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Counseling the 33%: An Approach to One-on-One Development

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By Jeffrey Meinders

All of our subordinates fall into one of three categories: top-third, middle-third, and bottom-third; few people will dispute that simple math.  The problem exists when the middle-third think they are in the top group, and the bottom thinks they are in the middle, creating 66% of your subordinates who believe they are among the best.  This confusion is understandable; we encode our current evaluations with very specific language which is hard for junior officers to decipher. This confusion leads to almost half of your best receiving OERs they think are unfair and unwarranted.  Today’s digital age compounds the problem; where less and less face-to-face interaction occurs.  This may complicate closed door conversations for leaders and their subordinates.

I received my first real counseling after nine years of military service.  The counseling was thorough and straightforward; I since modeled all my future counseling and this article after it.  It is disappointing our profession struggles with this basic of leader development.  My battalion commander once told me “I don’t need to counsel you, we talk every day.” They do this because it is peaceful, they don’t want to upset you. Most leaders prefer the easier development, like group book reviews with junior officers, or brown bag lunches with the commander. Not only do we fail at individual counseling, we also fib on the front of our evaluations with made up counseling dates.

To give junior officers a recipe for success, I discuss the four types of counseling every Soldier deserves: initial, quarterly, performance, and evaluation.  This method will save you time and help you separate the ‘wheat from the chaff.’  I also acknowledge while this is method simple, it is not easy.  There are ten other things every day that will take time away from your plan, but I argue there are none more important than one-on-one time with your rated subordinates. Continue reading → Counseling the 33%: An Approach to One-on-One Development

Military Leadership Is Really About Trust

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By Joseph Callejas

Many are familiar with the saying, “if you want something done right, do it yourself.” To be honest, this idea is what I leaned on as a Lieutenant and platoon leader. Continuing with my honesty, I now realize I was a rather immature Lieutenant and platoon leader. In reflecting on why I leveraged this ineffective leadership method, I learned that I wanted to guarantee mission success…I wanted to get results. I was obsessed with becoming the “go-to guy” in my unit; I was a hard-working officer who was committed to achieving the mission. After some necessary maturing and through a caring boss who took the time to coach and mentor me through some of my decisions, I’ve come to understand the problem: I was trying to do everything myself. It is a common trap that many leaders at every level experience. When leaders neglect to trust our subordinates and prevent them from doing their jobs, the organization suffers. Continue reading → Military Leadership Is Really About Trust

Leader Development Part III: Tactical Decision Exercises

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In the last post, I expanded on how I materialized my leader development program as a company commander. Now, I am outlining one of those program methods, the Tactical Decision Exercise (TDE). These exercises became a favorite among the officers and NCOs in my company.

Tactical-level units today face overwhelming demands, many of which distract them from their primary mission and training focus. It is not always feasible to achieve every organizational goal during robust field training exercises that require extensive resources and time. The TDE is a low-resource, low-threat event aimed to challenge your subordinate leaders in tactical scenarios; despite the exercise’s simple design, they can achieve significant results for your organization. You can conduct these exercises over a map or a terrain model and they take little effort to prepare. TDE success is based on a well-defined purpose and an effective implementation method, or exercise structure. Continue reading → Leader Development Part III: Tactical Decision Exercises

Leader Development Part II: Materialize Your Educational Program

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The last post introduced the leader development concept and why it is important to be deliberate in it with your subordinates. Knowing its importance is the first step, but now what? How do you materialize your leader development program in your organization?

No Army manual or official publication, to include ADRP 6-22, tells you how to structure your specific program. Common program methods include a professional reading curriculum, studying history, and celebrating unit tradition. A specific plan that works for Commander A may not work for Commander B. Develop a program that fits your experience and personality. Leverage methods that work for your personal leadership style, organization’s structure, and training calendar.

There are numerous quality resources written by leaders that share their leader development experiences. Some examples include the Maneuver Self Study website that provides numerous options, and From the Green Notebook outlining several approaches and ideas in a leader development blog series. Below are the leader development program components from my company command that I utilized. All components may not work for you, but I share them to add options to select from for your own program. Continue reading → Leader Development Part II: Materialize Your Educational Program

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. Continue reading → Leader Development Part I: Where to Start

What Ultra Running Has Taught Me About Military Leadership

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Picture of me crossing over Hope Pass (12,600’) during the Leadville Training Camp, June 2015, in preparation for the Leadville Trail 100 Mile Race in August 2015.

