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Leadership (further) Defined

Posted in Leadership with tags , , , , , on December 17, 2012 by Dale Wilson - Author of Command Performance

My last post has inspired dialogue on this blog, other blogs (here, here and here), and on Twitter.  Obviously, the definition of leadership, and the debate over what is the best, or most proper, definition continues.  If you haven’t read my last post, please read it before reading this post.  Here’s the link ==> Leadership Defined.

Once I publish a post, I share it on the various social media platforms I participate, such as on Twitter and in various discussion groups on LinkedIn.  I posted Leadership Defined in the LinkedIn group, Brilliant Manoeuvres[1]: How to Use Military Wisdom to Win Business Battles, which was started by Richard Martin, author of a book by the same name as the group; Richard also has a blog, Exploiting Change, and can be found on twitter @boldleadership.  Soon after I shared my post in that group, it was commented on by Ned Gravel, who is principal at MOTIVA Training, a Canadian company, and was a Major in the Canadian Armed Forces, where he served for 21 years.  What transpired, as a result of his comment, has become the premise of this blog post.  My reply elaborates on the discussion of the definition of leadership, and expands on the post I wrote last week.  It is an important postscript.

Below is Ned’s comment, and my response to his comment.  Once I replied to Ned’s comment, I realized the breadth and value of this discussion he and I had, and the answer I provided Ned according to his opinion.  Here is that conversation:


I am going to have to disagree with you on some of this. I think you may have overextended the definition I, and many of my colleagues who wore a uniform for a living, grew up with. For us, leadership is: “the art of motivating people to achieve a common goal.” Nothing about obedience, or command, or directing thoughts.

It is only about the people and the goal is a common one, sometimes developed commonly, sometimes not, but motivated to be accepted by the entire group.

A common misconception about military leadership is that everyone will simply obey orders and that is that. Orders delivered to motivate team members so that they become the common goal is the focus of good military leadership. Orders delivered to simply direct others is a failure of leadership. If we have kept our team abreast and engaged them in what we are trying to do – the orders issued can already be understood and accepted by the majority of our team members. They can then succeed without our further involvement.

Even beyond this, good leaders do not just create successful teams and followers, they create more successful leaders from within their teams.

I apologise [sic] for the apparent disagreement. Just my 0.02.

Below is a modified version of my response:

Dale R. WilsonNo need to apologize, Ned.  We’re having a discussion to share ideas.  I tried to write my blog post at a basic level to define leadership.  Maybe this reply to your comment can clarify my philosophy.

I agree with what you are saying.  But, my definition is based on intent…that leads to action…to improvise, adapt, overcome…to change tactics, without changing vision; to achieve ultimate victory.

Leadership is taking your vision and intent as a leader, sharing this vision with your team, motivating and inspiring them to execute the plan, and empowering them with the resources to achieve victory.  I’ll direct you back to my blog post for further discussion on this, as I break it down concisely.  But, for this discussion, I am talking about:

1) Getting the team (organization, company, platoon, crew, etc.) to clearly understand the mission (goal, objective, sales target, profit requirement, etc.) ~ the image that the leader has for the outcome.

2) Ensuring the team understands the leader’s intent, and has the exact same vision, while clarifying with them by asking questions and providing feedback to their questions, and verifying that there is a clear understanding of the end state.

Along with this is the ‘buy-in.’  The people have to not only see the intent/vision/desired outcome, but they must see in themselves the absolute ability to accomplish the mission.

3) Provide the team the resources (tools, training, equipment, information, etc.) to ensure they can conduct operations to their fullest effort to achieve nothing less than victory.  Having discussion is important.  But, in the end, the leader’s vision and intent (with modifications to tactics, from the discussion) remains firm and unchanged.

4) To afford each individual the latitude to improvise, adapt, and overcome; to change tactics, without changing vision, according to the situation on the ground (or at sea, or in the air, etc.).

When the terms ‘obedience,’ ‘command,’ or ‘directing thoughts’ are mentioned, they are discussed in the context of having the absolute necessity to conduct actions, tasks, operations (etc.) towards the goal/objective, without argument, dissention, or modification to the goal.  People cannot change the desired outcome, as it is a fixed ‘destination’ determined by the higher echelon leadership (board of directors, CEO, CFO, CinC, Commanding Officer, Brigade Commander, etc.).  However, when I mention ‘without argument,’ previously, I don’t mean that a discussion shouldn’t be conducted to ask questions, clarify information or offer alternative tactics (or strategy).  Having such discussion is NOT disobedience.  And, ‘directing thought’ is simply ‘selling’ the vision/intent that drives to the shared goal and objective.

