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.
The purpose of the article is to introduce you to the extraordinary leader. First, a definition. A description of the extraordinary leader must examine the two separate parts of the term. Extraordinary: very unusual or remarkable. Leader: a person who has commanding authority or influence.
If we combine the two definitions, we have “a remarkable person who has commanding authority or influence.” But it doesn’t tell us what this leader does, how we can recognize one, or what we should aspire to become, if that is our intent. For this we must look at what this extraordinary leader does, for it is in that behavior, the outward actions recognizable by all, that we find the foundational aspects of the extraordinary leader.
Air Force Capt. Daniel Stancin applies face paint during survival, evasion, resistance and escape training at Yokota Air Base, Japan, April 21, 2016. Stancin is a navigator assigned to the 36th Airlift Squadron. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Delano Scott.
Staff officers are not often seen as dynamic leaders who are pivotal to a unit’s success in combat. Very few history books are written, and even fewer movies are made, about the exploits of a staff officer who saves the world. They are generally depicted as the bumbling fool or road-blocking bureaucrat who holds the hero back from accomplishing the mission.
1st Lt. Daniel Barrow (left) and Chief Warrant Officer Todd Berlinghof monitor the track of a simulated storm – “Hurricane Herb” – during an exercise at the Florida National Guard’s Joint Emergency Operations Center in St. Augustine, Fla. Photo
by Tech. Sgt. Thomas Kielbasa.
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.
Bayonets, Forward! With this command Union Army Colonel Joshua L. Chamberlain ordered the 20th Maine Regiment to execute a daring counterattack against the 15th Alabama Regiment of the Confederate Army on July 2nd 1863 during the Battle of Gettysburg. At the extreme left flank of the Union Army, the 20th Maine fought off repeated assaults for the past several hours against the determined Confederate Soldiers.
Outnumbered and low on ammunition, Chamberlain’s bold decision and courageous leadership led his men of Maine down the slopes of Little Round Top at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania and stopped the Confederate assault against the Union Army’s left flank.
This iconic scene immortalized in Jeff Shaara’s Killer Angels, the movie Gettysburg, and Army Doctrine publications as the epitome of leadership in action, is just a snapshot in the portfolio of Chamberlain’s remarkable and unparalleled career.
Brigadier Joshua L. Chamberlain. Link
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.
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.]
We remember the books that change us…that alter our thinking, move us emotionally, or reveal unseen, enlightening perspectives. Powell’s My American Journey did that for me. So did Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything. And when I read Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking in 2007, I recall connecting so many new insights that I didn’t have enough book margin to capture them all. The relevancy for the military profession spilled off of the pages and sparked an intellectual curiosity that has lasted for years.
The topic is neuroscience and the breakthrough discoveries that its researchers have made in recent years. As neuroscientists publish fascinating papers about how the brain functions, authors like Gladwell, Jonah Lehrer, David Rock, Joseph LeDoux, and others translated their work into digestible language with real world application. From decision psychology to organizational efficiency to change detection and management, new understanding of the brain is changing how we live our lives.
But as I made connections from neuroscience to the military profession, specifically tactical combat leadership, I found few resources to aide the service member, Dave Grossman’s On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society and Warrior Mindset being the most useful. So I decided to embark on a personal quest to publish something that references neuroscience to improve military leader performance. What resulted was my first published article and a Master’s thesis on the topic. This post is an adapted version of that endeavor.