2 Years of Lessons from Battalion Command

by Scott Shaw - "Cottonbaler 6"

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.


LTC Scott Shaw and the “Cottonbalers” of 3-7 Infantry at Fort Stewart, Georgia in January 2015, following his assumption of command.

In Leadership, You Are a Consumer, a Producer…or Irrelevant

Today, I want to share a framework for thinking about personal development as a leader. It’s a “Lead, follow, or get out of the way” approach that shines the spotlight on the personal habits that grow leaders into a position of effectiveness. Here you go:

When it comes to personal leadership development,
you are a content consumer, a content producer…or irrelevant.


U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Clarence Washington, Provincial Reconstruction Team Zabul security forces squad leader, takes accountability after an indirect fire attack in Qalat City, Zabul Province, July 27, 2010. Photo by U.S. Air Force Sr. Airman Nathanael Callon.

Leadership in Action: Colonel Charles A. Beckwith

by Phil Walter

In 1977, after many years of advocating for the U.S. Army to develop a capability similar to the British 22nd Special Air Service (SAS) and in response to multiple terrorist incidents worldwide, Colonel Charles A. Beckwith established the 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-DELTA.

DELTA’s mission set included hostage rescue and specialized reconnaissance. [1]  On November 4, 1979, Islamic fundamentalists seized the United States Embassy in Tehran, Iran and took 53 U.S. diplomatic personnel hostage there. [2]  DELTA’s first mission would be to rescue these hostages.


Phil Walter has served in the military, the intelligence community, and the inter-agency. The views expressed here are those of the author alone and do not contain information of an official nature. He tweets @philwalter1058 and blogs at www.philwalter1058.com.

“Sir, you humiliated us.” – A Commander’s Lesson in Leadership

Guest author Captain Joel Martinez shares his story of humility in command

Reading a post on The Military Leader one day, a question reminded me of a critical leadership lesson I learned from my time in command. It read, “When was the last time you heard a unit commander ask for feedback, consider the input, publicly admit he’s wrong, and change his opinion?

Given that I have a vivid example of being humbled while in command, I felt compelled to share my story.


The 1st Cavalry Division Soldiers trying out for the 2nd Battalion, 38th Cavalry Regiment, Long range Surveillance, Airborne unit here at Fort Hood, Texas gut out the last mile of a two and a half mile buddy run, July 27.
U.S. Army photo by Spc. Adam Turner, 1st Cav. Div. Public Affairs.
This is a guest post by Army Military Intelligence Officer, Captain Joel Martinez. He commanded the 66th Military Intelligence Company of the 3d Cavalry Regiment and now passes on his lessons as an Observer/Coach Trainer at the National Training Center.

The Military Leader at 100

I’m happy to share that today marks the 100th post from The Military Leader since its inception in March of this year! What started as a personal venue to capture thoughts and resources on leader development has evolved into an actively connected community of nearly 2000 leaders!

U.S. Army Rangers assigned to 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, fire at an enemy bunker during Task Force Training on Camp Roberts, Calif., Feb. 1, 2014. U.S. Army photo by Spc. Steven Hitchcock. Link to photo.

How To Survive a Shrinking Army

Last week, while discussing the separation boards and low promotion rates in light of a downsizing Army, a fellow officer commented,

“These trends are going to create a cut-throat Army. Everyone is going to watch their backs and protect themselves to make sure they get promoted. I’m not looking forward to serving in that environment.”

With all due respect to his perspective and opinion…that’s the wrong way to approach the coming years in our Army. And specifically, that’s the wrong attitude to have if you want to get promoted and continue to lead Soldiers. Here’s why…

Scouts from the 4th Infantry Division work together scale a wall during the obstacle course portion of the Gainey Cup, March 5, 2013, at Fort Benning, Ga. After finishing the six obstacles, the soldiers took a written test before the three-mile ruck march to the finish line.
Photo Credit: Sgt. 1st Class Raymond Piper

Getting Your Mental Map Realigned (Sadr City 2008)

IDeep Survival, author Laurence Gonzales describes how the brain assembles a “mental map” of the world based on spatial orientation, experience, emotion, cognition, and every other facet of who we are. This mental map is our unique perspective of the world. It’s our comfort zone; it’s what we rest on; it’s where we feel safe.

Sadr City

But there’s a problem in that our mental map doesn’t always align with “the real map”… i.e. the real world.

Gonzales relates numerous accounts in which people found themselves in survival situations and continued to cling to their old reality…the one where they were still sitting safely in a plane at 30,000 feet…or the one where a bear hadn’t just wrecked their campsite leaving them stranded. The people that died are the ones who failed to update their mental maps to their new situation.

The essential point is that sometimes there is a fate lying just around the corner that we have never, EVER considered, but will have to react to.

Sadr City

Six years this month, such a “new fate” arrived in Sadr City, Iraq. By March 2008, the urban enclave of 2 million people in northeastern Baghdad had quieted down to the point that just two companies of Stryker Infantry were needed to contain it. We had regular meetings with local leaders and enemy attacks were very low. Some might say that we had reached “steady-state operations,” and a routine of stability. We were in a comfort zone.

But as the saying goes, the enemy gets a vote…and Muqtada al-Sadr’s vote came at the end of March, when he unleashed an hourly barrage of rocket, mortar, IED, RPG, and gunfire attacks on the Green Zone and units in the area. In a matter of hours, the tactical situation in Sadr City shifted from low to high-intensity, with engagements akin to the Black Hawk Down depiction of Mogadishu in 1993. The digital map erupted red icons all over the city as our units tried to get a handle on the emerging situation. The enemy had achieved surprise and units were sustaining casualties.

This post is not a narrative of the combat in Sadr City that year, but it does serve as a perfect example of a situation that requires leaders to reframe their mental maps to the new reality. Holding onto the prior trend of stability was pointless and risky. We needed a new plan, and fast.

The command deployed additional assets from surrounding areas and blocked the routes in/out of the city, then platoons fought their way north to reclaim a key road. Where two companies once occupied, 14 companies now stood. The resulting month-long fight ultimately reduced the Sadr militia’s combat power and a new 2.4 km wall across the city prevented them from affecting key coalition bases. From the Soldiers on the street to the Commanding General, the dramatic change in the tactical landscape demanded mental agility, measured emotional response, and poised leadership.

Bottom Line

The lesson is that leaders must be open-minded enough to sense a changing environment, willing to discard what is comfortable and accept the new reality, and then be decisive in the new environment, not the old. Leaders also need to accept that unseen “realities” exist and have momentum along tracks that will ultimately intersect with and affect the organization. Muqtada al-Sadr had likely been planning the April 2008 offensive for months. Intelligence efforts, of course, seek to discover these initiatives, but leaders must live in a state of open-ended readiness to adjust and lead their organizations through change.

Lessons from a ‘not-so-new’ Lieutenant

A great summary of lessons from a not-so-new Lieutenant. A must-read for good perspective. Highlights include:

5. Most of the time you’ll have no idea what you’re doing
6. Your parents probably did a better job prepping you for leadership than anyone
7. West Pointers are spoiled