[February 7, 2019] I had only been command of my new Infantry Company for a little over a month but my boss (the Battalion Commander) already didn’t like me. He said I was “too bold.” One day we were to convoy back to Fort Hood, Texas from a local training area. My company was last (eat me dust) in line. I noticed that all the units took a turn onto the local highway going the wrong way. The question in my mind was, should I follow the leader or should I follow the correct route.
Often, it is easy to follow the leader because they are good at what they do, they are correct legally, ethically, and morally, they have extensive experience, and it is the right thing to do. Real life, however, doesn’t always present us with easy choices. That is why leadership is the grease that helps the gears of leadership keep turning. That “grease” is good decision making; even when the choices are not always that clear.
Follow the leader is also a kids’ game. Yet, it teaches us some useful skills in listening carefully, asking questions, and the advantages of being a good follower. Such basic pre-adult skills translate into a better grown-up later in life when challenges present themselves unexpectedly. We also learn, through a series of hard knocks, that it’s not always a constructive idea to blindly follow just any leader.
It is said that to be a good leader, one must also know how to be a good follower. And while that is surely true, this is only the case when a person can accurately judge the actions of the leaders we follow. The quality to properly judge is necessary for personal growth and future happiness. Only those who follow with loyalty, honor, and integrity can become a true leader. For instance, we would not want to follow a leader who has done things that are evil. Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, and a string of others like them go to illustrate my point.
On that day, decades ago as a junior officer, as my Infantry unit was to travel back to our base, I made a choice. I chose to ignore the rest of my battalion (which had gone the wrong way). In the lead vehicle, I had my unit follow me. My soldiers were the first to make a Battalion Refuel Point and the first to get home. Of course, I was admonished for not following the Battalion in the wrong direction. But because our published Operations Order had the proper route that I followed, I was let off the hook and my soldiers loved it.
There are gray areas in leadership and there are times when a decision must be made with little time and under stress. It is best to have the relevant experiences to make proper judgments. That day, I made the right choice and confirmed a valuable lesson in leadership.