Congratulations on being selected as an aide-de-camp. This assignment is like no other assignment you have had. You were selected because of the successful career you’ve had thus far, but also for your potential to continue service for years to come. Being an aide is an amazing broadening assignment where you will get a glimpse into senior level military leadership. But it’s also difficult to prepare for.
Before you do anything else, read the Army’s guidance on serving as aide-de-camp: Officer/Enlisted Aide Handbook. Next, I encourage you to consider the following advice.
U.S. Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, walks with Vietnamese Chief of Defense Lt. Gen. Do Ba Ty at the Ministry of Defense in Hanoi, Vietnam, Aug. 14, 2014. Link
When I was in high school and the service academy, I did what many aspiring military leaders do. I studied famous generals from history and extracted the lessons that I wanted to live and lead by. I compiled quotes from Sun Tzu, Clausewitz, Napoleon…Washington, Marshall, and Powell.
And of course, Patton. I had pages of Patton quotes. There was the “pint of sweat and gallon of blood” quote, the “good plan executed now” dictum, and “L’audace, l’audace, toujours l’audace!” But here’s the quote that stuck with me the most:
“You are always on parade.”
I referenced it almost daily as a clear reminder that example is everything in leadership. [I even wrote about it in You Are Being Watched.] But now, 20 years later, I think Patton’s analogy has a serious flaw.
George Patton, c. 1919.
One fact has remained consistent during my three decades in the military – I am not a mind reader, nor are those who worked with me. Therefore, prior to assuming battalion command, I decided to write an evaluations philosophy. The purpose was three-fold: to reinforce my command philosophy and the performance principles I considered important; to publish how I intended to grade subordinate performance; and to offer my methodology and logic for assigning evaluation block ratings.
Over the years, I have found that such a philosophy is useful for both the senior leader and, more importantly, for the ratee. In this post, I will explain the details of the evaluations philosophy and offer two examples from previous units.
U.S. Army Maj. Gen. James C. Boozer, left, the deputy commanding general and chief of staff for U.S. Army Europe, discusses training plans with U.S. Army Lt. Col. Christopher Budihas, right, during Saber Junction 2012 on Joint Multinational Readiness Center in Hohenfels, Germany, Oct. 17, 2012. Link
to DoD photo.
Leadership and love go hand in hand. Just as leadership has both direct and indirect influence over others, love behaves the same way. How you express this love is unique to how you interpret the relationship. The stern drill sergeant provides “tough love” to young recruits to turn them into Soldiers. The chaplain will provide words of encouragement to reveal a different perspective. We often see them on opposite ends of the leadership spectrum, but the drill sergeant and the chaplain share one key understanding. They both understand how to employ the five love languages based on their situation.
U.S. Marines fire an M240B medium machine gun during exercise Blue Chromite 15 on the Central Training Area in Okinawa, Japan, Nov. 2, 2014. Marines rode in assault amphibious vehicles in a ship-to-shore assault from the USS Germantown to Oura Wan Beach, and then advanced inland to the training area. Link to DoD photo
I am a firm believer in the value of professional reading as a critical part of professional and personal development. Early in my career, I began maintaining a list of titles that leaders and peers recommended, a list that expanded considerably during my time in CGSC and SAMS. But I was seldom able to whittle it down, let alone think critically about what I was reading. Professional responsibilities, family obligations, TDY travel, and deployments continued to pile on and, probably just like you, professional reading was the victim.
Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Juliet Moth reads through a safety study guide in the weapons handling area aboard the USS Ronald Reagan, the Navy’s only forward-deployed aircraft carrier, in the South China Sea, July 16, 2016. Navy photo
by Petty Officer 3rd Class Ryan McFarlane.
Know this…the demands of being a leader put you on a path to break someone’s heart. Meetings and phone calls, requirements and taskings, emails and paperwork. They serve as culturally-legitimized distractions that can divert leaders from seeing and doing the right thing. And if you don’t sort through the sea of busywork to identify the glass balls, soldiers and families can get hurt. It took an ugly failure to teach me that lesson.
Tiffany Smiley holds her youngest son while watching her husband Capt. Scott M Smiley salute the colors during the U.S. Army Warrior Transition Unit at West Point change of command ceremony Feb 1. U.S. Army photo
by Tommy Gilligan.
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.
As historian Hew Strachan states in The Direction of War, “Operational thinking finds its intellectual focus in doctrine.” Doctrine drives how leaders think and fight. But when the Army publishes new doctrine, as an institution we owe it to ourselves to do a better job informing, then educating, the Total Army force.
Soldiers maneuver in an M1A1 Abrams tank as an AH-64 Apache helicopter provides aerial security during exercise Decisive Action Rotation at Fort Irwin, Calif., Sept. 6, 2016. The soldiers are assigned to the 4th Infantry Division’s 3rd Brigade Combat Team. Army photo
by Pfc. Michael Crews.