3×5 Leadership Blog Note: This post’s author, Jason, was my third executive officer (XO) while I was in company command. He is a good friend and a professional I highly respect. In being the third XO during my command, Jason’s priorities were not on establishing new and robust unit systems; all of our management systems were in place for the most part. This provided him a rare opportunity to look beyond an XO’s daily “close fight” and pay attention to much larger-scope initiatives. Combining this opportunity with Jason’s professional maturity, high intellect, and passion for transformational leadership, he created the below list for other Lieutenant peers. I was immensely impressed with Jason’s reflections and feel many junior leaders can learn from them.
By Jason Hu
As I neared the completion of my time as an executive officer and began preparing my replacement to assume responsibility; I wanted to summarize the principles I learned and tried to embody on a daily basis as a junior Army leader. When Josh was my commander, I learned and grew so much, and one of the things he indoctrinated in me was to “always leave the organization better than how you found it”. With that, I decided to write some of the tenets that guided me and publish them to other junior leaders within our company and battalion. Although these tenets are aimed towards junior leaders such as the XO, platoon leaders, and platoon-level NCOs, the extrapolated lessons can be applied to leaders in most echelons. I do not think these reflections are a proven recipe for success, but they do serve as a solid foundation to build upon; they worked for me, and they can be helpful to others too.
Understand the micro AND the macro. There is always a bigger picture. Oftentimes as a squad leader, platoon leader, or XO you will be given tasks or missions that may seem pointless or detrimental to yourself and your subordinates. Try to understand and see the perspective from your higher headquarters; you still might not like the outcome but at least it will give the unfortunate task meaning.
Ask yourself: what are the second and third order effects? Every action has a reaction. As a leader, you must look for and anticipate the logistical, administrative, and real-world actions that must be taken in order for a certain task to be accomplished or intent to be met.
Time and space. If you know operationally and tactically what is happening on the battlefield through time and space, you will have a clear understanding of your subordinate units, adjacent units, and higher headquarters. This allows initiative and action when missions inevitably do not go according to plan.
You are entitled to absolutely nothing. There’s a reason you were chosen to be in the leadership position you hold. Everything you do should ultimately be to the benefit of your Soldiers. You should, and will, work harder and longer than your subordinates; they deserve 100% of your efforts. Never expect praise or special treatment; being selected to lead others is already an enormous privilege in itself.
Never stop at the first hurdle. Every task has more than one avenue of approach. More often than not, you will not meet success on the first attempt. Exhaust every option possible to work around the obstacle. Talk to other points of contact, request additional resources, and look for others who’ve encountered the same problem.
Time and effort equal success. Time and effort are the two most precious resources, but with enough of both you can accomplish literally anything. Conversely, understand and know when to assume risk and sacrifice either time or effort on certain tasks. An immediate, mediocre action is better than a late action.
A well worded memorandum has a lot of power. Don’t underestimate the power of a doctrinally formatted memorandum for record (MFR) that’s been signed off by a superior. Every rule has an exception, and MFRs allow you to navigate that void.
Everything you do is temporary. You are expendable. Make copies, have digital backups, edit and reform SOPs, and work off of systems. If you had to give up your position tomorrow, do you have enough organized systems to efficiently and effectively teach the replacement your job?
Provide solutions, not problems. If you can’t complete an explicitly given task, how will you still meet the intent? If you still can’t meet the intent, what else can you provide or accomplish as an alternate? When telling your superior that you can’t do something, always give an alternate solution. This also gives you control over the secondary action instead of a superior dictating it to you.
Maintain relationships. Ideally, you should have mutually beneficial relationships with all peers, enablers, subordinates and superiors, but inevitably, you will clash with some people. At the bare minimum, sustain professional working relationships to ensure you have unhindered access to resources and success.
Everything, Always. It’s impossible to have the answer and knowledge of everything at all times, although it helps. Instead, you should always know how to find the answer to everything at all times. Know the best point of contact, organization, or resource to get the answers to everything.
Jason Hu is an Engineer officer and graduate of the United States Military Academy. He most recently served in an Brigade Engineer Battalion as a Sapper platoon leader and company executive officer. His next assignment is to attend the Engineer Captain’s Career Course early next year. Jason’s thoughts are his own and do not reflect that of the United States Military Academy, the US Army, or Department of Defense.