[August 21, 2016] Nearly 25 years ago as a Captain in the U.S. Army I struggled with the concept of applying leadership principles; what they were and their relevance to a small military unit. I commanded a 270-soldier Engineer company that had as its mission to construct structures and build roads. Did my leader guidance at the time actually make a difference and did I get it right?
Looking back on my leader guidance, which I’ve duplicated partly below, I would say that much of what I wrote and applied was acceptable and good for any junior leader today. Much of it also applies to senior leaders. Here it is exerted from a two-page memorandum to my leaders regarding leadership and titled “Command Guidance for Leaders:”
- Execution: Each Officer and NCO will lead in person. Any leader who fails to obtain his mission, and who has not done everything to accomplish such, has not done his full duty. The functions of leaders are to guide and observe, not to meddle. Remember that praise, as a motivator, is more valuable than blame.
- Mission: In carrying out a mission, the promulgation of the order represents not over 10% of your responsibility. The remaining 90% consists in assuring by means of personal supervision on the ground, by yourself, proper and vigorous execution.
- Subordinate Guidance: Daily, at the earliest possible moment, leaders will brief their personnel on upcoming events and give your intentions.
- Discipline: There is only one kind of discipline – PERFECT DISCIPLINE. If you do not enforce and maintain discipline, you are potential murderers in combat. You must set the example for your soldiers.
- Condition: High physical condition is vital to mission accomplishment. Fatigue makes cowards of us all.
- Rest: Leaders, commissioned and enlisted, who do not rest, do not last. All sections must run a duty roster and enforce compliance.
- Keep Troops Informed: Use every means before and after the mission to tell the troops what they are going to do and what they have done.
The U.S. Army had not yet formalized their 7 values1 (loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, and personal courage) into a coherent whole. I think most of them were covered in some way in my seven paragraphs on leadership. But more importantly, how can a leader judge – looking back – on whether their leadership and their guidance made a difference and was it worthwhile?
While my unit with its leadership never deployed to combat, all of its junior officers and most of its NCOs did at some point. I had the honor to meet several of them returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. They remembered me, fortunately since I failed to recognize them, and each of my nearly dozen lieutenants during my tenure (now majors) told me that it was my leadership that motivated and inspired them to stay in the service.
Call it legacy or call it prominence or just call it good leadership, I’m satisfied that those who officered under my command did in fact succeed as leaders themselves. They learned that being a leader is more than simply occupying a position and that genuine leadership is about people. I believe I made a difference and got it right.
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