I have always written this blog to try and highlight some of the difficulties and complexities of human being leadership. Leadership is not easy and it cannot be learned solely learned from a textbook. While the basic framework can often times be codified, the nuance and art have to generate from within each individual. It is their own personal narrative. People will only follow you because of their faith in your character, your vision and your truth. I have most often called this your self-awareness. Something that the Army says is important, but actually spends very little time developing. Most times, I have tried to spread this message by citing a document and then adding my personal thoughts about it - testing out my ideas against yours. Trying something on for size. Seeing if I could hear a grain of truth in the words someone else wrote or clarifying mine in my own head. If my writing has had any worth whatsoever, I would hope it has been to do that for you. To provide you an opportunity to think about yourself and how you lead and the effect of your leadership on those above and below you.
I have spent a lot of time in the last few posts on some much more personal aspects of my journey toward self awareness. How I got to this point in my life, the influences that impacted and formed me - both in the Army and out - and my desire to understand them in such a way that I am ultimately made a better leader and person. While parts of my journey are very personal, I have thankfully found someone who is willing to help me do the hard work required to gain a more complete understanding of who I am. The idea of being willing to take this journey however, should be universal to every Army officer and NCO. Everyone who calls themselves a leader should want to take a hard look at themselves and their influences every now and again, to ensure that they have a clear understanding of who they are and why. To find someone who will question your baseline assumptions and not settle for easy answers. Someone who will help you test whether what you think to be true about yourself, is actually so. If we are not made to take a hard look in the mirror it becomes too easy to believe your own bullshit and, sooner or later, we will fail. Not because we want to fail, but because we lack a more informed frame of reference. I believe very strongly that the high profile firings of so many of our senior officers and NCO's in recent months is a direct reflection of a lack of properly balanced self-awareness. In many ways, while what I'm doing right now is a personal inspection, in many ways, it is also for the betterment of those I serve and the Army overall. If we can ensure that the leaders we are developing are true in their narrative, and clear in their understanding of themselves, then the leadership they provide will be more honest and that honesty inspires those both above and beneath them.
If you find this line of thinking to be a little foreign or strange or uncomfortable, consider the following: In the cover story of The Army Times dated April 25th is an interview with the new Chief of Staff, General Dempsey. Below is part of that story:
"Dempsey acknowledged that building the nation's Army is not simply a matter or supplying tanks, trucks and fully equipped Soldiers. It is also ensuring those Soldiers have and become the leaders the Army desires and the nation deserves....Dempsey said, "What you want to learn is if there is something we could have, should have, done along the way in their development." Dempsey said he would not "accept the notion that there are simply bad apples out there" and move on. Instead, he has a plan to remove the bad apples from the barrel of command."
I have mentioned this many times before. How do we determine when and how someone becomes a bad leader? And if they were 'bad apples', how did they get to be that successful in the first place? What were they presenting to the world that mislead it into believing that they possessed the desirable qualities of leadership, when the baseline behaviors were so far off track? By bad, I'm not necessarily talking about technical competence either. That is important to the overall success of a leader, but ultimately it is not the critical component in this day and age. We have too many specialized positions with highly technical requirements to demand that every leader be able to do every task that every one of their Soldiers can. It's simply impossible to expect that. What is critical however, is that leaders speak the truth to their Soldiers. Their truth. What they know and believe to be true. What they hold dear and value. What their narrative is. This component is actually more important in a technically advanced age than any other skill set development.
What is your truth? Do you know? Have you ever considered the question? I can tell you that since starting my own search, I have uncovered a lot of things that I didn't know existed before and some of them have been hard to look at. Ultimately though, they are valuable. They will make me a better leader. Why? Because once you strip away the artifice and layers of survival skills and pretense that we all walk around with to one degree or another, and find a more clear picture of yourself - your strengths, weaknesses, passions, idiosyncrasies etc, then your truth become more real. Your narrative more complete. And that is the person and leader who inspires people. Your leadership is enhanced as you become more self-aware and less worried about hiding so much of yourself from the world.
General Dempsey is challenging the leader development paradigm in the Army. He initiated the year long look at our institutional ethic - what it means to be a professional Soldier in the United States Army. He was right after a decade at war to do so. A lot has changed in the world and the Army since 9/11. If you boiled that Army-wide study down to each Army leader however, what we all need to do is take a hard, uncompromising look at ourselves and find out what it means to be a leader of truth, character and vision. Are we speaking the truth about ourselves to our subordinates? Is our narrative clear and strong? Are we hiding or embracing our selves? These are important questions to consider. They are also something very few do, and most, at some point, pay a high cost for. I certainly did. Now, however, I have been given the opportunity to look at myself from another vantage point and I am grateful for the opportunity. What the Army can do for all of it's leaders is demand that each of them spend most of their development time focusing on themselves. The understandings they gain will provide them a much greater and easier way to ensure that those they hope to lead and inspire have a clear understanding of their truth. That, after all is why we lead. To provide purpose, direction, and motivation. In times of great danger or difficulty, it will not be the technical ability of the leader who inspires the Soldier. It will the real faith the Soldier has in who the leader truly is.
As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome.