[June 5, 2018] If there is one thing that I learned from my first U.S. Army commander, it was that it is a bad idea to make feel-good rules for your soldiers. Feel-good rules are formalized but unnecessary rules of behavior.
Feel-good rules are usually put in place by well-meaning leaders and managers who want to play it safe; usually when it comes to the goal of having everyone get along with one another. Any of these can be in the form of a policy, regulation, or law; anything that attempts to control the behavior someone doesn’t like. Sound familiar? Yes, it sounds like my mother.
When rules of this nature are generated, it is usually because we don’t trust others to do the right thing. It shows that respect is lacking, discipline needs improving, and morale is poor. I firmly believe in teaching, coaching, and mentoring soldiers to do the right thing and I spell it out through my deeds and actions.
My first commander was not the best person for the job. He was a poor leader but I learned more of what not to do from him than from anyone else. When I was transferred to his Infantry Company and reported in, the first thing he said was, “there are rules around here and I expect you to obey them.” “Yes, sir’” was out of my mouth so fast it even surprised me.
What I didn’t expect was a typed list of 25 Company B rules. The first rule, and I was to never forget it, was that I was allowed only one coffee mug in the break room. The second rule was to never ask the commander a question during his briefings. What? I thought these were pretty lame ideas and said so later. For my insolence on those and many other rules, I was considered a troublemaker.
An interesting piece of irony is that years later I would become the company commander of that same unit. When I arrived the feel-good rules were still in place. My first order was to terminate them.
The unit improved under my command. It went from the dead last in the maintenance of heavy equipment and in Field Training Exercises to the top five out of 26. We also lost no equipment and had no AWOL soldiers. Morale and discipline had improved dramatically. And while I don’t attribute the improvement to getting rid of those feel-good rules, it certainly went a long way in making it happen.