Leader Development Part I: Where to Start

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During my company command, my brigade commander routinely emphasized that a leader’s legacy is the time they invest in their subordinates’ development and future. There is a considerable amount of professional content beyond my simple blog that focus on leader development. Is leader development that important? ADRP 6-22 states that, “Army leader development creates competent and confident leaders capable of leading trained and ready units. The concept acknowledges an important interaction that trains Soldiers now and develops leaders for the future.” Developing your subordinate leaders increases their professional maturity, capacity, and understanding. That ultimately improves your entire organization’s capabilities, but more importantly, prepares your leaders to be successful in future positions of increased responsibility.  By investing time and effort in developing your subordinates and team, you directly help in making the Army better.

If not familiar with the Army’s leader development concept, they structure it into three domains: institutional, operational, and self-development. Institutional domain development occurs at key military courses such as Basic Officer Leadership Course (BOLC) and Captains Career Course (CCC) for officers, and Advanced or Senior Leaders Course (ALC, SLC) for NCOs. Self-development includes the methods leaders personally pursue to learn and mature; they are not part of any formal program imposed on them. This often includes a personal reading program; reading this blog can even contribute to your self-development program. Leaders don’t direct self-development for their subordinates, but have a responsibility to emphasize to their subordinates why it is important, and encourage them to structure their own self-development program (addressed in a future post). Finally, the operational domain encompasses the learning that leaders achieve in their assigned operational units; it is what I address in this blog series.

Before getting wrapped up in how to start developing your subordinates, it is important to codify your leader development program’s end state. What do you want to achieve? I encourage you to spend time reflecting on this and physically write it out. As a company commander, I wanted my leader development program to achieve the following end state:

  • Empower subordinates to comfortably operate within the philosophy of Mission Command
  • Improve professional maturity and develop leaders who are passionate about life-long learning (encourage self-development)
  • Prepare leaders for the next two duties of increased responsibility in their career path (LTs looking to be staff CPTs and company commanders; SLs looking to be PSGs and 1SGs)

So how do you approach leader development as a military small-unit leader? There are three primary ways to lead a holistic leader development program for your organization.

  • Duty assignment. You have a responsibility to ensure your subordinates complete their key developmental positions (platoon leader for Lieutenants and executive officer for the top-tier ones) and conduct key developmental tasks (plan and lead a training event like a marksmanship range, brief their senior rater, and serve as an investigating officer).
  • Lead a quality unit training program. Train and certify your organization on their assigned mission and supporting tasks. This includes situational, field, and live fire training exercises at every echelon from individual and team up to brigade.
  • Education. Leveraging creative and unique (to your style) methods to educate your leaders on being mature professionals within the profession of arms.  Topics and events can vary, but the educational goal is to make them better at their current job, as well as their future ones.

Leaders must be deliberate in their professional education program to develop their subordinate leaders. Leaders cannot be passive because the overwhelming daily requirements will overshadow leader development. Administrative requirements, Soldier issues, and the tyranny of immediate “emergencies” will often seem more important than, and often overtake, your leader-molding events you’ve scheduled.

The next two posts in this leader development mini-series expand on a way to facilitate a successful educational leader development program to implement in your organization, focused on military small-units. We’ve identified why leader development is crucial to your organization and addressed creating a program end state you want to achieve. Next I address how to materialize your program.

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