“Action Man” – Know Your Role and Be a Hero

by Matt Rasmussen

Have you ever had the Lieutenant Colonel who was the best squad leader in the battalion and made sure everyone knew it? Ever seen a team leader trying to lead a fire team from the rear during a live fire? Have you ever had majors worrying about whether soldiers should load ruck sacks or duffel bags into the belly of an aircraft?

The results aren’t always pretty. The organization suffers when leaders forget the level at which they’re supposed to lead. At each rank, officers and NCOs fit into the unit in different ways. Their expanding education and experience means that they should bring different talents to the organization. The unit depends on them for it.

This article is a framework for visualizing and describing the types of leaders a unit will typically see:  Action Man, Planning Man, Concept Man, and Decision Man. No rank or role has greater value than the others, only different responsibilities and functions in the formation. If today’s military leader knows where he fits into the team and what role he plays, he’ll be a hero.


An Open Letter to Cadets

Whether graduation is weeks or years away, the countdown that started at 1,460 days will eventually come to an end. Imagine it for a moment. You and your anxious cohort are seated for the ceremony. Proud parents are watching from the stands. The National Anthem is cued. Commencement speakers are on the stage. It’s your last day in a cadet uniform.


When Everest Just Isn’t Your Summit

by Joe Byerly

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.

Making Sense of Battalion Command Selection

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.

4 Keys to a Successful Military Transition

by Robert Gowin

It’s not easy to plan your post-military life in the waning days of your active duty time. Deployments, field training, family time, and the normal everyday challenges stand in your way as obstacles. The time you have is usually filled with friends, loved ones, or just focused on you. For me, it was easy to get caught up in the “bubble” I lived in – if it didn’t have an impact on my world, I didn’t give it much attention.

I separated from the Army twice – the first time after four years and the second after twenty. There was a huge difference in how I approached each of those transitions. There were no transition assistance programs available during my initial transition, but I’m not sure it would have helped me much due to a terrible economy. The lessons I learned and the struggle I experienced following my first transition made me aware of the challenges ahead and how I needed to overcome them before I planned my second transition.


U.S. Air Force illustration by Airman 1st Class Jensen Stidham

Achieving Effects with Your Boss, pt. 3: Decision Time

So far in the Achieving Effects with Your Boss series, we’ve covered how to make the right first impression and how to engage your boss with intention. Now that you’re comfortable with the leadership environment your boss has established, it’s time to discuss how to influence his decision making to achieve effects for you, your team, and the greater organization.


Secretary of the Army John McHugh listens as Commander of the Combined Arms Center Lt. Gen. David G. Perkins briefs during a visit at the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, April 20, 2012 at Joint Base Langley–Eustis, Va. U.S. Army Photo by Staff Sgt. Bernardo Fuller.

Achieving Effects with Your Boss, pt. 2: Intentional Engagement

Spotlight Ranger. That’s the label service members use to characterize people who put in average performance day to day, then put on a show whenever the boss is around. Soldiers see right through them and they earn little respect in the unit.

While you must at all costs avoid becoming a spotlight ranger (i.e. dedicate yourself to superb performance regardless of the audience), you don’t want to miss an opportunity to showcase your unit’s good work to your boss. The first post in this series focused on how to start off on the right foot with a new boss. Today’s post looks at how to engage during three types of opportunities you will encounter during your tenure as leader.


Brig. Gen. Robert B. Abrams, National Training Center commanding general, briefs Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, TRADOC commanding general, during Dempsey’s visit to Fort Irwin, Cali., Sep. 23, 2009. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Angelica G. Golindano.)

Achieving Effects with Your Boss, pt. 1: First Impressions

On the list of items that leaders should care about, there are few higher than achieving effects with your boss.* The purpose is clear enough, to ensure alignment while creating opportunities for your own team. But leaders often place too much emphasis inward and downward during their key leadership time, and neglect to satisfy higher headquarter’s goals.

What’s more, achieving effects with your boss is a tough balancing act. Too assertive and you come off as pushy while alienating yourself from your peers. Too passive and you won’t gain the influence necessary to achieve your goals as a leader.

This series will provide you with the why, when, and how to engage your boss in ways that support his goals while achieving effects for your team. This post, First Impressions, is all about starting off on the right foot. And not to put undue pressure on you, but the process of gaining influence with your boss starts before you even arrive at the unit.

*Above it one might list achieving the mission and building trust with your subordinates.


Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin E. Dempsey meets with Commander of the NATO Training Mission–Afghanistan Lt. Gen. Daniel P. Bolger in Kabul, Afghanistan, Apr. 23, 2012. DoD photo by D. Myles Cullen.