As the saying goes, when everything is a priority, nothing is. In a system that heaps requirements and tasks on subordinate units, leaders routinely struggle to reach 100% compliance. Though some try, leaders cannot do it all themselves. They must prioritize tasks and delegate work to subordinates. But what tasks are appropriate to delegate? Which ball drops when there are conflicting priorities? It would be helpful to have a framework to sort it all out.
Congratulations on being selected as an aide-de-camp. This assignment is like no other assignment you have had. You were selected because of the successful career you’ve had thus far, but also for your potential to continue service for years to come. Being an aide is an amazing broadening assignment where you will get a glimpse into senior level military leadership. But it’s also difficult to prepare for.
Before you do anything else, read the Army’s guidance on serving as aide-de-camp: Officer/Enlisted Aide Handbook. Next, I encourage you to consider the following advice.
Leadership and love go hand in hand. Just as leadership has both direct and indirect influence over others, love behaves the same way. How you express this love is unique to how you interpret the relationship. The stern drill sergeant provides “tough love” to young recruits to turn them into Soldiers. The chaplain will provide words of encouragement to reveal a different perspective. We often see them on opposite ends of the leadership spectrum, but the drill sergeant and the chaplain share one key understanding. They both understand how to employ the five love languages based on their situation.
The best leaders don’t use anger as a leadership tool. Anger is not a mandatory component of leadership because there are countless examples of successful leaders who never get angry. Yet, we can think of many leaders whose anger has compromised their effectiveness. The question is: what does anger get you? And then at what cost?
We are all familiar with the warning that “power corrupts.” And if you’re like me, when you hear the phrase the first type of corrupted power you think of is greed. The ruthless Gordon Gekko from Wall Street comes to mind. If you shift the phrase to the military frame of reference, you might think of generals breaking joint ethics regulations on TDY travel and contracting, or perhaps the senior leader with the moral lapse.
The commonality among them is a feeling of invincibility that either distorts judgment or severs behavior from prudent thought. When power is involved, we are all at risk.
Becoming a successful leader should mean more than just getting the mission done. It should also mean taking care of Soldiers and families and making a difference in the lives of those we lead. We don’t talk about it often, but that’s what we intuitively feel. Followers desire leaders who guide the team to accomplish the mission while respecting and inspiring them.
And what’s the common theme among toxic leaders who continue to ascend the ranks? They get the mission done but leave a trail of destruction in their wake. Bosses routinely fail to identify toxic subordinate commanders, but peers and subordinates always feel the impact. Why does this happen? Why do senior raters look down at subordinate leaders and see mission accomplishment but not the negative interactions they use to make it happen?
Anyone in search of success should plan on finding failure along the way. Not only should it be accepted as a matter of course, failure should be invited as an indicator of what works and what doesn’t. Those who never fail aren’t pushing themselves hard enough, as the saying goes.
But failure in leadership is tricky because leadership involves people. Catastrophic failure is not acceptable, but it’s helpful to fail just enough to learn good lessons without hurting your people. Then hopefully the lesson will stick with the leader throughout the career and benefit future organizations and their people. That’s how I learned a vital lesson about communication and trust.
Link to U.S. Army photo by SFC Michel Sauret.
There are many reasons that a person joins an organization. No matter the reason, that person should strive to make a positive difference to the organization and its members. This impact…the cohesion that comes from positively influencing others…is the foundation of trust. And gaining it can be boiled down to three fundamentals: Competence, Caring, and Communication.