Goals In Lieu of Vision: A Practical Exercise in Developing a Purposeful Organization

Goals In Lieu of Vision_3x5 Leadership

By Zach Mierva

Recently I was fortunate enough to guide nine cadet companies in developing goals for their organization at the United States Military Academy (USMA), where I currently work. After observing two semesters of failed attempts at mission and vision inculcation, I opted to change the script on how cadets create priorities for their organization to lead deliberately purposeful organizations rather than a group of people who happen to live and work near each other. Working alongside the incoming cadet commanders and first sergeants, flanked with a seasoned TAC NCO (Tactical Non-Commissioned Officer acting as a company First Sergeant) and former USMA cadet leadership, I watched as these future leaders transformed their lofty concepts into tangible steps to improve their formations by leveraging the art and science of creating purpose, direction, and motivation. I found the exercise incredibly impactful as a tool that I believe should be in a leader’s kit bag for future use within any level of an organization and in any industry. Continue reading → Goals In Lieu of Vision: A Practical Exercise in Developing a Purposeful Organization

When Our Leadership Isn’t Good Enough

When Our Leadership Isn't Enough_3x5 Leadership

By: Chad Plenge

I hope every leader out there wants to do their best and wants to help those around them become better. Developing others is so deeply ingrained in the role of a leader that it can easily become part of the leader’s identity. As any experienced leader can tell you, though, subordinates get a “vote” in the process, potentially making any sort of development impossible. Leaders may not always be able to impact everyone and the resources necessary (time, etc) to make the required impact may not be realistic or feasible. The old adage goes, “90% of your time is spent on 10% of your people.” If this is true, it can leave many around you under-developed. However, this article is not about your time allocation or even about the other 90%; it is about those 10%…the ones that presented you with a challenge and the ones that were failing. What happens if part of the problem is you?  Continue reading → When Our Leadership Isn’t Good Enough

A Junior Officer’s Perspective on Surviving as an Aide-de-Camp: 6 Rules for Success

Aide-de-Camp Rules_3x5 Leadership

By CPT Desmond Clay (LG), CPT Paul Guzman (AR), and CPT Kyle Hensley (LG)

Serving as an aide-de-camp to a General Officer is a humbling and unique experience. This is one of the relatively rare jobs where a junior officer has an opportunity to gain insight on how the “Big Army” runs. Although it has been a few years since we served as aide-de-camps (AdC), there are a few enduring lessons we would like to share. Rarely is the transition period long enough to capture or discuss every possible contingency. Although there is a formal course for an enlisted aide, there is not a course for an AdC. Luckily, there is a General Officer Aide Handbook to help you navigate through this small community with some really helpful tips (1). We think there are six rules for success. Continue reading → A Junior Officer’s Perspective on Surviving as an Aide-de-Camp: 6 Rules for Success

Discipline Through Accountability and Enforcing Standards

Trip of the Secretary of Defense

Most of what I write, and what others write on similar platforms, focuses on the encouraging and inspirational side of leadership such as motivation, building trust, and developing the next generation of leaders. It’s fun to write and read about these topics because they make us, our people, and our organizations better. They’re also easy to write about. What’s challenging to write about and get people discussing are the less-stimulating sides to leadership such as holding others accountable and enforcing standards. I can already feel the dread overcome me as I write those words…

Critical characteristics for any field to be considered a true profession include high individual and collective responsibility and mutual accountability. In the military, this includes standards like professional appearance and wear of uniforms, physical fitness requirements, maintaining positive control of all assigned Soldiers and equipment, and routine certification in your assigned tasks by your higher headquarters. So, how do we do that well, where we can hold each other accountable while inspiring them to want to inherently be and do better? I believe we can all recall times where someone, such as a boss, unnecessarily tore us down for not maintaining a certain standard; maybe they even targeted us personally, rather than just our undesired behavior. I challenge the assumption held by many that holding others accountable to the standards requires strict and harsh reactions. How can we enact mutual accountability while continuing to build a stronger, more effective, and cohesive team? In his book (which I highly recommend), The Culture Code, Dan Coyle asserts that, “one misconception about highly successful [team] cultures is that they are happy, lighthearted places. This is mostly not the case. They are energized and engaged, but at their core their members are oriented less around achieving happiness than around solving hard problems together. This task involves many moments of high-candor feedback, uncomfortable truth-telling, when they confront the gap between where the group is, and where it ought to be.” Continue reading → Discipline Through Accountability and Enforcing Standards

Do All Things with Energy and Optimism

Marshall_3x5 Leadership_Engery & Optimism

By Tom Correll

George C. Marshall is well known in leadership and military history circles for his service as Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense, and as one of the key architects of the Allied war effort in World War II. While his reputation is largely dominated by his later accomplishments, early actions were no less notable. Following duties in the Philippines, Marshall was assigned to the Allied Expeditionary Force in France during World War I, where he served with distinction in the 1st Infantry Division.