I agree with your assessment about the misconceptions about military leadership.  If a leader is simply going to say, ‘this is what I want to see happen…no questions…no discussion…,’ then that is poor leadership, indeed.  As you say, “…orders to simply direct others is a failure of leadership.”

It is because of those misconceptions that drives to the very reason why I write about the topic on my blog (and on Twitter).  My purpose is to write about the subject of military leadership in an effort to change those misconceptions that exist in the minds of those who do not understand the true synergies between military and corporate (private-sector) leadership.

I appreciate your feedback on this.  It is important to share these ideas to provide us the opportunity to dig deeper into the subject.  It is constructive and educational.  In fact, in writing this response, I found it quite instructive and fulfilling.

I want to invite you to read three blog posts I have written that relate directly to our discussion here.  Please read the following:

Leading the Charge: Leadership Lessons from the Battlefield to the Boardroom (no need to watch the video…I’ve broken it down on the post)

Decision-Making in the New ‘Leadership Organization’

Improvise, Adapt and Overcome ~ Changing Plans, But Not Changing Vision

Employee Empowerment in the Decision-Making Process

Leadership is a very popular subject, and discussions like this happen quite frequently in LinkedIn groups, on Twitter, and elsewhere on the internet.  Having these discussions, and engaging in conversation with people about leadership, is quite constructive (and instructive), and can help to broaden your knowledge and ability to become a much better, more effective leader.  I encourage you to find a discussion and join in.  Everyone will benefit from your contribution.

I wanted to use this opportunity to thank Ned for having this conversation with me, and his gracious approval to allow me to use our conversation on LinkedIn as a lab excercise on my blog.  I hope that you found value in having this dialogue with me.

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“Leadership is understanding people and involving them to help you do a job.”

Admiral Arleigh Burke

(TWEET THIS quote)

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Soon after I posted Leadership Defined, I posted the following Tweet, which sums it all up nicely.  Within this Tweet, click on the link to a related Tweet, to keep it in context:

Copyright © Dale R. Wilson

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Related Articles –

Modern Leadership (brassbugles.wordpress.com)

What Is Leadership? (landauleadership.com)

How Do You Rate Yourself? (leadershipquote.org)

What Leadership is Not (stevekeating.me)

Footnote –

[1] ‘Manoeuvre‘ is the French spelling for the word maneuver (US).  It is sometimes considered misspelling.  Because the LinkedIn group was started by someone in Canada, the French version (spelling) of the word is appropriate.

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Leadership Defined

Posted in Leadership with tags , , , , , , , on December 11, 2012 by Dale Wilson - Author of Command Performance

Leadership has been defined as the art, science, or gift by which a person is enabled and privileged to direct the thoughts, plans, and actions of others in such a manner as to obtain and command their obedience, their confidence, their respect, and their loyal cooperation.  Simply stated, leadership is the art of accomplishing [a] mission through people.[i]  Another definition is the process of influencing people by providing purpose, direction, and motivation while operating to accomplish the mission and improving the organization.[ii]  To accomplish this, the leader employs the principles of leadership, core values and the qualities that lead to success.[iii]  Within these two definitions are three basic elements of leadership; to lead, to develop, to achieve.  I discuss these three rudimentary cornerstones (and competencies) of leadership in-depth in one of my previous posts, BookLink: Army Leadership (Lead ~ Develop ~ Achieve) {Book 1, Wk. 2}.

There are many definitions of leadership.  Many articles and books have been written on the topic of leadership, and there are many people, like myself, writing about the topic of leadership everyday on blogs and on Twitter.  In nearly all of what you will find written or discussed, and what is most important to understand, is that leadership is not about the leader; it’s about the people who are being led.  The people are the commodity that are at the heart and soul of everything the leader and the organization are seeking to accomplish.  Therefore, the people become the biggest part of the definition of leadership, as it is their behavior, motivation, training, skills and knowledge that play an integral role in the success and victory of the organization.

This morning, I tweeted my definition of leadership.  Below, I have embedded an active link of that Tweet for you.  If you think the Tweet below has true value to you, and to your Twitter followers, please retweet it.  Simply click on the Tweet below as you would a Tweet on Twitter to reply, retweet or favorite it:

Again, it is very basic and elementary.  But it covers all of the core elements: To lead…taking your vision for the future, and declaring your intentions, goals and objectives…to develop…mentoring, training, inspiring, motivating, informing, equipping, (etc.) the people of the organization with the knowledge and tools…to achieve…the desired outcome, objective and/or goal, ultimately accomplishing the mission, and gaining victory.

