Suddenly I am of sufficient age and experience that young people occasionally contact me in search of mentorship. Based upon my military, intelligence community, and interagency experience, they often think I can provide them a road map to the career of their dreams.
These young people ask, “How do I get a job at Department W?” “How do I get a job at Agency X?” “I am thinking of doing Y or Z, what should I do?” I typically respond by asking the young person to take a moment of pause, then I share a routine I call Traits and Obituaries.
A Marine participates in a field training exercise during Iron Sword 16, a training exercise, in Rukla Training Area, Lithuania, Nov. 29, 2016. The annual multinational exercise involves 11 NATO allies training to increase combined infantry capabilities and forge relationships. Marine Corps photo
by Sgt. Kirstin Merrimarahajara.
Earlier this week, I was perusing the recently released O6 promotion list and an analogy came to mind about our shrinking Army. I envisioned a WWI scene in which ranks of hopeful O5’s clambered out of the trenches only to be cut down by raking machine gun fire…the next wave of O5’s ready to take their place. A grizzly vision perhaps, but the decline in promotion numbers will continue as the Army draws down in the wake of fifteen years of war.
Since then, several thoughtful and humorous articles have been published describing the role of luck and timing in promotions. As I read these articles considering my own prospects and what I’ve done personally and professionally to prepare myself for promotion consideration, my thoughts kept returning to the role and value of mentorship, personally and professionally, exemplified in three former bosses.
Air Force Col. Rhett Champagne, left, commander, 821st Contingency Response Group, discusses an airfield assessment with Air Force Capt. William Jackson during Swift Response 16 at Hohenfels, Germany, June 16, 2016. Air Force photo
by Master Sgt. Joseph Swafford.
In An Open Letter to Cadets, Drew Steadman urges current Cadets to use their college time wisely to develop into the kind of leaders we need in today’s Army. To develop those future leaders, we need good Company Commanders and First Sergeants to serve as Assistant Professors of Military Science (APMS) and Senior Military Instructors (SMI) at college campuses across the country.
340 cadets were commissioned as Second Lieutenants following the 2010 Leader Development and Assessment Course at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash. More than 6,000 cadets attend the course, also known as Operation Warrior Forge. Photo
Credit: Al Zdarsky.
In 1996, ninety-eight men and women successfully reached the summit of Mount Everest. Unfortunately, fifteen climbers lost their lives. On May 10 of that year, a series of mishaps mixed with a powerful storm to create one of the deadliest days in the mountain’s history. The story of the two teams, led by Rob Hall and Scott Fischer, has become famous due to the blockbuster movie Everest and several books written by the survivors.
Why did some climbers make it to the top and back to basecamp that day, while others lost their lives? John Krakauer, one of the survivors and author of Into Thin Air wrote the following:
“Truth be told, climbing Everest has always been an extraordinary dangerous undertaking and doubtless always will be…the strongest guides in the world are sometimes powerless to save even their own lives. Four of my teammates died not so much because Rob Hall’s systems were faulty-indeed, nobody’s were better-but because on Everest it is the nature of systems to break down with a vengeance.”
Krakauer’s remarks highlight the point that when it comes to Everest type endeavors, it is not only training and preparation that matter – it is also luck. Therefore, we must take the time to reflect on the sources of our successes and failures to better understand our own strengths and weaknesses. By doing so we avoid two pitfalls that can affect later performance: committing fundamental attribution error and developing an overconfidence bias. Both of these pitfalls can leave us blinded and we won’t focus on areas where we need to improve, or we miss out on chance opportunities, or worse, we hitch our personal value to our professional progression (or lack thereof).
Eighty-year-old Yuichiro Miura faces the summit of Mount Everest on his way to becoming the oldest person ever to climb the world’s highest mountain. Link
to photo on The Japan Times Online.
They call you lady luck,
But there is room for doubt,
At times you have a very un-lady-like way
Of running out.
– Frank Sinatra in “Luck be a Lady”
In his recent post on the influence of luck on a career, Army officer and editor of The Military Leader Drew Steadman offers a somewhat light-hearted perspective on chance and success. Why are some people so lucky while others seem to slog along professionally? Where do you draw the line between luck and talent? What are the limits to luck in a successful career? How do you create your own luck?
Luck can be a fickle creature. As Frank Sinatra sang in “Luck be a Lady,” it has a tendency to run out when you least expect it. Depend on luck too much, and you’ll find yourself on the hard-luck side of the professional craps table, staring down dice that never seem to roll your way. On the other hand, carefully cultivated luck can do much to keep your career on a winning trajectory.
Brevet Major General George Armstrong Custer, 1865. Photo on Wikipedia
Recently, Drew Steadman posted a thought-provoking piece on the large role luck plays in a military career. His four points are all worth pondering, but I find the last one, “Create an environment for luck,” the most compelling…or at least the item that came to my mind during our internal discussions on this topic.
Build for your team a feeling of oneness, of dependence on one another
and of strength to be derived by unity. – Vince Lombardi
Carnage like this followed the Battle of 73 Easting in 1991, where luck coupled with the lethality of E Troop, 2d ACR, commanded by then Captain HR McMaster. McMaster’s tactical success garnered strategic visibility that would follow him his entire career.
…you were born into 0.4% of the US population
…you avoided serious criminal offenses as an adolescent
…you can do push ups, sit ups, and run
…you stumbled upon worthwhile mentors who taught you the basics of leadership
…you were placed in a branch that at least mildly aligned with your passions
…you didn’t get a course-ending case of cellulitis in Ranger School
…you got orders to a unit with a legitimate operational future, where you could gain valuable experience
…you joined a unit with NCOs who cared about developing junior officers
…you didn’t get someone killed at your first live fire range…
Retired Lt. Col. Alissa Turner places the general officer rank on her husband, Brig. Gen. William Turner’s, Field Artillery School commandant and chief of FA, uniform during his promotion ceremony Oct. 9, 2014 on Old Post Quadrangle. Photo
Credit: Ms. Marie Berberea
Every year, hundreds of officers approach a professional development milestone that will determine whether they achieve what many consider a lifelong goal. That milestone is the Battalion Command Selection Board. Though they’ve put in hard work over countless hours to become competitive for this board, most officers are uninformed about how the Army selects battalion commanders and slates them to specific units.
Even officers I worked with at Human Resources Command were not aware of the intricacies of the process. This post aims to close that knowledge gap by explaining the Centralized Selection List (CSL) process. It is immediately relevant for Army officers competing for battalion command this year. It is ultimately relevant for anyone who wants to compete for battalion command at some point in his or her career.
The full version of this infographic is available at the end of this article.