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.
The question shouldn’t have been a surprise. “So, you just came from command. What did you learn?” Here was my chance to impart all the wisdom I had accumulated over the previous 18 years, culminating in command of a Navy Super Hornet squadron. “So, what did you learn?…”, the inquisitor repeated. “Um…” I sputtered. I had no clue what to say.
A VFA-147 Argonaut jet in “Star Wars Canyon,” Panamint Valley, CA.
In Performance-Based Mentoring for Busy Leaders, I revealed how I selectively divided my time to avoid becoming bogged down by Anchors – non-performing members who display no desire to contribute to the command’s mission. But being busy meant I also needed to divide my time based on paygrade. I did it by viewing my subordinates across these categories: Direct Reports, The Junior Officers, The Chief’s Mess, The First Class Mess, and the Base.
Marines and sailors man the rails aboard the USS Wasp as the ship departs from Port Everglades, Fla., May 10, 2015, at the end of the community’s Fleet Week 2015 celebration. The Marines are assigned to the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit. Link to photo.
Recently I was blessed to spend three years in command of a battalion of outstanding American Soldiers. As with any leadership opportunity, some things went really well and other things did not. As summer approaches and hundreds of leaders prepare to take the unit colors, I offer a few ideas to spur some reflection on commanding a battalion.
As a commander, my leadership focus was simple: 1) Take a servant-leader approach, 2) Train deliberately, and 3) Communicate with intention.
A medical evacuation crew with Company C, 7th Battalion, 101st Aviation Regiment, prepares for takeoff from a refueling point during a collaborative training mission at Fort Campbell, Ky., July 19, 2012. Photo
Credit: Spc. Jennifer Anderson, 159th Combat Aviation Brigade Public Affairs.
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.
Take a look at your unit calendar. Scan the clutter of appointments, meetings, formations, training events, ceremonies, and administrative commitments. Do you see any events dedicated to improving the quality of your people’s leadership? If not…if leadership development isn’t a separate line of effort…then how are you developing leaders?
A U.S. Army Ranger from Bravo Company, 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, keeps his sight on a target with an M240L machine gun during a company live fire training at Camp Roberts, Calif., Jan. 30, 2014. U.S. Army Photo
Illustration by Staff Sgt. Teddy Wade. I like this photo because it’s a reminder that all military leadership boils down to supporting this Soldier on the ground.
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.
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.
When I read this leadership quote a few weeks ago, I kicked myself for not having found it sooner. (It’s the type of advice I’d put in my signature block…and I’m not even a “signature block philosophy” kind of emailer.) It is attributed to the immutably inspirational leader of the Allied coalition in World War II, General Dwight D. Eisenhower. This insight is powerful because it captures the fundamental nature, the heart, of what it means to be a leader. And Eisenhower uses only 26 words to do it.
Senior military commanders of World War II. Link
[Seated L-R: Gens. William Simpson, George Patton, Carl Spaatz, Dwight Eisenhower, Omar Bradley, Courtney Hodges, & Leonard Gerow
Standing L-R: Gens. Ralph Stearley, Hoyt Vandenberg, Walter Bedell Smith, Otto Weyland, & Richard Nugent.]