Any basic definition of leadership, including my tweet, can be seen as a loaded statement; quite honestly, it is a loaded statement.  It is loaded with much more meaning than the words say on the surface, and has more meanings than you first may think.  Leadership is such a vast subject, and goes far beyond what has been discussed here.  But, at its basic level, it’s not more complicated than this.

I can go further with discussion about the definition of leadership.  But, that is the reason for this blog; to dissect and discuss leadership in great detail.  I would like to know what your definition of leadership is.  What do you see as the important aspects of leadership that go to its basic definition?  Let me know what you think by commenting below.  And, again, please retweet my Tweet if you think it has true value to you, and to your Twitter followers.

Don’t forget to comment on this blog post.  And, please follow me on Twitter; follow @5StarLeadership.

**A follow-up post to this one has been published.  Please proceed to Leadership (further) Defined.

Copyright © Dale R. Wilson

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Footnotes –

[i] Montor, Karel, Anthony J. Ciotti, and Malcolm E. Wolfe. Fundamentals of Naval Leadership. The Department of Leadership and Law, U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute, 1984. page 1. (The definition of leadership is adapted from Naval Leadership, U.S. Naval Institute, Annapolis, MD, 1939, page 1, and Frederick Ellsworth Wolf, A.M., Leadership in the New Age, U.S. Naval Institute, Annapolis, MD, 1946, page 3)

[ii] Army Leadership – Competent, Confident, and Agile {FM 6-22} (formerly FM 22-100) – Headquarters, Department of the Army – 12 October 2006 – Page 1-2 – Web – http://usacac.army.mil/CAC2/repository/materials/FM6_22.pdf – Accessed 11 December 2012 – United States Army Combined Arms Center, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas – http://usacac.army.mil/CAC2/index.asp and/or Army Leadership {ADP 6-22} – Headquarters, Department of the Army – 1 August 2012 – Page 1 – Web – http://armypubs.army.mil/doctrine/DR_pubs/dr_a/pdf/adp6_22_new.pdf – Accessed 11 December 2012 – Official Department of the Army Publications and Forms – http://armypubs.army.mil/ via this link: http://usacac.army.mil/cac2/cgsc/events/adp622/index.asp

[iii] Fundamentals of Naval Leadership – By Dale R. Wilson – Posted February 7, 2012 – https://commandperformanceleadership.wordpress.com/2012/02/07/fundamentals-of-naval-leadership/ – Accessed December 11, 2012 – Command Performance Leadership – https://commandperformanceleadership.wordpress.com/

Were You Inspired to Become a Leader, or Promoted Into a Leadership Position?

Posted in Miscellaneous with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on July 18, 2012 by Dale Wilson - Author of Command Performance

Earlier today, I tweeted this question from my Twitter account.  And, after giving it some thought, I decided to open this question up to the World to be answered, by way of my blog.

Virtually all leaders have a very unique and interesting answer to this question.  Through this post, I want to survey leaders to hear their story.  And, since this is such a dynamic post and discussion, I will be making it a destination link on my list of pages on my blog’s homepage.  I am hoping to attract leaders from all circles of our World; military and civilian, corporate and government, volunteer and community groups, etc.  I encourage you to participate.

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Why (or how) did you become a leader?  Were you inspired to become a leader, or promoted into a leadership position?

Many people work most of their entire career to ultimately become a leader at various levels; a leader of a team of people or department, or a leader of an entire organization.  In some instances, they are inspired to grow professionally and personally to acquire the traits, talents and skills necessary to be more successful, and to become a leader.  In other instances, progressively successful people simply move up the ladder through meritorious advancement; promoted as a result of doing a good job or passing various thresholds of time, accomplishment and success.

A discussion like this can go very deep; and, I hope it does.  But, quite simply, I wanted to ask you what made you a leader?  In most cases, regardless of the path or motivation, you no doubt became a leader by your own actions.  But, were you inspired to become a leader?  Were you motivated to grow and become a leader because of the organization you worked for?  Were you inspired by a boss you worked for?  Maybe that boss acted as a mentor (or, in the Navy, we called it a Sea Daddy: A senior, more experienced sailor who unofficially takes a new member of the crew under his wing and mentors him. Senior Enlisted Advisor a CPO in charge of your career).  Or, did you just simply punch your ticket while ascending the ladder of success?