As a sophomore at West Point, my soon-to-be best friend handed me a copy of Ultramarathon Man: Confessions of an All-Night Runner, by Dean Karnazes. I couldn’t put that book down, finishing it in less than 24 hours. That’s when I became hooked on ultramarathon running. Since then, over the last nine years, I’ve completed over two dozen trail races from the marathon to 100 mile distance. Many ask me why I do this and I tend to simply respond with, “why not?” I recently read a blog post that posed the seemingly perfect answer to that question. It stated, “perhaps the genius of ultra-running is the supreme lack of utility. It makes no sense…”

I couldn’t agree more.

Continue reading → What Ultra Running Has Taught Me About Military Leadership

Coaching – An Essential Leadership Tool

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By Lt. Colonel (Ret.) Thomas Bowen

Coaching your followers, whether they be US Army Soldiers, West Point cadets, or civilians, is an ideal way to cultivate their involvement in solving their own challenges, engage them relationally, and exercise your leadership.

Although the term “coaching” could connote athletic drilling by your football or softball coach, here we mean it to be impromptu, one-to-one interactions between a leader and his or her led. Alternatively, “coaching” could conjure up visions of a long-term mentor-protégé relationship; in this context, we will confine the term to mean preemptive, informal, in-the-moment interaction between a leader and a subordinate. A coaching interaction can take place on the side of a Stryker infantry vehicle, on the parade field, or in the aisle of a warehouse. As a leader, you take advantage of a coaching moment when you see a follower struggling, or potentially struggling, with a task. Out of pride or embarrassment your follower may not approach you with his or her problem, whereupon you approach that person to avoid a potentially disastrous situation. Continue reading → Coaching – An Essential Leadership Tool

A Christmas Reflection on Servant Leadership

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This year, I have the good fortune of celebrating Christmas with my family at my sister’s house in Bremerton, WA. She is a Navy Lieutenant (O-3) assigned to an aircraft carrier at Naval Base Kitsap. On this Christmas day, we joined her on her carrier to receive a full tour and eat lunch on her ship’s mess deck; it was the best military meal I’ve ever received in my seven-year career. We met many of her Sailors, peers, and superior officers. Characterizing the experience as impressive is an understatement.

Beyond the incredible machinery and systems on that massive vessel, one of the most impressive aspects of my visit was being served Christmas dinner by the ship’s Captain (O-6), his wife and children, and the Command Master Chief (CMC, the ship’s senior enlisted leader). I was humbled to see these leaders not only taking time to spend the holiday with their Sailors, but also include their families. Furthermore, I’ve read multiple accounts today of battalion command teams replacing their Soldiers on duty, company command teams delivering stockings to barracks, and multiple echelons of leaders checking on their formations this holiday. Continue reading → A Christmas Reflection on Servant Leadership

The Legion of Boom: A Case Study in Culture

lob-post-imageOne of the most successful groups in the NFL is a tribe called the “Legion of Boom (LOB).” The LOB is the self-named Seattle Seahawks defensive secondary. Its most well-known members are cornerback Richard Sherman, strong safety Kam Chancellor, and free safety Earl Thomas III. Despite your personal opinions on their attitudes on or off the field, their success and results are undeniable. The LOB was indispensable in the Seahawks’ Super Bowl XLVIII victory. Sherman, Chancellor, and Thomas alone have 12 Pro Bowl selections between them, and Sherman was the NFC’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2014. Now, the defense and LOB are well on their way to being the league’s best defense for the third year in a row.

What makes this group so successful? Skill is certainly a factor, but that is a natural requirement to play in the NFL. What sets this group apart from the other 31 defensive units in the league? The answer is an established culture, unmatched across the league that serves as the foundation of this team’s success. The LOB built a culture through several deliberate steps that can easily apply to your team to improve your professional culture, to elevate your success, and take your organization to the next level: Continue reading → The Legion of Boom: A Case Study in Culture

Leadership By Wandering Around

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I was first introduced to the term, “leadership by wandering around (LBWA),” in one of my Engineering Management Masters courses. Being such a natural concept to me, the idea that being present and interacting with your Troops had to be defined in black-and-white astonished me. However, three years after being introduced to this term, I’ve learned that it is in fact NOT a natural concept to many leaders. Continue reading → Leadership By Wandering Around