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The Lost Art of Giving (Negative) Feedback

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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

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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

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 → Face It: We Are All Managers

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 → The McDonaldization of Our Army: Efficiency Trumping Adaptability

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 → Achieving Honesty: Improving Subordinate Leader Assessments & Feedback

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 XII: My Command Regrets

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 XI: Unit Pride & Recognition Programs

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 X: Deployment Readiness

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 → Company Command Series Part IX: Troop Leading Procedures

Company Command Series Part VIII: Closeout Formations

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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 improve your company closeout formations and weekend safety briefs. 

To any military service member, just the mention of a weekend safety brief and closeout formation can stir reactions of dread and loathing. I can think of few things that are less inspiring or effective in the military than a long brief where leaders regurgitate the same speech every Friday listing every “don’t” for the weekend. I argue that these closeout formations with the excessive safety briefs are no longer for the Soldiers, but “check-the-block” requirements to cover leaders when the weekend Serious Incident Report (SIR) event occurs, such as a DUI. These methods are ineffective and waste Soldiers’ and leaders’ time. Weekend closeout formations, like many other events, should be valuable and planned-out events that contribute to your company’s culture.

Early in my command, I read two blog posts (From the Green Notebook and The Military Leader) regarding this topic of improving unit closeout formations and safety briefs. They served as the catalyst to end my company’s current safety brief ways and update them with new focuses and methods. I cannot take credit for conceiving these ideas; I encourage readers to check out those posts for further ideas and inspiration.

Continue reading → Company Command Series Part VIII: Closeout Formations