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.
Let’s face it, even the most humble and open-minded person hates to be wrong or seem ignorant in public. While it will always be fun for leaders to scream “SIGO!” when anything with electrons running through it fails, a deeper understanding of the S6 shop’s capabilities will improve decision-making and calm tempers. Below are five tips to help frame an improved perspective of the S6 shop.
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.
Have you ever had the Lieutenant Colonel who was the best squad leader in the battalion and made sure everyone knew it? Ever seen a team leader trying to lead a fire team from the rear during a live fire? Have you ever had majors worrying about whether soldiers should load ruck sacks or duffel bags into the belly of an aircraft?
The results aren’t always pretty. The organization suffers when leaders forget the level at which they’re supposed to lead. At each rank, officers and NCOs fit into the unit in different ways. Their expanding education and experience means that they should bring different talents to the organization. The unit depends on them for it.
This article is a framework for visualizing and describing the types of leaders a unit will typically see: Action Man, Planning Man, Concept Man, and Decision Man. No rank or role has greater value than the others, only different responsibilities and functions in the formation. If today’s military leader knows where he fits into the team and what role he plays, he’ll be a hero.
I bet that more than once a day, you let out a sigh of frustration at the absentminded staff activity that surrounds you…Your boss asks why you didn’t respond to his “urgent” email. THE NEW OPERATIONS NCO TYPES IN ALL CAPS (incredibly annoying). Someone prints 30 full-page copies of the 53-slide presentation because, “there are 30 people in the meeting, right?” And in that meeting, your unit’s update doesn’t make it to the slides, even though you sent them yesterday.
And those are just the ones you notice! There are probably dozens more inefficiencies, idiosyncrasies, and ineptitudes you aren’t even aware of that impair you and your staff’s productivity.
Having spent a few years in the Army staff machine, I offer these immediate adjustments to reclaim your sanity and reduce the needless, often well-intentioned but inefficient staff practices that keep you from getting more important work done.
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.
I once had a senior rater observe that life for staff officers like the ones assembled before him consisted of 80 percent making the railroad run – that is, doing the standard and recurring activities common to military staffs around the world. The other 20 percent, he mused, was for pushing things forward: innovating, dreaming, adding one’s personal mark in new ways.
I think that for most staff officers this maxim is true. For some of the most fortunate among us, however, the ratio is reversed: 20 percent boilerplate activities, and 80 percent new and different. Whereas their 80/20 peers are more like “Conductors”, the 20/80 folks get to be “Artists.” Approached correctly, it is an exciting opportunity that can result in a highlight of one’s career.
There’s nothing more frustrating for a subordinate headquarters than to receive an order that lacks context on the situation or fails to provide the resources needed for execution. It seems that some people advance in their careers and forget what it’s like to serve at the lower levels. One example provides a good lesson on how higher leaders and staffs can enable their organizations instead of causing confusion.