“Two Matts and a Pat” – Recognizing the Value of Mentorship

by Nicholas Simontis

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.[1] 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.

The Art of Presence

by Harlan Kefalas

Leaders illustrate through their presence that they care. There is no greater inspiration than leaders who routinely share in team hardships and dangers. Being where subordinates perform duties allows the leader to have firsthand knowledge of the real conditions Soldiers and Army Civilians face. Presence is a critical attribute leaders need to understand. It is not just a matter of showing up; actions, words, and the manner in which leaders carry themselves convey presence.
-ADRP 6-22, paragraph 4-2.

All leaders have presence. Initially, it is physical. As leaders progress through the ranks, the sheer number of Soldiers compounds the leader’s ability to be physically present for each of them. The challenge then becomes how leaders can make their presence felt and build trust in the organization when they can’t be everywhere, all the time.


U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Matthew Kahler, left, supervises and provides security for Pfcs. Jonathan Ayers and Adam Hamby while they emplace an M240 machine gun as part of a fighting position in the mountains of Afghanistan’s Kunar Province on Oct. 23, 2007. The soldiers are all from 2nd Battalion, 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment. DoD photo by Staff Sgt. Justin Holley, U.S. Army.

Have We Removed Leadership from Leader Development?

Every year, new command teams spend thoughtful hours crafting the words that will precisely convey their version of unit success. This intent typically reaches the service members in the form of an organizational mission statement or “Unit Vision.” And if your experience is anything like mine, leader development takes center stage. When those command teams brief their vision to the unit, the slides inevitably include phrases like these:

“Developing leaders is our #1 priority.”
“Leader Development is in everything we do.” 
“The heart of this unit is its leaders.”
“Good leadership is our most important asset.”

Sound about right?

But when was the last time you participated in a unit leader development event that was focused on the practice of leadership? Not doctrine, not staff processes, not command supply discipline…leadership! It’s probably been a while.

leader development

Spc. Brandyn Sprague, with the 505th Theater Tactical Signal Brigade, headquartered in Las Vegas, fires a 9mm pistol at the qualification range on Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey, during the 2014 Army Reserve Best Warrior Competition.
(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Michel Sauret)

It’s been a while because collectively we have compartmentalized the study of leadership to the schoolhouse. We’ve also adopted the belief that training events fulfill the requirement to develop leaders. When “Leader Development is in everything we do,” going to the range is leader development; so is doing PT and inspecting vehicles. Leader development has evolved to encompass everything except the very activity its name implies – teaching our people how to be good leaders.

Allow me to explain why this has occurred and what you can do about it.

Where’s Your Latitude? (ADP 6-22)

Effective organizations rely on leaders to balance uncertainty, remain flexible, and provide a climate where subordinates have the latitude to explore options.

–  ADP 6-22 Army Leadership, pg. 2

It’s happened to all of us. We receive a mission or task and launch into generating creative ways to execute it…only to be told which course of action to take and methods to use. This is a let-down for people who like tackling challenges on their own. Further, this directed approach prevents the subordinates from contributing alternate (and perhaps better) solutions.

Several factors about the military culture make it easy for leaders to reduce subordinate latitude:

  • the premium we place on the leader’s “experience”
  • the severe consequences of underperformance or failure
  • the complexity of the missions
  • the fast pace of operations

Nonetheless, doctrine asserts that the good units are the ones that foster critical thinking and creativity in solving problems. In fact, consider the opposite point…units will be ineffective if they do not give subordinates latitude in executing their missions.

Consider a few ways to ensure you’re giving your team the freedom to explore options:

  1. Acknowledge that you don’t have all the answers
  2. Ask for different perspectives in defining the problem and generating solutions
  3.  Realize that your perspective is different from your team’s (you’re probably giving more guidance than you think)
  4. Adopt the “left and right limits” approach to giving guidance (typically associated with Mission Command)
  5. Be patient when subordinates complete a mission in a way that’s not what you would have chosen; as long as it’s not illegal, immoral, unethical, and meets your intent…let it ride.

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Wisdom from Doctrine (ADP 6-22 – Army Leadership)


“Encouragement and inspiration characterize leadership whereas coercive techniques run counter to Army leadership principles. Subordinates respond well to leadership that encourages commitment to achieve shared goals, thus improving the leader’s ability to use indirect influence in situations where clear lines of authority do not exist. Leadership seeks to influence others through the communication of ideas and common causes. Positive, empowering influence comes by knowing how to lead, relate to others, and free other to manage tasks.”

– Army Doctrine Publication (ADP) 6-22 Army Leadership

Two points are worth noting about this paragraph from ADP 6-22 – Army Leadership.

  1. When was the last time you encouraged and inspired your team? The guidance clearly states that Army leaders are to develop their leadership styles based on “encouragement and inspiration” and that coercive influence is not acceptable. It’s very easy to focus on task accomplishment and forget the emotional component of performance. Truth is, that’s what most people respond to; we all like to find encouragement and inspiration. And it doesn’t have to be the soft and cuddly encouragement; your team likely won’t respond to that. Connect your team to the unit’s or the Army’s history; remind them of the higher purpose of serving; or highlight the long line of sacrifice that others have made. In accordance with ADP 6-22, find ways to create a positive environment…not one that is simply absent of negativity. There’s definitely a difference.
  2. The other interesting point within the text is that leaders who create trust through positive leadership and shared values create the impetus to accomplish the mission when “clear lines of authority do not exist.” Essentially, this builds an environment where team members excel even when they aren’t required to, which can be powerful for an organization.

Bottom Line

“Not being toxic” is not enough for Army leadership. Our Soldiers and officers deserve more. They deserve leaders who build their leadership personas on positivity and inspiration, knowing that such an environment will allow their teams to accomplish more.

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