[September 27, 2013] When I was a young Infantry captain and company commander, I published my command philosophy (i.e., my leadership philosophy) – good thing because it forced me to think about how I would act and how I thought soldiers would perceive me.
I had spent time reading books on famous leaders from history, World War II in particular (e.g., GEN George S. Patton, GEN George C. Marshall), and trying to figure out what made them successful as combat leaders.
At the time, my personal belief was that “discipline” of the soldier, instilling of this trait, in the men of my unit was the most important key to success. And, yes, this was important. However, what I was to later realize was that it is the actions of the combat leader himself and subordinate leaders (first line leaders) that ultimately made the real difference.
Discipline, then, was merely the vehicle that made it easier for the leader to accomplish the tasks/missions assigned. Discipline was the means, not the end.
My leader philosophy included my unit’s actionable philosophy and army values that would help guide and focus the work of my Infantrymen. Being able to articulate in writing helped keep my men and I on track and headed toward achieving our goals, missions, tasks.
The written command (leadership) philosophy let people know what to expect, what I valued as the commander, how they should act, and what they should believe. This certainly made the workday less stressful, predictable, and more productive. And, it helped keep me on course as well.
What did this formalized command philosophy help us do?
- The written priorities helped better direct the use of resources.
- Made it easier to establish soldier trust and confidence.
- Establish principles of behavior for action.
- Reduce the unknown and made me more predictable and less stressful to unit members.
- Allowed an easier to understand set of behaviors.
- Made it easier to make mission/task changes.
- Enabled better communications.
- Established a baseline of standards and core values.
My goal was to be the driver of the unit and therefore its successes or failures would be my personal responsibility.
I find it entertaining today to read those things I wrote over 25 years ago. But I haven’t changed in my beliefs and if anything I have a more firm grasp on those most important leader issues.
As a senior leader, it is just as important to formalize your leader philosophy – and even if not published for all to see, writing it down forces us to look at what we are as leaders.