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.
One fact has remained consistent during my three decades in the military – I am not a mind reader, nor are those who worked with me. Therefore, prior to assuming battalion command, I decided to write an evaluations philosophy. The purpose was three-fold: to reinforce my command philosophy and the performance principles I considered important; to publish how I intended to grade subordinate performance; and to offer my methodology and logic for assigning evaluation block ratings.
Over the years, I have found that such a philosophy is useful for both the senior leader and, more importantly, for the ratee. In this post, I will explain the details of the evaluations philosophy and offer two examples from previous units.
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.
In Performance-Based Mentoring for Busy Leaders, I revealed how I selectively divided my time to avoid becoming bogged down by Anchors – non-performing members who display no desire to contribute to the command’s mission. But being busy meant I also needed to divide my time based on paygrade. I did it by viewing my subordinates across these categories: Direct Reports, The Junior Officers, The Chief’s Mess, The First Class Mess, and the Base.
Recently I was blessed to spend three years in command of a battalion of outstanding American Soldiers. As with any leadership opportunity, some things went really well and other things did not. As summer approaches and hundreds of leaders prepare to take the unit colors, I offer a few ideas to spur some reflection on commanding a battalion.
As a commander, my leadership focus was simple: 1) Take a servant-leader approach, 2) Train deliberately, and 3) Communicate with intention.
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.
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?
Every year, new command teams spend thoughtful hours crafting the words that will precisely convey their version of unit success. This intent typically reaches the service members in the form of an organizational mission statement or “Unit Vision.” And if your experience is anything like mine, leader development takes center stage. When those command teams brief their vision to the unit, the slides inevitably include phrases like these:
“Developing leaders is our #1 priority.”
“Leader Development is in everything we do.”
“The heart of this unit is its leaders.”
“Good leadership is our most important asset.”
Sound about right?
But when was the last time you participated in a unit leader development event that was focused on the practice of leadership? Not doctrine, not staff processes, not command supply discipline…leadership! It’s probably been a while.
(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Michel Sauret)
It’s been a while because collectively we have compartmentalized the study of leadership to the schoolhouse. We’ve also adopted the belief that training events fulfill the requirement to develop leaders. When “Leader Development is in everything we do,” going to the range is leader development; so is doing PT and inspecting vehicles. Leader development has evolved to encompass everything except the very activity its name implies – teaching our people how to be good leaders.
Allow me to explain why this has occurred and what you can do about it.