In the early stages of my career, I was not a leader, as I did not yet acquire the knowledge or achievements to earn a promotion, nor did I thoroughly possess the traits or virtues of a leader.  I had to continue to develop those things over time.  But, in my case, I did have a few people above me in the chain-of-command who saw something in me;  They saw leadership potential.  Notice I said potential.  These individuals had already been an inspiration to me, and I had a strong desire to emulate them.  I watched them closely, learning from their actions (their successes, mistakes and pitfalls).  I learned how that treated people; how they managed them, how they disciplined them, how they taught and mentored them.  I learned how they ran their respective organizations.  I learned from their business-sense and fundamental management styles, as well as the way they handled their day-to-day challenges.  From them, I learned what to do and what not to do to become more successful.  I was fortunate to have leaders who were worth watching. 

What these individuals saw in me early in my career began to grow and blossom.  Through hard work and a strong work ethic, over time, I was promoted into a series of supervisory positions that acted as a ‘proving ground’ for my leadership capabilities; to foster and nurture the traits and virtues a leader must have.  In those positions, my leadership knowledge, skills and talents became stronger.  Most importantly, I learned about people, and they learned about me.  Quite honestly, I learned about me.  Ultimately, I earned the trust and confidence of my superiors, and I was promoted into middle and upper management.  20 years later, I have grown as a leader.  And, to answer my original question, I was inspired to become a leader by some very special managers and leaders early in my career.  Everything else was hard work and determination. 

How about you?  Were you inspired to become a leader?  Or, were you simply promoted into a leadership position?  I look forward to learning about you and your path to success.

Learning The Softer Side Of Leadership

Posted in Leadership with tags , , , , , , , , on March 14, 2012 by Dale Wilson - Author of Command Performance
An article posted on FastCompany.com on Tuesday, March 13
 
“As a leader, you plan, strategize, and set priorities. Your primary responsibilities, however, are always to inspire, motivate, and empower others. As a leader, you rise above “me” to embrace “we.” 
 
 Learning the Softer Side of Leadership
 
By Gary Burnison | 03-13-2012
 
Leaders’ primary objective is to empower others to make decisions and take actions that are aligned with the organization’s vision, purpose, and strategy. These nuances are the softer side of leadership, beyond the technical skills that you have already mastered.
 

Leadership is the “eighth wonder of the world.” It is better seen and felt than defined and said. It’s easy to intellectualize, but elusive to actualize.

The world’s most impactful leaders in all arenas, from business to government, understand the paradox that although leadership starts with the leader, it’s never about the leader. This wisdom should be emulated and applied by everyone who aspires to leadership.

As the leader, you need to be hands on, but your primary objective is to empower others to make decisions and take actions that are aligned with the organization’s vision, purpose, and strategy. You’re “all in” in terms of commitment, but the spotlight is always on the results of the team. It’s not about you.

Continue reading “Learning the Softer Side of Leadership” via FastCompany.com

Leadership Effects (A Guest Blog Post from the Front Lines)

Posted in Army Leadership, BookLink, Leadership with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 14, 2012 by Dale Wilson - Author of Command Performance

A Comment in Response to BookLink ~ The U.S. Army Leadership Field Manual

The Command Performance Leadership blog has enjoyed some early success in its less than three months of existence, with weekly readership growing and the number of followers gradually increasing. Of those who have frequently visited my blog, I have been quite fortunate to attract many members of militaries from around the World, at different levels of leadership; non-commissioned officers (NCO’s) and commissioned officers. Having a military readership and followership is important to me, as I want military members to provide their input, through blog post comments, to gain from their knowledge and experience, and to add value to this blog. Who better to provide insight on military leadership fundamentals and wisdom than those who are leading in our military. As you’ve seen, a few comments from military members have influenced the discussions here, and have inspired new content and articles. I hope that continues.

A few weeks ago, I introduced BookLink, a feature that provides this blog’s readers the opportunity to have direct and complete access to military-oriented leadership books, pamphlets, field manuals, and other resources of information. The first book I am featuring is the U.S. Army Leadership Field Manual, which we began reading on January 16. For the four weeks that follow, sections of the book are being read and discussed in weekly blog posts.

