[August 23, 2019] I was in for a shock. I’d just taken over battalion command in the U.S. Army and thought that I had reached the pinnacle of my career and that I was thus finished with working hard to get ahead. Wow, was I wrong. My boss, the brigade commander, had a few “suggestions” for us; in our first meeting, he was about to establish standards for success.
When you have a room full of battalion commanders, there is plenty of testosterone where there is a verbal arm-wrestling competition to see who comes out on top. By their very nature of their personality, commanders are competitive folks and they are used to winning. Often, many don’t like being told what to do (other than to advance their career) or how to do it.
Our boss was about to crush our perception of ourselves and destroy our day. He began by outlining a few facts for us. On a side note, most brigade commanders are selected because they are judged as having the potential to become a General Officer. Their command is a test to confirm that line of thinking and they know it. This means they must ensure their battalion commanders are not just successful but better than anyone else.
I was told things I never heard about in the Army. He said we would all immediately apply for the U.S. Army War College, attend, and graduate (with some level of honor). After he laid out a list of things he wanted our units to do, he said these metrics would determine if we could stay on as commander beyond a year. And then it got interesting.
We were required to host and attend a long list of social events, participate in all local military functions and community events, be a guest speaker for on least 10 occasions (one had to be a college graduation), our wives were also required to be active, and our kids had to stay out of trouble. Being a battalion commander was tough enough and now we just got added a difficult list of achievements. Good bye to the easy life.
Part of being a great leader is being there for others and our commander was making sure we were fully engaged. The “old man” (as we called him) was getting us ready for war. At the time, the September 11th attacks had not occurred but were only months away. His push to get us war ready was to be a godsend. We were ready when the U.S. President George Bush ordered us into Afghanistan and later into Iraq. We were ready because he had established his vision of success and pushed us to achieve them.
Today, as I volunteer for a local Boy Scout troop, I help establish standards for success for each boy. It gives them something to work towards. This appears to be paying off. Several of the older boys have thanked me (and other adult scout leaders) for teaching them practical things about leadership. But we are not overly aggressive like my previous brigade commander.