[March 26, 2016] On my first field exercise as an army Lieutenant, I was tasked to take my platoon from our base camp to another location a short distance away. Twelve armored personnel carriers readied and off we went … and since I was a great map reader, I anticipated no problems on the trip. Unfortunately for me the route had been blocked and so I failed to arrive on time. It follows that the best leader advice I can give anyone is to be prepared.
I was ready but not prepared to take my soldiers on the trip because I didn’t reconnoiter the route; it was not the last time I wasn’t prepared. Humans are prone to making assumptions about things and I was no exception. Even the Boy Scouts teach their young boys to be prepared. If there is one thing I repeatedly see in junior leaders is the simple lack of preparation. And since giving presentations on university campuses, I also see unprepared students.
“Be Prepared… the meaning of the motto is that a scout must prepare himself by previous thinking out and practicing how to act on any accident or emergency so that he is never taken by surprise.” – Robert Baden-Powell, founder of the Scout Movement
What I don’t mean is that this folks lack intelligence or they haven’t taken steps to get access to information … but they overlook basic things they should to ready themselves to complete a task. Common for junior leaders is they assume that everyone knows what their assigned task is and that they know how to accomplish it. Students regularly assume they’ve studied enough and studied the right material. Those assumptions are frequently wrong.
In the World War II Battle of the Kasserine Pass in North Africa allied forces were bested by Erwin Rommel’s Nazi German army. This was a major battle and the first large engagement between American and German forces. American forces were inexperienced and poorly led. The result was heavy allied casualties. One of the first books I read as a junior officer on being prepared was First Blood: Battle of the Kasserine Pass, 1943 by Charles Whiting. It certainly hit home for me.
Nothing brings focus to the mind that fighting a smart, experienced enemy intent on destroying your combat force. I was fortunate that getting my unit’s armored column lost was only a training mission. In combat they would likely have been destroyed. Today, I’m better prepared but whenever things don’t go right, I think back and say “what did I miss?” Usually I made an erroneous assumption.
Leaders … be prepared.
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