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?
U.S. Marine Cpls. Armondo Cortez, left, and Estevan D. Hernandeza discuss their plan for dismantling the command operation center during the retrograde of Patrol Base Boldak in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province, Aug. 15, 2014. Cortez, a data network specialist, and Hernandez, a telephone switchboard and personal computer intermediate repairer, are assigned to Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment. Link
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.
A U.S. Army paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne Division’s 1st Brigade Combat Team fires his M4 carbine at insurgents during a firefight June 30, 2012, Ghazni Province, Afghanistan. The vehicle he is using for cover is a Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle. (U.S. Army photo
by Sgt. Michael J. MacLeod, Task Force 1-82 PAO)
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!
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.
U.S. Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, walks with Vietnamese Chief of Defense Lt. Gen. Do Ba Ty at the Ministry of Defense in Hanoi, Vietnam, Aug. 14, 2014. Link
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.
U.S. Marines fire an M240B medium machine gun during exercise Blue Chromite 15 on the Central Training Area in Okinawa, Japan, Nov. 2, 2014. Marines rode in assault amphibious vehicles in a ship-to-shore assault from the USS Germantown to Oura Wan Beach, and then advanced inland to the training area. Link to DoD photo
I am a firm believer in the value of professional reading as a critical part of professional and personal development. Early in my career, I began maintaining a list of titles that leaders and peers recommended, a list that expanded considerably during my time in CGSC and SAMS. But I was seldom able to whittle it down, let alone think critically about what I was reading. Professional responsibilities, family obligations, TDY travel, and deployments continued to pile on and, probably just like you, professional reading was the victim.
Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Juliet Moth reads through a safety study guide in the weapons handling area aboard the USS Ronald Reagan, the Navy’s only forward-deployed aircraft carrier, in the South China Sea, July 16, 2016. Navy photo
by Petty Officer 3rd Class Ryan McFarlane.
Suddenly I am of sufficient age and experience that young people occasionally contact me in search of mentorship. Based upon my military, intelligence community, and interagency experience, they often think I can provide them a road map to the career of their dreams.
These young people ask, “How do I get a job at Department W?” “How do I get a job at Agency X?” “I am thinking of doing Y or Z, what should I do?” I typically respond by asking the young person to take a moment of pause, then I share a routine I call Traits and Obituaries.
A Marine participates in a field training exercise during Iron Sword 16, a training exercise, in Rukla Training Area, Lithuania, Nov. 29, 2016. The annual multinational exercise involves 11 NATO allies training to increase combined infantry capabilities and forge relationships. Marine Corps photo
by Sgt. Kirstin Merrimarahajara.
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.