Last Thursday, I received a comment about this Army field manual from David Hickman, a U.S. Army NCO. In his comment post, he shared a comprehensive story about leadership in the Army, in his opinion. I replied to David, and started a dialogue with him about his comment. He informed me that his comment was actually an article he was attempting to get in front of a few military magazines to take interest in. Unfortunately, no military periodical has taken interest in his article. David explained that the article was written in response to his Company Commander asking him and his fellow NCO’s to define leadership and what it meant to them. He thought that leadership deserved more discussion than just a ‘definition,’ and that leadership is nothing unless we act upon it. David informs me that this article is the framework for a book he is interested in writing.

I told David that his article deserves to be read, and I offered the article to be posted here at Command Performance Leadership as a guest post. He accepted my offer. I have made slight modifications to the original article to correct any grammar, spelling and punctuation, but have not altered its content or changed any words. I have also added some approprate and related pictures.

I want to thank David for his cooperation in sharing this article, and the journalistic support he has provided to me. I am pleased to introduce you to Staff Sergeant David A. Hickman and his book excerpt, “Leadership Effects.

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Author’s Biography –US Army E-6 Staff Sergeant (SSG)

Staff Sergeant (SSG) David A. Hickman is currently assigned as an instructor with Charlie Company, 2nd Battalion, 11th Infantry Regiment (IBOLC), 199th Infantry Brigade, Fort Benning Georgia. From the start of his tenure in the Army to present, SSG Hickman has served with the 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team (SBCT), 25th Infantry Division, the 172nd SBCT Fort Wainwright, the US Army Recruiting Command, the 25 Infantry Division (L) Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, and with the 7th Light Infantry Division (Cohort), Fort Ord, California prior to a break in military service. He deployed with the 1st SBCT, 25th Infantry Division to Baqubah, Iraq from 2008 to 2009, with the 172nd SBCT to Mosul, Iraq from 2005 to 2006 and Baghdad 2006, and the 25th Infantry Division (L) with the Multi-National Forces and Observers (MFO) to Sinai, Egypt in 2000. He has served as an Instructor, Platoon Sergeant, Weapons Squad Leader, and Team Leader.

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Preface to the Article –

I had some reservations about publishing this paper that I wrote last year for concern that others would think ill of me or that it was an attempt to curry favor. At some point in life you will be confronted with a choice: simply speak your mind regardless of what others may think of you [, or to say nothing at all]. A few military magazines looked it over. It’s my take on leadership from those who were with me state side and Iraq.

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LEADERSHIP EFFECTS ~ January 2011

Singular perspective in the mind of any leader will lead him to fail. If uncorrected, it will pass to the others around him and the organization will follow. 

Leadership has been defined in a number of ways, but the end result should always be to the benefit of one another, our Soldiers, our military, and our country. Leadership as defined by the Army, uses phrases such as “influencing others” and “providing purpose, direction and motivation.”[i]

This is still true, but the focus of a leader should be on the effects of his or her leadership. Further, if leaders do not grasp the “human aspect” of leading, how can the organization improve? A number of us may overlook the cause and effect of leadership or the lack thereof. Poor leadership or leadership “in part” will not result in just failure alone when the cost paid for the lack of leadership may be another human life.

Leaders at every level should agree that there are two elements that make up any mission-oriented organization, those who follow during mission execution and the select few who lead them. Both are required to achieve any task that places the organization in a tactical advantage over another or to restore security. Failure by either will leave the unit with an incomplete task and lack of sufficient support to accomplish it to the fullest benefit of the organization.

ArmyStrongFrom our perspective, the odds will not be in favor of those left to deal with the failure of any leader or subordinate. Most of the failures of subordinates can be traced to their leaders. However, after a leader has implemented every measure of instruction and attention that can be given, a subordinate may still make the wrong choice. He or she is, in fact, just as human as their leaders, and that Soldiers’ free will may not always sway to do what is right. Regardless of the origin of the fault, we as leaders accept responsibility for what our subordinates do right and wrong. This approach to leading helps leaders to focus even further on their subordinates. The Army is the one institution in which the leader accepts the fault for what their subordinates fail to do. There is no blame. With regard to ethical decisions, there may be an unseen flaw within the subordinate’s moral judgment and character. As leaders, we spend time guiding subordinates both during training and after hours with regard to their personal actions and choices. We remind them that poor choices can lead to adverse actions which will be detrimental to their privileges and rank. How often do we convey to our subordinates the “effects” that their actions can have on others in the organization? How can we as leaders become more efficient in identifying the start of potential issues if the leader is not involved in the personal lives of their subordinates?

