see whether or not they are positively or negatively affecting the outcome. It really doesn't take a year long study to find out why we are having difficulty with Soldiers who return from battle and behave differently than we expect. It takes people who are attuned to the behavioral changes in their subordinates and then act in an empathetic manner to assist them to return to a more healthy place. Without self-awareness and without the OODA cycle becoming an active concentration in our leader development schools, we will only be left with institutional answers to what are very personal situations. We are trying to find ways to increase the judgment abilities of our Soldiers both individually and tactically. OODA provides that way.

The third theme that has routinely appeared in my thoughts, sometimes less clearly than others, is the idea of servant leadership. I no longer see my Soldiers as the tools by which I affirm my place in the organization. I used to, and I think many people go through a period like this, but I don't anymore. I exist to serve downward to my subordinates. The most important parts of my job are to serve their needs, increase their knowledge, and provide the opportunity for them to develop themselves in their own personal manner. I will not allow myself to use them for my own self-enhancement. More importantly, I will not allow them to let me do so. They are the reason I continue to serve. Any success that we achieve is shared. I do my part, they do theirs and we work through the friction as equal parts of the system. We both have roles to play. Without them doing their part, I will fail to achieve the organizations goals. Without me doing mine, they will not be able to operate to achieve them. The recognition that there is an equality between us is an important one. Rank and stature based systems do not generally accept this notion and therefore the led become nothing more than the workforce upon which the leader stakes his/her reputation. As we continue to look at 'toxic' leadership, I think we're going to find that it is most prevalent in places where the leader believes in his/her own sense of rightness to such a degree that they cannot view their world in any other manner. They are right and everyone else is wrong.

Servant leadership also has another linked requirement that bottom-up leadership doesn't which is it's requirement for a dissent mechanism. I have brought this up before, but it hasn't really gotten all that much attention which surprises me. If I accept that my subordinates are an equal and critical part of the organization - if I really embrace that - then it will force me to accept that there must be a way for them to tell me I'm wrong. In effect, they do get a vote. In situations where their lives depend upon having a clear understanding of the possible outcomes, there must be a way to ensure that that understanding is shared by all. The different parts of the system are equal. A dissent mechanism is the ultimate equalizer in servant based leadership.

The last theme is how the institution - it's history, it's lineage, it's customs and traditions and method of operating affect the people inside it. We often say that the Army is people, but in truth, the skeletal structure of the Army is a force unto itself. The hierarchical structure acts in a manner than requires the flow of information up and down simultaneously. It is predicated on the idea that the top has a better understanding than the bottom. However, we have found that that type of structure can be slow to act and opportunities are lost in the time it takes to move information to the proper decision-making level. We need to take a hard look at how the institution itself is affecting the conduct of operations. Is it possible that Soldiers have died and opportunities have been lost not because of negligence or fault or lack of ability, but rather because the requirements of the institution have failed to keep pace with the speed of decision-making on the ground?

A few weeks back I was talking with my Dad and he mentioned that it appeared as if some of my posts were beginning to repeat themselves. I was simply finding new source material to back up a previously stated thesis. I think to a certain degree he is correct. As I come across something that fits one of the 4 main theme areas of the blog, I'll try to bring it to people's attention and see if it helps clarify my previous thoughts any better. I also do it because in some cases, while the reference might be new, the theme is something I've talked about previously and want to bring back up to people's attention. Having thought about his comment for a few weeks, I'm not sure that's likely to change. A year ago or more I was talking about values and ethics. A year or more ago I brought up the sticky issues regarding decentralization and personal judgment. Due to the events of my life, what happened in Iraq between February and September 2006 has changed how I view leadership and how I lead others. For better or worse, some of these ideas seem to be making their way into discussions at the larger level. I would encourage the reader to go back and read through some of my earlier posts and begin to form their own ideas and opinions on some of these issues. What's on these pages is just some of the things I've discovered along the way.

#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.