#116 The Truth as I Know It

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.


  1. The word 'truth' is handled with such carelessness by our pluralist society. We were fathered by a generation taught that there were many paths to enlightenment and we are fathering a generation that is taught that each as a 'right' to establish his own truth. There is one thing our liberal intelligencia can't tolerate and that is intolerance (something to think about).

    These imperialist fools are blind to their own blind spots. How is it that their truth claim has such a lofty position that it can see over all other claims and make these bold statements?

    The point is there is only one Truth and we should approach it with respect, care and humility. A truth claim presents all other claims as lies so one needs to be prepared to make a defence and stand against the nonsense that leads people to believe lies. See the fractured familes, neglected children, the alcohol dependency and addictions in our communities to the path we heading down. We should all take care not believe everything we think.


    When looking at faults I need a mirror not a telescope.

  2. 99.9% of your blog content and topics are on the soft science of leadership....or as the Army calls it the human dimension....you are to be saluted for that...it is so important and lacking in our Army at many levels....

    my concern for our Army, and I do not have the answer to this, is what % of our leader development, education, and training time is spent on this soft science?...or do we just pay lip service to it?....learning how to do the hard science stuff, shoot move and communicate, is easy....learning the soft science stuff is much harder....because it is not "cool" and is soft....


  3. Joe - I think the issue with the 'soft' science parts of leader development is that they are (1) extremely individualized which the Army in its' 'one-size-fits-all mentality does not accept, and (2) require leaders to a whole bunch more introspection than we currently require them to do. For example, I have been writing now for almost 2 years and are still uncovering things about myself that were unknown to me a month ago. As an institution there is a need to short-cut that timeline, but as a leader it almost cannot be. It has to be a life-long process of development, singular to each individual person, that will allow them to gain self-awareness in order to be able to inspire, motivate and lead Soldiers in the chaos of combat.

  4. JD,

    A few years ago, a colleague and I explored this very question for a project we we’re working on. And although this is somewhat dated now (2009) and the sample was small (pre-commissioning sources), we found, at best, a 9:1 ratio of time spent on competency vs. character developmental pedagogy. In an attempt to ‘balance’ this disparity we wrote a paper that advocated the complete inculcation of character development into competency based training. You can access the article here: http://usacac.army.mil/CAC2/MilitaryReview/Archives/English/MilitaryReview_20091231_art011.pdf . You’ll need the proper credentials to access this, if you don’t have those credentials and would like to read it, let me know and I’ll send it to you. I would love to hear your thoughts.


    To me, your idea of ‘relative truth’ sounds a lot like the theory of moral relativism. Which I think, under certain circumstances, could cause a Soldier ‘moral trauma’ and contribute to PTSD, or any of the other psychological / social illnesses/ailments that Soldiers suffer from. To combat this, every professional Soldier, especially leaders, should value objective veracity and absolute integrity (which, last time I checked, was an Army value) under all circumstances- no matter what the consequences. It’s hard and will require sacrifice, but it’s necessary for the health of the Force.


    I hope you don’t mind that I used this forum to post that link. If so, I apologize. Just let me know and I’ll never do it again. Your last two posts (#s 115 and 116) have been great. They both pertain to one of my favorite topics- Trust. Trust, in my humble opinion, is one of the most under thought about / discussed constructs in our profession. Leadership is a relationship and all relationships are governed by three social emotions – 1) trust, 2) respect, and 3) love. You’ve spent the past two weeks writing about trust. In #115, I love the way you linked trust to risk. Leadership, in any endeavor, is all about the balancing of risk. For every decision or action, there is a trade-off or sacrifice, and being comfortable with risk is essential to effective ethical leadership. The honesty and humility that you’ve displayed in your writing should be modeled by all leaders. Ever since I began reading this blog, I’ve admired your transparency of character. You get it – you understand that the cornerstone of good leadership – self awareness - is not as easy to come by as it sounds. And to ‘know yourself and seek self improvement’ (the first of the eleven ‘Principles of Leadership’ espoused in previous iterations of Army leadership doctrine - FM 22-100; circa 1999), is paramount. It’s paramount but not easy. To possess knowledge of self requires perspective, reflection, honesty and humility. All of which you’ve displayed. We should all ask ourselves – what is our truth?

    Thanks and keep up the fire.


  5. Walter, I really liked that Character vs Competency article!...nice work if I say so myself!....

    Fen and all, I know this stuff ain't easy and takes time....but it CAN be done....there are sound and time tested teaching techniques that can help individuals become more self-aware and thus better leaders....and there are SPECIFIC content that leaders can be taught, then practice and role play to learn...

    if we did nothing more than use App A from FM 6-22, and teach and role model and role play the HOW of that Appendix we would be well on our way.....but we simply teach WHAT they are...

    just like with self-awareness and self-managment...we teach WHAT they are and "you need to do them" but we don't teach HOW....I have already killed that horse with Fen before....

    keep it rolling!!!


  6. I think one of the interesting parts of this whole line of discussion has to do with how little of it has anything to do with the Army. Becoming properly oriented and self-aware has become the study of my entire life - not just my time in the Army. I think this is a critical area for leader development - recognizing that who you are as an Army leader will have a lot more to do with who and what your formative experiences have created in you, and a lot less of what the Army may or may not have taught you. My orientation to the world is derived from the totality of my life, its' successes, failures, joys, sorrows, hurts, losses etc. Those form me, they form the narrative that is me. I then take that narrative and bring it to the Army. I conform the Army value system and ethic into my orientation, not the other way around.

    We miss that understanding in the way we teach leadership. We fail to make people realize that in the crucible moment, people don't follow you because they have to, they follow you because they have an intrinsic belief that you will get them through the crucible.

  7. Fen..I love what you just wrote!...really nicely written and thought out....mind if I cut and paste it?!....looks to me like "content and curriculum" for teaching and practicing self-awareness.....

    and you are right, it has nothing to do with the Army...but if leaders in the Army know it a practice it, they will be better leaders....and will serve our Soldiers much better....

    Joe (JD)