If you were a fly on the wall of my high school 20 years ago, you’d see me walking to class with a copy of Colin Powell’s My American Journey. And why Powell’s 600 page autobiography and not, for instance, a car magazine or the latest Pearl Jam album? Because I’m a leadership nerd, that’s why…and still am.
I already had my sights on a career in the military, but this book seized my attention. Powell recounts his memorable career from Vietnam Captain to Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and in plain language delivers poignant leadership lessons relevant for every profession. It’s not an overstatement to say that it became a foundational resource for my leader development…my leadership bible.
Although I underlined text on nearly every page of My American Journey, here are the quotes that have had a lasting effect on my career and have shaped my own leadership journey.
Becoming a successful leader should mean more than just getting the mission done. It should also mean taking care of Soldiers and families and making a difference in the lives of those we lead. We don’t talk about it often, but that’s what we intuitively feel. Followers desire leaders who guide the team to accomplish the mission while respecting and inspiring them.
And what’s the common theme among toxic leaders who continue to ascend the ranks? They get the mission done but leave a trail of destruction in their wake. Bosses routinely fail to identify toxic subordinate commanders, but peers and subordinates always feel the impact. Why does this happen? Why do senior raters look down at subordinate leaders and see mission accomplishment but not the negative interactions they use to make it happen?
Arizona National Guard Soldiers from the 158th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade stand in formation on the field at Arizona State University’s Sun Devil Stadium, Dec. 7, 2014 in Tempe, Ariz. The formation, which was part of the Arizona National Guard Muster and Community Expo, was the first time in over a century Arizona Soldiers and Airmen assembled together in mass formation. Photo
by Staff Sgt. Brian A. Barbour.
Millennials have received a bad rap. The press and others believe millennials want something for nothing and have no work ethic. This myth has led many to believe that they cannot take criticism or lack the intestinal fortitude to serve in the Army. Like many generations before them, each have come with their own quirks and nuances. The Army magnifies these quirks, and unless properly identified and actioned, we risk dismissing the very leaders we are training to replace us one day.
U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Eric J. Radtke, a rifleman, scans the area outside of an objective during Exercise Hamel at Cultana Training Area, South Australia, Australia, July 7, 2016. Radtke, from Oak Creek, Wisconsin, is with Company C, 1st Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, Marine Rotational Force – Darwin. (U.S. Marine Corps photo
by Lance Cpl. Osvaldo L. Ortega III)
Anyone in search of success should plan on finding failure along the way. Not only should it be accepted as a matter of course, failure should be invited as an indicator of what works and what doesn’t. Those who never fail aren’t pushing themselves hard enough, as the saying goes.
But failure in leadership is tricky because leadership involves people. Catastrophic failure is not acceptable, but it’s helpful to fail just enough to learn good lessons without hurting your people. Then hopefully the lesson will stick with the leader throughout the career and benefit future organizations and their people. That’s how I learned a vital lesson about communication and trust.
Army 1SG Joshua Engel, First Sergeant for the 416th Theater Engineer Command, Headquarters Company.
to U.S. Army photo by SFC Michel Sauret.
Growth in the world begins with growth inside. Good leaders exhibit a moment to moment commitment to become something more than what they are. They read to learn. They engage to be challenged. They listen to be enlightened. Consequently, their followers’ growth is a reflection of that process.
In your quest to become more than you were yesterday, here are a few podcast interviews I’ve listened to lately that made me want to pull over the car and take notes. Enjoy!
This week, I was unexpectedly reintroduced to the service and sacrifice woven through the U.S. Army’s 241 year history. It happened at a performance of the Twilight Tattoo, hosted by the 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) and the U.S. Army Band at Fort Myer, VA. This hour-long show is open to the public every Wednesday throughout the Summer and should definitely be on your DC bucket list.
The Commander in Chief’s Guard, Honor Guard, Presidential Salute Battery, the Old Guard Fife & Drum Corps, and the U.S. Army Drill Team took the field with singers and performers from the Army Band to showcase the vital role the Soldier has played in the formation and preservation of our Nation. Firing muskets, riding horses from the Caisson Platoon, and performing precision rifle drill…the show was a huge hit with kids and adults, civilians and veterans alike.
More importantly, this spotlight on our gallant past inspired a reminder that we can gain valuable perspective by honoring our lineage of service, and that leaders can inject pride into their formations by connecting today’s Soldiers with yesterday’s sacrifice. Here are some thoughts on how to do it.
Soldiers of 4th Battalion, 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) form the Fife & Drum Corps and perform in the Twilight Tattoo at Fort Myer, Virginia. See more photos from the Twilight Tattoo at this link
There are many reasons that a person joins an organization. No matter the reason, that person should strive to make a positive difference to the organization and its members. This impact…the cohesion that comes from positively influencing others…is the foundation of trust. And gaining it can be boiled down to three fundamentals: Competence, Caring, and Communication.
Personnel from the Air Transport Office, Post Office, and Supply Department unload mail and cargo from a MH-53E Sea Dragon assigned to the “Blackhawks” of Helicopter Mine Countermeasures Squadron One Five (HM-15) on the flight deck aboard the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CVN 65), Arabian Gulf. U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate Airman Milosz Reterski.
You might not have realized it, but there’s an important date in the lives of your Soldiers that you should pay attention to. You don’t know the exact time yet – it could be weeks, months, or years away – but it’s out there. And it’s a big day for them, and for the Army. I’m talking about the reenlistment date for every Soldier you lead and like it or not, everything you do influences whether or not the day will come.
The American flag reflects in the glasses of an officer with the 82nd Airborne Division’s 1st Brigade Combat Team as he reenlists another paratrooper on Combat Outpost Qara Baugh, Ghazni province, Afghanistan, April 22, 2012. U.S. Army photo
by Sgt. Reed Knutson.