Rank has never been a requirement to lead. Rank never compels a Soldier to push himself beyond the limitations of his mind. Determined young Specialists can take charge and lead if they have been under sound leaders during the first part of their tenure in the military. Many of us have seen this. Rank is needed, but it is nothing more than a visual hierarchy that displays a level of authority that an individual leader has been entrusted with, not entitled to, for his or her position of duty. It is visible within the organization at every level. Our character must be balanced with regard to the rank that we hold and the rank that we advance to. At one end of the extreme, if we are not balanced in character, we run the risk of abusing our authority. Worse yet, at the other end, we fail to provide for our subordinates in training or human needs.

Human needs go beyond those that are required to survive in the physical body. All leaders should have learned this as they advanced up through their respective positions of authority, or so we think. Avoiding the mistake of promoting individuals with poor character or weak leadership ability is perhaps the one fact that causes leaders to have reservations about a Soldier being promoted to the rank of Sergeant based on time in service alone. Serious consideration needs to be taken when selecting subordinates for promotions. If we receive a leader who was promoted in this manner, all we can do is take what is there and make it better. In so doing, there are two points that leaders need to keep in mind when assessing incoming leaders who will either be our subordinates leaders, peers and Senior Leaders. First, the leader has no insight as to the methods of their training and mentorship. Poor leaders create more poor leaders, and bad habits carry from one to another. Every leader has faults and may fall short in some aspect of his duties, but it’s the leaders who choose to address these issues who become leaders of genuine character and look beyond “self” seeking to improve. Second, even if a leader has been instructed in the requirements of basic human needs, it is still not evidence that this leader is in practice of executing the correct actions of leadership. 

The leader development process for subordinate leaders and Soldiers is not to be taken with a “half-hearted” approach. One Army perspective states: “During this leader development process, the responsibility for a leader’s complete development is mutually shared by the leaders of the Army Education System, Commanders, and Leaders in the field, and the leaders themselves.”[ii]

Instructors in the Army Education System are in place to develop “line leaders” to better the organization. One unavoidable fact is that instructors are only with their respective student leaders for the duration of the developmental course. Course curriculum “highlights” the “job aspect” of their responsibilities and many leaders end up getting pushed through the course, keeping to the weekly schedule so long as all attendees receive passing scores on their exams. Instructors cannot fully evaluate leaders with regard to their ability to grasp and understand the “human considerations” in leading and developing their subordinate leaders and subordinates. Leaders on the line spend a good deal of their time involved daily with their Soldiers, but if the line leaders did not have the proper mentorship during their development, they will not be “in tune” with the human side of subordinate development. Many leaders in the Infantry often face the “taboo” designation as being a “Joe Lover” when other leaders witness the care for the well-being of subordinates. I agree that there needs to be a balance, but all leaders need to be attentive to the emotional and other human needs of their Soldiers. Neglect or failure to provide opportunity to resolve issues affecting emotional needs will allow doubt to enter the minds of subordinates causing instability in their emotional well-being. Issues left undone will foster an unfocused mind during the execution of missions. A subordinate who is not focused on the mission will prove to be detrimental to himself and those around him, which can result in the loss of life. The efforts of an unfocused Soldier provide nothing more than a void in security. He or she is of no use to the organization in their present state.

Leadership has focused mostly on compelling our subordinates to execute missions that affect those within the organization at every level as well as the host nation in which the organization operates. This is still both true and necessary for achieving the mission as set forth by the intent of any Commander. With regard to our history of leadership, mission accomplishment was a top priority regardless of the effects in human costs and subordinate needs. Today we recognize that care for the human side of our Soldiers is a fundamental requirement for the operation of a successful organization. It should never be to a point where subordinates become soft or fall short in standards, but there needs to be a balance between the two. Mission accomplishment is still top priority, but we cannot ignore the human side.

On today’s front, leadership often involves directing and continually encouraging subordinates to execute tasks that would normally be against any human will if given a choice because it places them in danger. For this reason, Soldiers and Leaders need to understand that being a Soldier is not just a “job” and should never be considered just a career. In truth, it is a profession that requires a great deal of personal conviction. We chose our profession and we also chose to lead well, in part or not at all. Whatever measure of effort we put into our leadership, it will be visible through our actions and the performance of our subordinates. Leading Soldiers will always have results and consequences. Choices in leadership will always have effects. Good or bad.