In the fall of 1920 Major Marshall, wrote to Brigadier General (Retired) John Mallory to document a previous conversation on “the advice I would give a young officer going to war, based on my observation of what had constituted the success of the outstanding figures in the American Expeditionary Forces.” (1-176 letter) Mallory was a competent professional of his own right, receiving two Silver Stars in the Philippines, and still found Marshall’s points compelling.

Marshall highlighted four main qualities: optimism, energy, loyalty, and determination. One hundred years later, this letter still resonates today. Continue reading → Do All Things with Energy and Optimism

How to Better Understand Army Training

Training Graphic

“A small unit leader should be doing one of two things: leading Soldiers and small units during battle, or preparing Soldiers and small units to fight the battle.” —COL (Ret.) Dandridge Malone, from his book, Small Unit Leadership: A Common Sense Approach.

 “All unit leaders are responsible for quality training. Primary roles involve training subordinate leaders and developing teams” (para 1-21) –U.S. Army’s FM 7-0.

Training can take many forms, from SHARP and resiliency training, to equipment maintenance and accountability, to a unit field training exercise (FTX). No matter the form, military training is conducted to achieve one end: to win in a complex world (FM 7-0, para 1-1). Continue reading → How to Better Understand Army Training

Tactical Decision Exercises 2.0: Additional Resources


Back in February, I published a “Leader Development” mini-series oriented around military small unit leader development programs. The final part of that series addressed a development tool called Tactical Decision Exercises (TDEs). Though not a new concept in the military at all, revitalizing this tool brought a unique, low cost and resource, and effective leader development method to my company and Soldiers. Since sharing that post, it is evident that this tool has resonated with many readers. You can check out that blog post HERE. Continue reading → Tactical Decision Exercises 2.0: Additional Resources

Lessons Learned in the Science & Art of (Engineer) Support to Army Maneuver Forces

Engineer Support Pic

This post is not only for engineers; it is about fulfilling your organizational role to support the “main effort” when you are not that main effort or are in a defined supporting position. It is about providing the best customer service through the capabilities you deliver. I apply the below concepts through the lens of being an Army combat engineer, which has been my professional experience. However, these concepts can relate to ANY position, both in and out of the military. Consider how these ideas can apply to your branch or current position. For Army maneuver readers (Infantry & Armor), this post can serve as a guide in what you should expect from a supporting enabler; demand these from those that support you…but also, help bring them onto the team and have them feel like a valued member in your organization.

Engineers exist for one reason at the Army tactical level: to support maneuver forces. Every capability we provide is to enable a maneuver unit to get to the objective and accomplish its mission. As Army engineers, we are required to be a “Swiss Army Knife” of capabilities, by enabling mobility, countermobility, and survivability; providing necessary general engineering support; and being able to lead our formations to fight as Infantry if required. Continue reading → Lessons Learned in the Science & Art of (Engineer) Support to Army Maneuver Forces

The Lost Art of Giving (Negative) Feedback

Feedback Pic

Earlier in my military career, a respected mentor of mine commented that “the Army has lost the art of giving negative feedback.” That statement resonated with me and has stuck with me for years since then. From my experience, Army leaders either fail to provide quality feedback to their subordinates intended to improve them, or do so in an ineffective and destructive manner (which undermines the ultimate purpose). We either are too afraid to have the hard conversations, fail to make time to provide feedback, or (worst case) we out right don’t value developing members of our team or organization with feedback. No matter the reason, it is our subordinates who suffer because a critical aspect of their leader development is missing.

I want to provide some in-depth reflection on the topic of “feedback,” based on both my professional experience as well as recent formal education. Below are my thoughts on effective feedback, which include lessons to consider and tips to incorporate into your own feedback methods. Continue reading → The Lost Art of Giving (Negative) Feedback

Followership: A Missing Consideration That Is Limiting Your Leadership Ability


By Zachary Mierva

It’s time to outright admit: leaders in the Army struggle with a crucial and fundamental aspect of our profession: following. More importantly, leaders in the Army generally fail at facilitating good followers to improve their organizations. That’s how we end up with situations like Dr. Wong’s alarming report about the Army “lying to ourselves” and leaders feeling forced to be dishonest in their reporting. This is an important topic that few people are willing to discuss and a lot of leaders fail to leverage. However, this is a necessary conversation that needs to be addressed.

Followership has a strangely negative connotation in the Army, primarily because everything we do is predicated on the notion that “you’re a leader 24/7.” David Berg discusses in his chapter, Resurrecting the Muse: Followership in Organizations (which is part of The Psychodynamics of Leadership), that executives devalue the follower role, despite the fact that nearly everyone who is a leader is ALSO a follower in varying capacities. For example, a company commander leads a unit of roughly 100 Soldiers. He or she is the leader with 100 followers. However, that leader is also a follower falling subordinate to a battalion commander, brigade commander, division commander, the list goes on. The problem we face is that we fail to understand what a good follower should do, and how we can nurture followers in our organizations to strengthen, empower, and provide authority to them. Continue reading → Followership: A Missing Consideration That Is Limiting Your Leadership Ability