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)
Leadership is as diverse as the individuals who exercise it. We influence through distinct talents, shaped by experiences, personality traits, core values, and an endless list of other factors. Nonetheless, when we look back at the leaders we’ve encountered, it’s easy to identify behavior trends that point to a set of defining leadership styles. The aggressive risk taker. The deliberate planner. The encouraging coach. The intense micromanager.
Each profession has its own set of styles that generally lead to success. The military is no different. Here are three types of military leaders you’ll find that, for better or worse, produce results.
A Marine points in the direction of the next objective on a security patrol during an Integrated Training Exercise aboard Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif., July 19, 2015. Link
There are many reasons that a person joins an organization. No matter the reason, that person should strive to make a positive difference to the organization and its members. This impact…the cohesion that comes from positively influencing others…is the foundation of trust. And gaining it can be boiled down to three fundamentals: Competence, Caring, and Communication.
Personnel from the Air Transport Office, Post Office, and Supply Department unload mail and cargo from a MH-53E Sea Dragon assigned to the “Blackhawks” of Helicopter Mine Countermeasures Squadron One Five (HM-15) on the flight deck aboard the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CVN 65), Arabian Gulf. U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate Airman Milosz Reterski.
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.
A medical evacuation crew with Company C, 7th Battalion, 101st Aviation Regiment, prepares for takeoff from a refueling point during a collaborative training mission at Fort Campbell, Ky., July 19, 2012. Photo
Credit: Spc. Jennifer Anderson, 159th Combat Aviation Brigade Public Affairs.
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?
A U.S. Army Ranger from Bravo Company, 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, keeps his sight on a target with an M240L machine gun during a company live fire training at Camp Roberts, Calif., Jan. 30, 2014. U.S. Army Photo
Illustration by Staff Sgt. Teddy Wade. I like this photo because it’s a reminder that all military leadership boils down to supporting this Soldier on the ground.
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.
Spc. Brandyn Sprague, with the 505th Theater Tactical Signal Brigade, headquartered in Las Vegas, fires a 9mm pistol at the qualification range on Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey, during the 2014 Army Reserve Best Warrior Competition.
(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.
We remember the books that change us…that alter our thinking, move us emotionally, or reveal unseen, enlightening perspectives. Powell’s My American Journey did that for me. So did Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything. And when I read Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking in 2007, I recall connecting so many new insights that I didn’t have enough book margin to capture them all. The relevancy for the military profession spilled off of the pages and sparked an intellectual curiosity that has lasted for years.
The topic is neuroscience and the breakthrough discoveries that its researchers have made in recent years. As neuroscientists publish fascinating papers about how the brain functions, authors like Gladwell, Jonah Lehrer, David Rock, Joseph LeDoux, and others translated their work into digestible language with real world application. From decision psychology to organizational efficiency to change detection and management, new understanding of the brain is changing how we live our lives.
But as I made connections from neuroscience to the military profession, specifically tactical combat leadership, I found few resources to aide the service member, Dave Grossman’s On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society and Warrior Mindset being the most useful. So I decided to embark on a personal quest to publish something that references neuroscience to improve military leader performance. What resulted was my first published article and a Master’s thesis on the topic. This post is an adapted version of that endeavor.
In a post from earlier this year, I shared some of the guidance I issued during my company command time nearly ten years ago. In How Do You Spot a Leader?, I suggested the notion that leaders naturally move faster than everyone else.
If you are a leader and you find yourself moving slowly throughout the day, you are probably not doing enough to help out the team. Most of the time, leaders dart from one event to the next, or are focusing to create a new product/presentation that will help the team. They are always looking to identify problems in the organization and tackle them quickly, so that the organization can become better or more effective.
Leaders create and disseminate energy throughout the organization to keep it moving in the right direction and responding appropriately to the environment. There is an inherent risk, however, for naturally driven leaders who move quickly towards success. Today, I want to talk about this risk.
Paratroopers with the 82nd Airborne Division’s 2nd Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, sprint to emplace an M240-B machine gun as they demonstrate crew drills to Afghan National Army soldiers prior to a foot patrol May 8, 2012, Ghazni Province, Afghanistan.
U.S. Army photo
by Sgt. Michael J. MacLeod.