How do we accomplish the task of leading subordinates in the execution of missions that could result in the loss of life? Further, how can we grasp the reality of both our will and that of our Soldiers to strive for mission success during which it’s execution we’re acutely aware that it could be our lives that are lost? We as leaders must also be prepared to both witness and deal with the loss of those that we serve with as leaders and those with whom we lead. We’ll also deal with the emotional effects of our remaining subordinates that will be brought on by the death of a peer. I want to pose two questions for thought and a genuine inward reflection for all of us as leaders. This is the only time that “self” needs to come first; when assessing one’s character as a leader. What if that loss of life was due to the failure on our part to lead effectively? Do you really think Soldiers will be unaware of our part in this failure? This is reason for absolute personal conviction within every Soldier.  Most especially those in the ranks of the Infantry and Combat Arms, but all Soldiers facing adversity and genuine risk of death fit this category.

With regard to personal conviction, if Soldiers and Leaders do not have within themselves a sense of duty and belonging to each other, their unit and Nation, they do not possess genuine personal conviction. Conviction and belief in the preservation of the well-being of our subordinates and one another are the traits of selfless service. These traits are present within the character of only a few. Most new Soldiers use the military as a “test bed” for figuring out their lives and what they want. Leaders have the responsibility to instruct their Soldiers on the importance of selfless service. Further, while it’s ok for them to figure out their lives in the Army, leaders must help them grasp the reality that the effects of their choices have much more “gravity” when the organization as a whole must deal with the outcome. All Soldiers must understand that our purpose is greater than ourselves and we must implement sound judgment in every decision that we make both on and off duty. This personal conviction motivates these Soldiers and Leaders to give of themselves. When Soldiers see their peers wounded and regrettably at times their death, it will cause them to appeal in action on behalf of those around them that have fallen. The decision to step forward and take this action is the ultimate form of selfless service. This kind of selfless service happens often within our ranks. Our appreciation to one another for such actions is evident, but seen only by those who endured with us.

In one previous unit, our Battalion Commander made it clear that there must be a complete “buy in” in the unit mission and the Commander’s intent for that unit to succeed. Perhaps this instruction came from higher. I agree if the cause is just and there is no violation of moral character or ethics during mission execution. This applies to both tasks within the organization or any act carried out among the populous of the host country. In the countries we operate, there will be those of a mindset that follow extremist beliefs that justify the deaths of their own people. This will make it difficult for Soldiers to execute a Commander’s intent without individuals of this mind-set feeling as if the Americans are violating their morals and ethics. Their beliefs are not only contrary to good civil order, but also the entitlement of every human being to dwell peacefully. Our efforts are generally an “effect” of good leadership during the execution of operations that preserve the human entitlement of peace. Peace that at times cannot exist without selfless service and sacrifice for those who are unaware what is given for them. It is a basic human need. When viewed from the perspective of humanity, freedom can no longer be restricted within the boundaries of our country.

Each and every one of us should reflect inward and ask ourselves, “Am I here just for a career or just to be a Soldier and Leader?” If the answer is “just a career” you have no purpose within the ranks of the Infantry or any branch of the Military service. If a Leader or Soldier is only interested in a career alone or the pay, their first thought will be for “self” rather than “others”. During training and actual missions, the benefit of others and the organization will not be first in their minds. If leaders think this way, what will be the outcome of their decisions? Soldiers and Leaders of this character will never be willing to give of themselves or only give enough if there is some personal gain to be attained. Such gains could be the possibility for advancement in rank or to produce a “false perception” of one’s character in an effort to look good in the presence of superiors and not living sound leadership daily.

