Leader Awareness Series Part I: An Introduction to Self-Awareness

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Perception is reality. That is a phrase we all have all heard, and are familiar with. What is less emphasized in the implications of this phrase is the assumption that someone else’s perception (of you likely) is different than your own self-perception. Why is that important? Imagine that you list out what you determine to be your top leadership competencies (strengths) that you bring to your organization, as well as your biggest weaknesses. Then your peers, superiors, and subordinates all list out what they imagine your strengths and weaknesses to be as well (such as in 360-degree feedback). What if your list does not at all match with, or is even similar to, anyone else’s assessments of you? Can you imagine how this may be limiting your leadership impact on your organization? Maybe you’re not as strong of a leader as you thought you were.

The congruence of your self-rating and others’ rating of you is what is known as self-awareness. The more self-aware you are, the higher your performance is as a leader. Numerous organizational psychology research studies have proven this fact. Essentially, self-awareness is accurately knowing your own inner state (identity and personality) and accurately recognizing your impact on others. Continue reading

Face It: We Are All Managers

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The Problem

“Manager” is an ignored word in the Army. I don’t claim it as a bad or taboo word necessarily; it’s just rarely a word that comes up in regard to positions and roles for Army personnel. Everyone is a “leader” and that is the end of the discussion. ADRP 6-22 defines leadership in detail, but makes no mention of management. Our Army Values follow a “LDRSHIP” acronym. We send Soldiers to “leader development” schools like Ranger or Sapper (Leader). You get the point.

There may be a belief that if you’re a manager, then you’re not a leader. Everyone wants to be a leader. From day one of our Army experience, we are conditioned to grow as leaders. This thought prevails, and rightfully so; there is nothing glamorous about the idea of management. When I think of a typical manager, I think of a department store employee in charge of four or five direct reports that doesn’t know how to inspire them, build teamwork, or effectively communicate; I envision him/her simply yelling at their workers all of the time. Further, there’s no published model of the “transformational management style” (as compared to transformational leadership). Continue reading

The McDonaldization of Our Army: Efficiency Trumping Adaptability

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This post pulls from academic literature regarding how principles of the famous fast-food restaurant, McDonalds, are coming to dominate more and more aspects of American society, and thus the US Army.

George Ritzer authored the book, The McDonaldization of Society, in 1995, which has been updated and republished several times since. His thesis claims that five major principles of the fast-food chain have come to dominate increasing sectors of American society (and the world): efficiency, calculability, predictability, control, and ultimately the irrationality of hyper-rationality.1

Following this line of thought, two USMA professors, LTC (Dr.) Remi Hajjar and Dr. Morten Ender, applied the McDonaldization concept to the Army. They argued in their article, “McDonaldization in the U.S. Army: A Threat to the Profession,” which appeared in the 2005 book, The Future of the Army Profession, that McDonaldization severely threatens the Army as a profession by causing it to act more like a bureaucracy than a profession.2 Continue reading

Family Matters: A Call for Leadership Within Our Families

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The military profession is demanding. With deployments, continuous field exercises, readiness exercises, and last minute emergencies, the military tends to occupy a gross amount of any Soldier’s time. It’s easy to let hobbies, and more importantly, our families, take a back seat to these demands.  Eventually though, the military will replace weary Soldiers with younger, more energized versions. When that happens, the fatigued must acquiesce the investment they have or have not made in their families over the years.

We should strive to not let the Army (or a particular profession) define us and potentially undermine the value of our families. In short, we must remember to prioritize family throughout our winding careers.

I don’t have sage wisdom from decades of marriage. I don’t even have kids yet. However, while pursuing my wife and preparing for a future with her, I want to ensure I do this right and do right by her. Similar to the initiative required for my own leader development, I aim to be deliberate in preparing to be a good husband and eventual father. So far, I’ve learned several important lessons from examples like our parents, close friends, and mentors at church. I also learn from research such as from Andy Stanley’s leadership podcast and phenomenal books like Sacred Marriage, by Gary L. Thomas (links to both below). My lessons learned so far are not revolutionary; they are simple concepts. The challenge is committing to them, and to one’s family, every day, no matter the circumstances. Below are my humble takeaways regarding family, thus far, while serving in the military profession. Continue reading

2017 Through Books: Mid-Year Review (Jan-Jun)

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In a War on the Rocks interview, Admiral (Ret.) Stavridis (former EUCOM commander and NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe; now Dean of the Fletcher School of Law at Tufts University), a man who has read over 4,500 books in his lifetime, made the following statement about military personnel reading for professional development:

We have to be a learning organization. And you cannot be a learning organization without being a reading organization. I would argue that in many ways the most efficient ways to learn, after personal experience, is to read. Reading is an imaginative personal experience.”

