Speaking When Angry (Habit Series #7)

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?


Marine Corps Cpl. Benjamin Peagler yells out an order to his team while participating in a platoon assault drill as a part of Exercise Cold Response 16 on range U-3 in Frigard, Norway, Feb. 23, 2016. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Rebecca Floto.

Telling the World How Smart We Are (Habit Series #6)

The civilian world doesn’t experience this phenomenon, but there’s a form of gazing in the military that’s not considered sexual harassment. It’s the uniform once-over that occurs when service members are introduced for the first time.

You’ve seen it…we trade lengthy, indiscreet, almost uncomfortable stares at each others upper torso and arms to interpret the story told by one another’s rank, badges, medals, decorations, tabs, and patches. We do it because we want to know who we’re dealing with, what the other person is bringing to the table. (And if we’re being honest, we should go ahead and admit that it’s also an ego check: “Have I been through more than this guy? How much do I need to regard him?”)


Link to photo on Wikipedia.

Starting with “No, But, or However” (Habit Series #5)

The fifth habit that Marshall Goldsmith discusses in What Got You Here Won’t Get You There is all about telling people they’re wrong. Leaders do it, a lot, and often without realizing it’s happening. This habit is also about telling the truth and providing clarity, but before we dive into the details, imagine this scenario.


Mr. Roger Astin, exercise scenario manager of U.S. Army South,
briefs a group of multinational officials during PKO North ’08, MANAGUA, Nicaragua. Photo by Maj. Tim Stewart.

Making Destructive Comments (Habit Series #4)

Think back on your recent interactions. If I asked you how many times you made destructive comments towards the people you work with, how would you answer? “Destructive? No way. I’m a nice person. And when I do give feedback, it’s never destructive.” What about if I asked you how many times you talked negatively about someone when he or she wasn’t present? “Well sure, but everyone does that. It’s part of our culture.”

The topic we are approaching here is a silent leadership killer. Who’s leadership, you ask? Yours, your boss’s, your subordinates’. Destructive comments slip into an organization, infect the culture, manifest as other problems, and kill the trust that leaders worked so hard to build.

Today, you’ll be guilty of making comments that can destroy your organization, and you likely don’t even know it.


Command Sgt. Maj. Alan D. Bjerke, command sergeant major of the 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, speaks to Canadian Soldiers during practice for a live fire event during Cooperative Spirit 2008 at the Joint Multinational Readiness Center near Hohenfels, Germany. Link to photo.

Passing Judgment (Habit Series #3)

Marshall Goldsmith’s What Got You Here Won’t Get You There is packed with useful insight. If you are a leader looking to improve the quality of your interactions and the influence you have on your team, his book is a must. #3 of “Twenty Habits That Hold You Back from the Top” is Passing Judgment.

Now, why would the effects of passing judgment concern a military leader whose granted authority clearly allows, almost encourages him to judge the quality of his organization and its members’ activities? Isn’t it monumentally important for leaders to scrutinize teams in training so that they are better prepared for war? And when in war, is there not an argument that there is no room for error, necessitating judgment at every turn?


A Navy SEAL instructor watches as BUD/S students participate in surf drill training at the Naval Special Warfare Center in Coronado, Calif. U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Eric S. Logsdon.

Adding Too Much Value (Habit Series #2)

Have you ever stood in formation and listened to a commander or senior NCO spout off a tangent of meaningless topics? There’s no coherent string of thoughts, just awkward pauses followed by ramble. The person adds comment after comment as if there’s a minimum time of talking required to be a good leader.

Or how about this one…every time you’re at a unit meeting and someone offers a good idea, the commander can’t resist the urge pile on with his own advice, diminishing the contributor. Or worse, the leader publicly states that the idea won’t work.

Those are frustrating situations because either it feels like the content we are receiving isn’t worth the time it takes to hear it, or because the leader creates an environment where his opinion is the only one that really matters. In any case, it’s exasperating.

Marshall Goldsmith says that these environments occur when leaders fall victim to Habit #2 of “Twenty Habits that Hold You Back from the Top”…Adding Too Much Value.


Gen. George W. Casey, speaks with Master Resilience Training School students during a visit to Fort Jackson, S.C.
U.S. Army photo by Susanne Kappler.

Addicted to Winning (Habit Series #1, pt 2)

As a follow-up to Part 1 in the Habit Series from Marshall Goldsmith’s “Twenty Habits that Hold You Back from the Top,” let’s take a look at why military leaders are routinely addicted to winning, which turns out to be both helpful and potentially destructive.


A U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft assigned to the 18th Aggressor Squadron takes off for a sortie at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, Oct. 15, 2014, during Red Flag-Alaska 15-1. (Link to DoD photo by Senior Airman Peter Reft, U.S. Air Force/Released)

Addicted to Winning (Habit Series #1, pt 1)

Have you ever browsed the bargain section of Barnes & Noble and been automatically skeptical about the quality of the books? “This looks interesting…but why is it so cheap?” Because the only thing worse than being slightly dissatisfied with a full-priced book, is being fully dissatisfied with a discounted one you got tricked into buying. Right? So, I spend some time investigating a bargain book before I buy it.

That’s what happened with What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, by leadership coach and best-selling author Marshall Goldsmith. This book that I was skeptical about turned out to be a wealth of applicable insights on leader behavior, team building, and interpersonal influence.

One section of the book should be mandatory reading for every leader, especially we military leaders who have command authority to “fall back on” when personal leadership talent falters. It’s called “The Twenty Habits That Hold You Back from the Top.” Reading this section is like getting the results of a 360° peer feedback process without having to take the survey…eye-opening and humbling.

What I will do for this new series of blog posts is highlight a habit or two and apply them to the unique leadership environment we face in the military, giving examples and recommendations along the way. I encourage your participation in the Comments section, as I am certain that other leaders have experienced these habits and have useful insight to share.

That said, the first workplace habit that is holding back military leaders is…winning too much.


Sapper competitors complete the rope climbing portion of the obstacle course before sprinting to the finish line. The Best Sapper Competition gives engineers throughout the Army the opportunity to compete in a grueling six phase and three-day competition to determine who are the best engineers in the Army. DoD photo by Benjamin Faske. Link to photo.