True leadership serves a higher purpose and benefits those above and below us. Leaders focused on “self” do not see the results of the implementation of good leadership. The end-state is the efficient execution of any task. Tasks or missions executed more efficiently will result in less chance of fratricide and the unintentional killing or wounding of civilians. All of which will affect the organization at every level. Genuine leadership is often thankless and any leader not driven by a “career” must understand that the best leadership often goes unseen, even by those that they lead. Subordinates are usually unaware of the sacrifices that leaders make on their behalf. Sacrifice of time, sleep or food. The list can go on. I am comfortable with this, because the daily tasks that need to be carried out are done so efficiently. This creates an environment with less stress. The “machine” runs smoothly. An atmosphere with less stress on subordinates keeps their minds clear and focused when it comes time to execute missions that have a high level of stress and personal threat. The same holds true for tending to the needs of Soldiers with regard to spiritual and emotional needs. For this reason, it’s necessary for leaders to be involved in the lives of their subordinates. Even simply stopping by the barracks during the week-end for a brief check on their Soldiers is important. At the time the subordinate may feel as if their leader is intruding, but usually it is appreciated even if the subordinate never expresses it. Caring for the well-being of subordinates does not stop after the unit gets back from the field, refit is complete, and everyone is on their way after the safety brief. A subordinate’s problems become the problems of their leaders all the way up through the Chain of Command and NCO Support Channel. Don’t ignore it or expect that the Soldier knows how to best deal with the issue. When deployed, if a subordinate learns that they have lost their spouse either to death or even if it’s a fidelity issue, their mind will not be clear during missions. It would be wise to leave this Soldier off of a few patrols in conjunction with seeing the Chaplin and other elements within the military that are present to help service men and women deal with problems.

Leadership is never executed for the recognition of “self” by higher leaders. Leadership is any action on my part to train and move my subordinates, conveying to them that this action must be executed for a greater good that affects their lives as well as others. It is more important than ourselves, and requires our genuine attention if it is to be successful. If we fail those who follow us may fail, leaving the task undone. Every action we perform and every decision we make as leaders will have an effect on someone. This is why knowing the “definition” of leadership is not leadership. Our actions, decisions and our example are what “cause” the desired “effects” needed for a successful organization.

Our country was founded on an unwavering belief in God and self-sacrifice for the whole rather than “self”. Our history reflects that we have a great nation, so I am inclined to believe that their belief in God and selfless actions were just. Regardless of belief in faith, race or ethnicity, leadership is required to succeed. Human needs are the same for all. Self-sacrifice will be demanded of any nation that expects to prosper and preserve the freedoms of its populace or the freedom of other nations who cannot stand for themselves against an oppressor that deprives them of such basic human entitlements. Leaders should never forget that even though his or her selfless service goes unseen, there is always someone looking for our faults as leaders. It will either be someone who only has the intention to point out our faults simply to correct and develop us or it very well may be a leader who is focused on “self” and looks for fault only for the gratification of holding their authority over you. Regardless of which, if we maintain our character and hold ourselves responsible for our duties, they will find very little to point out. But, this requires genuine leadership, daily selfless actions and the ability to look inwardly at our own character. When there is fault, do not let pride prevent the correction of your actions and character. If we are not cautious, we as leaders can become more concerned about how we look with regard to our Officer Evaluation Reports (OER) and Non-Commissioned Officer Evaluation Reports (NCOER) rather than taking care of our subordinates and the greater good of the organization. If we do not conduct an occasional “self-check”, a leader can develop a “power trip” or an attitude of “self” rather than executing good leadership. Subordinate leaders and Soldiers will see through it as well. This is often seen in a few newly promoted leaders advancing to a higher level of responsibility. Leaders should always be humble enough to remind themselves that the Army is still a “human organization”.

That being said, we as leaders can make mistakes. We must never let anything prevent us from addressing our short comings. We all must understand that no matter how high in the Chain of Command or NCO Support Channel we advance to, we can still learn more, improve and develop ourselves. The truth is never tasteful when it is not in our favor. One simple example is choosing the “easy wrong” over the “hard right” or being guilty of choosing “self” over the benefit of those around us. It happens more than we may think. It is still a truth that will eventually be seen, revealing our intent. We need to correct whatever prevents the truth from being in our favor. The majority of Leaders are of genuine character, but being human it’s always good to check our own character, giving our “moral compass” a quick shake to be certain that we’re on the right path regarding our leadership and that “self” comes last. The Seven Army Values are a good corner-stone if we as Soldiers and Leaders practice the values rather than just committing them to memory. If all Soldiers and Leaders choose to serve others rather than “self”, the organization as a whole will be in good care. The choice of “self” will never need to be addressed because your peers and leaders will see to your well-being and you theirs.

SSG David Allen Hickman
C CO, 2nd BN, 11th IN RGT


[i] Army Leadership: Competent, Confident, and Agile.” Washington, DC: Headquarters, Department of the Army. 2006. Print. p. 1-2.

 [ii] “Leader Development for America’s Army – Pamphlet 350-58” – 13 October 1994 – Page 5 (and see Figure 3, page 6) – http://www.apd.army.mil/pdffiles/p350_58.pdf – Accessed 13 February 2012 – Army Publishing Directorate (APD) – http://www.apd.army.mil/

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