I firmly believe that commitment to developmental reading is a reflection of one’s professional maturity. Just as important as reading the books is discussing the ones we read and the lessons we learn from them. In that spirit, I want to share the books I read over the first half of 2017. Continue reading

Achieving Honesty: Improving Subordinate Leader Assessments & Feedback

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Prior to commanding a company, I never gave much thought to evaluations. I am not generally concerned with my own evaluations; I firmly believe that if you take care of your Soldiers and your mission, your evaluation takes care of itself. As a staff officer and platoon leader, I was also never in a position where I was rating or senior rating Soldiers that I didn’t interact with on a daily and professionally intimate basis. Upon assuming command, my pool of subordinates that I rated or senior rated drastically increased. In my 18 months of company command, I rated/senior rated three First Sergeants, three XOs, three Operations Sergeants, nine platoon leaders, nine platoon sergeants, and over a dozen squad leaders. As much as I wanted to and tried, as a company commander, it was not feasible to work with all of these individuals personally, like I could as a platoon leader.

So, how did this impact my Soldiers, NCOs, and Officers?  More broadly, how do leaders ensure they do subordinates justice when it comes time for evaluation reports? This is a conundrum for every commander, from company and beyond. Continue reading

Company Command Series Part XII: My Command Regrets

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This blog post is the conclusion of the multi-part Company Command Series covering key aspects of my command experience that I feel other commanders (current and future) can benefit from. This post discloses my personal post-command regrets that I’ve reflected on since relinquishing command.

I feel it is appropriate to close out my (admittedly long) Company Command blog series with discussing my personal regrets since relinquishing company command. This post is not so much about the actual regrets themselves as much as it is about the importance to spend time and deliberately reflect, to be honest with yourself, understand you are not (and never will be) a perfect leader, and identify what you wish you were able to accomplish in your formal leadership role. My hope is to first, encourage leaders to be self-aware and willing to admit where they can improve, and second, prevent these below regrets from being on other leaders’ lists of regrets down the road. It’s not weak or unprofessional to assess your post-command regrets; it is a healthy and necessary step to continue your development as a leader. Continue reading

Company Command Series Part XI: Unit Pride & Recognition Programs

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This blog post is a continuation of the multi-part Company Command Series covering key aspects of my command experience that I feel other commanders (current and future) can benefit from. This post discusses methods to enhance unit pride and ideas for a formal unit recognition program.

It is undeniable that a positive organizational culture is critical to your success as the commander, and the success of your company.  What I’ve found, though, is that little content exists addressing how exactly to advance your unit’s culture with specific, tangible actions. There are necessary methods such as Leadership by Wandering Around, as I wrote about in an earlier blog post. However, what are other influence methods that can build a healthy culture focused on your priorities as the commander? I argue two major components are: being deliberate in establishing a robust sense of unit pride, and creating an extensive recognition program. For both lines of effort, below, I address ways I advanced my company’s pride and a supporting recognition program. Continue reading

Company Command Series Part X: Deployment Readiness

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This blog post is a continuation of the multi-part Company Command Series covering key aspects of my command experience that I feel other commanders (current and future) can benefit from. This post discusses how to validate your company’s combat readiness and deployability so it is not a surprise when you are called upon to accomplish your mission.

My brigade commander continuously reminded my fellow company commanders and me that, “commanders generate readiness.” He felt so passionate about readiness that he included my capacity to maintain readiness in his senior rater comments in my OER. Readiness really is that important. I believe that equipment and personnel readiness should always be the top priority of a commander (at any level); without sufficient deployability, what are you bringing to the fight?

I believe company commanders can easily establish methods at their level to test and validate their company’s readiness. I can’t think of many things worse than being called to conduct a deployment readiness exercise (DRE) by a higher headquarters (let alone a real world short-notice deployment) where you boast a 95% combat power deployability, but only 60% of your equipment and personnel can leave the motor pool. Commanders generate readiness and it all starts with the company commander. Below are ideas to create a company-level DRE program. Not every DRE requires extensive time and resources; vary your DRE methods up to support your training calendar.  Continue reading

Company Command Series Part IX: Troop Leading Procedures

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 This blog post is a continuation of the multi-part Company Command Series covering key aspects of my command experience that I feel other commanders (current and future) can benefit from. This post discusses how to maximize operations and Troop Leading Procedures efficiency in your company.

With the often-overwhelming requirements placed on companies, coupled with continuous time constraints, it is hard to implement the Troop Leading Procedures (TLPs) in their entirety. Throughout my command, I often felt that my company and I should be doing more to maximize TLP effectiveness. This is why it is imperative that commanders and companies codify how to conduct TLPs and expectations throughout. This post introduces some aspects that made TLPs successful in my experience, and a few recommendations based on lessons learned. As with all content in these posts, these serve as options for commanders to consider and implement. I encourage readers to share their experiences and lessons in how to effectively leverage TLPs beyond this. Continue reading