Under certain circumstances, profanity provides relief denied even to prayer.” Mark Twain summarizes the crux of the leader dilemma I found myself in while deployed to Iraq: when is it acceptable to compromise important organizational values to lessen the hardship of an extreme operating environment? The issue arose at the crossroads of a continuous workday in a harsh environment, a new leader assuming responsibility, and the escaping element that music provides.
Wait, did I just accuse you of being afraid? After all, we are leaders who face grave danger in training and combat aren’t we? If it is not fear, then how do we explain why our people are not being counseled? Some might see it differently, but I argue that too many of us have either never experienced counseling or been counseled only a few times in our careers. In a career spanning 27 years, I could count on one hand the number of times I was counseled effectively, meaning my boss invested time working with me to identify the obstacles standing in the way of my growth and advancement.
The pivotal moments are easy to spot: the shot on goal or diving catch with a just few seconds left in the game; the final interview for the position you’ve always wanted; your first day in command. We prepare ourselves for these moments. We practice and rehearse and refine, hoping that when the pressure is on, we’ll emerge victorious.
Finding inspiration to perform during these key milestones is typically easy. What’s not easy is finding inspiration on your 112th day in command. Or on a Wednesday afternoon about to start your second workout of the day. Or when you’re still 37 pounds away from your goal weight and your body physically craves a cheeseburger.
Discovering inspiration in these moments is not easy, but nothing worthwhile will ever happen unless we can find the daily motivation to take small step after small step in the direction of our goals. This motivation is everywhere, but are we plugged into it?
Good leaders are always learning. But legacy only happens when good leaders also take the time to share those lessons with the profession. Lieutenant Colonel Scott Shaw is a great leader, and has selflessly compiled this substantial collection of tips, templates, warnings, and insights to help other leaders succeed in their own leadership opportunities, command or otherwise. He deserves much credit for authoring this incredibly helpful post, but (as he states) the Cottonbaler leaders and Soldiers deserve the real acclaim for creating the experience that led to it.
Think about the unit you’re in or the team you’re on. Do you have the freedom to contribute your own ideas? Does the boss ask for your input in solving problems or does he simply tell you what to do? It’s safe to say that you want the freedom to add value. You want to feel like your contribution actually matters. You want a hand in solving the problem, not just in executing a solution. Such environments encourage creative thought and ultimately lead to better performance.
Why, then, do leaders flip so quickly to “transmit guidance” mode when the team faces a problem? Why do leaders start issuing solutions instead of asking for them? Why do leaders see challenges as opportunities to showcase their own intellect instead of develop the intellect of those they lead?
This Memorial Day, I was thinking about combat. Actually, I started thinking about how to train Soldiers to win in combat. But that naturally drove me to deconstruct the problem and ask, “What is the nature of the combat experience? How does it challenge the individual? What does it demand of everyone who engages in it?
I settled on three traits. These are not sufficient to win in combat, but they are necessary.
This post is not just for cadets. Newly commissioned Infantry Second Lieutenant Dylan DiIulio presents a sizable list of tips on fieldcraft, teamwork, and leadership that apply to any training event. New Soldiers should read this. Sergeants taking over a fire team should read it. Hikers and backpackers can draw some insight from his advice. Take a look and share it widely, especially with those heading to Advanced Camp this summer.
A recent email from a reader asked simply if there is a Military Leader reading list. As a professional who credits books with providing a sizable portion of my development, I was embarrassed to respond in the negative. Though I often write about what I learn from books (here, here, and here), I have neglected to compile a list. This post is a partial remedy.
This is not a cursory list. These are the books that have shaped me and imprinted lessons that directly reflect in my daily leadership life. These are the books that I reference and quote from, and I think you might benefit from reading. Be sure to scroll down, there’s a bonus list at the end. Enjoy!