This is Part III of the “168 series” addressing how leaders spend their available 168 hours per week to grow and develop. You can begin this series with Part I, here.
You’re told all sorts of things before you become a leader: how integrity is important, how you’ve got to practice what you preach and lead from the front. How leaders eat last and always look out for others. And all this is true. But you’re never told the dirty little secret that leaders just do not have any time.
Because in addition to all of the above, you’ve also got all your job requirements, and then your additional duties, and not to mention the time you take to work out. Oh, and then there’s your family, too. Put it all together, and you’re juggling priorities just to find a few spare moments to go into a dark room to sit in silence and mourn your sanity. It’s kind of like swimming against the current. Or, I suppose, like swimming in porridge, since current implies movement of some kind.
On top of all this, we’re told that we need to do self development. That can be the proverbial straw on the overworked camel staff officer’s back, but it doesn’t have to be. Because while the Army likes to speak in doctrinal terms about self development, it’s really all about just getting people to think. Here’s a few ways that I do self development on the go.
Social Media. Yeah, I’m a total Twitter hound, I’ll admit to it. That’s where I head in the morning with my first coffee: get a run-down on the news, check up on developments from overnight, and bookmark interesting blog posts or articles that I want to read later that day or in the week. It’s also where I’ll interact with other people doing the same thing: other officers and enlisted from the US military, officers and enlisted from foreign militaries, journalists, think-tankers, you name it. It’s phenomenal melting pot of ideas – whenever we’re not trying to outsnark each other, that is.
Work. Now, I’m the first person to say that I don’t want to talk to people as soon as I get to work. I’ll need at least two cups of coffee before I exchange words with another human. After this, however, I find that discussions with my co-workers during the day often bear fruit or stimulate my brain to think about something differently. Whether we’re discussing doctrine, tactics, or just why we do things a certain way in our office, I usually come away better for the interaction. I note ideas that I want to dig into further using the Google Keep app.
Workout Time. Social media and human interaction can eventually sound like a jumble of noise at the end of the day. As a natural introvert, I need time to retreat into some solitude and stillness. And for me, that’s when I hit the rowing machine or go running. A repetitive activity helps restore a sense of calm where I can just exist with my thoughts. It’s an important time to be able to reflect, explore idea threads, or just simply let my brain zone out. I’ll listen to music or podcasts, or – if I’m rowing – watch TV. Lately I’ve been going through “The Pacific” and “Band of Brothers” again.
Writing. I write. A lot. Not all of it is very good, but the mere act of writing is the same as exercising at the gym. One’s writing muscles – for lack of a better term – will atrophy over time if you’re not careful. Writing helps build focus, craft arguments, and synthesize thoughts. Most of my writing time – such as this – takes place in a 30 minute burst. I’ve been incredibly lucky that I get to work on the War Stories Podcast with Adin Dobkin, because it gets me into areas of the military that I don’t normally study. Researching for Season One taught me more about armor and tanks than I ever expected to know. Being able to talk another branch’s language definitely helps in building a stronger team.
Reading. I try to read every night before bed. In order to not totally fail at this goal, I intersperse historical reading with some fiction. Currently, the mix is “This Kind of War,” about Korea and “Murder Must Advertise,” a murder mystery whose protagonist is a Great War veteran. The goal is a chapter an evening, merely just to keep reading. It’s not that I don’t enjoy reading – I love it – but it’s that whole time thing again.
The whole idea of self development on-the-go is that you’re essentially developing yourself constantly and subconsciously, without having to break apart your schedule even more to try to allocate time. Everyone is different, everyone has competing schedules and priorities; this is just a way. I look forward to sharing ideas with you on social media.
Angry Staff Officer is an Army engineer officer who is adrift in a sea of doctrine and staff operations and uses writing as a means to retain his sanity. He also collaborates on a podcast with Adin Dobkin entitled War Stories, which examines key moments in the history of warfare. He writes at Angry Staff Officer and can be found on Twitter and Facebook.
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