The Good (and Bad?) of Mentorship

Mentorship in the military is one of those concepts that everyone agrees with but almost no one does. Plenty of up and coming leaders get advice from commanders, senior leaders, and enlisted advisors, but seldom does the intensity of influence extend beyond the time served together or delve into areas of personal development.


U.S. Army Pvt. 1st Class Jo Marie Rivera, left, and U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Rebecca Hamby provide security in the Tarnek Wa Jaldek district in Afghanistan’s Zabul province, Sept. 18, 2013. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Kandi Huggins

The Science of “Mission First, People Always”

Is there a more nebulous, often clichéd phrase in our military than “Mission First, People Always?” I’ve long-struggled with how to first logically explain the idea, but then turn the concept into a tangible leadership strategy.

And for military leaders whose job it is to expertly place people at grave risk to achieve the mission, at what point is it acceptable for the “People Always” part to fade away? Clearly a complicated topic.

Maybe the real proving ground of “Mission First, People Always” is the road to combat, not combat itself. It’s all the training and leadership interactions that go into making a unit lethal while maintaining the cohesion of its people (and families) along the way.

Mission First, People Always

U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Jonathan Baird, left, provides security during a vertical assault at Combat Town, Okinawa, Japan, Dec. 10, 2014. Baird is a rifleman assigned to Echo Company, Battalion Landing Team, 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit. U.S. Marine Corps. Photo by Lance Cpl. Richard Currier. Link to photo.

Sleep that Sabotages Leadership

Today’s HBR recommendation, “Your Abusive Boss Is Probably an Insomniac,” is a summary of findings from a study published in the Academy of Management Journal. The researchers studied 88 leaders and their teams to find out if the leaders’ sleep habits affected performance at work. The result?…you guessed it, but there’s a twist:

We found that daily leader sleep quality, but not quantity, influenced the leader’s self-control and abusive supervision behavior, and ultimately the degree to which his or her subordinates were engaged in their work that day. It is not clear why sleep quantity did not have the effect we predicted, but the effect for sleep quality was very clear; a given leader engaged in more jerky boss behavior after a poor night of sleep than a good night of sleep, and this influenced his or her subordinates to disengage from work.


Photo by Odi Mitch. Link to photo.

Article: “A Military Leader’s Approach to Dealing with Complexity”

Here is a short Harvard Business Review article from Air Force Brigadier General John Michel (@JohnEMichel and GeneralLeadership). Brig. Gen. Michel was most recently the commander of NATO Air Training Command Afghanistan and shares several grassroots leadership lessons in this article, entitled “A Military Leader’s Approach to Dealing with Complexity.”


U.S. Army Sgt. Robert Newman, Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment, U.S. Army Europe, watches the sunrise after a dismounted patrol mission near Forward Operating Base Baylough, Zabul, Afghanistan, March 19, 2009. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Adam Mancini/Released)

7 Military Blogs You Need to Check Out

Get your Sunday reading in with some peer writing. Here are 7 of the best military blogs out there right now if you’re looking for professional, well-written content. What I like about these site is that they’re either created/hosted by an active duty service member, or they’re a repository of active duty writing. So, you know you’re getting relevant content.

military blogs

Army combat helmets assigned to Soldiers participating in the 2009 U.S. Army Reserve Best Warrior Competition sit at the ready during the Urban Warfighting Orientation Course phase of the competition. Link to photo.

A Career of “Career-Ending” Jobs – Eisenhower’s Wavy Path to Success

If you haven’t thought about it from this perspective, consider this about a diminishing military:  we can’t expect that leaders will reduce mission requirements when there are fewer service members  – “Do more with less” sounds appropriate.

And a subsequent effect is that the service members who remain will have less of a say in their assignment choice, as “personal preference” cedes ground to “needs of the Army.” Some officer and NCO leaders will receive assignments to perform unglamorous duties in less-than-optimal locations. And they’ll think their career is over because of it.

The Making of a Leader: Dwight D. Eisenhower by retired Army Colonel Robert C. Carroll in the 2009 Edition of Military Review, shows how General Eisenhower’s career had a similar tone. Carroll recounts Ike’s string of “not-so-elegant jobs that many might consider career-enders, but would later pay huge dividends.”

Supreme Allied Commander U.S. Army Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower. Courtesy: Wikipedia.

Challenging the Army Culture – “A Good Answer to an Obsolete Question”

If you haven’t already read this paper from Casey Haskins, it’s definitely worth a look. You may not agree with the sweeping premise, that the present-day Army suffers under the administrative and philosophical burden of the Cold War era. But there are plenty of valid points that will cause you to evaluate the quality of your own leadership and your organization’s culture.

The SlideShare document is below and you can scroll through it for a quick look. I’ve also included the paper’s Conclusion, which is a bullet list of bold changes and a summary of the paper’s tone. Keep in mind that it is a few years old, too.

Article: “10 Things You’re Doing at Work That Say ‘I Don’t Care'”

Here’s a thought-provoking article from that will bring you back to the personal elements of leadership, customer service, and engagement that we often forget. Check out all of the “10 Things You’re Doing at Work That Say ‘I Don’t Care’,” but here are a few that stood out as relevant for military leaders.

  • #1 – You Don’t Touch Base on Projects. One big problem for the military is that staffs don’t coordinate as much as they should. Parallel planning turns into separate planning, and echelons arrive at the deadline only to find that they have been shooting at different targets. Tip: Pick up the phone, confirm details and guidance, ask questions, and share products.
  • #4 – You Don’t Ask About Someone’s Personal Life. I have been guilty of this fault and I feel like a hollow leader when I can’t connect with subordinates/teammates on a personal level. It is a fact that military leaders have more official topics to discuss than there is room in the day to converse about them. It’s easy to leave out personal conversation but the good leaders recognize that connection as a way to not only build cohesion, but to discover important details about individuals, such as motivators and risk factors.
  • #6 – You Wait Until the Last Minute to Ask for What You Need. Military leaders are notorious for taking on a task, retreating to a dark office to plan it, then rushing out at the last-minute to plead for help. The worst offenders are the ones who don’t delegate well and the organization suffers because they don’t ask for help from the team or their boss. Rank is a great motivator; you should use it sometimes. As long as your boss isn’t a toxic jerk, let him know you’re coming up short on a project and could use both his expertise to generate new ideas, and his authority to energize others.
  • #10 – You Forget to Say Thank You or Great Job. Recognition is also an incredible motivator. Tell the team they matter by expressing your thanks in the midst of an event, not just at the change of command. Tip: If you have the authority to give out awards, why not make it your primary method of recognition? Achievement Medals don’t cost anything, so hand them out like candy. 

Questions for Leaders

  • Do you know the first names of the people who work for you?
  • When is the last time you asked your boss for help on a project? Is there a project you need help on now?
  • How much difference would it make if you said Thank You or Great Job at least once an hour every day?

Subscribe to The Military Leader

Complete Archive of Military Leader Posts

Back to Home Page