[June 12, 2016] A good friend of mine, a colonel, spent over 30 years in the U.S. Army before he retired two years ago. Other than myself, the Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army, and the Secretary of the Army (yep, the two most senior Army leaders), there were few who attended his retirement ceremony. It was not because he was disliked but because few knew him personally. He was, as we say in the military, a gray eminence.
My friend was a person who exercised power behind the scenes; this is what a gray eminence does. My friend was not powerful because he possessed great influence or was politically connected but because he was one of the greatest mentors of our time. His advice was always on target and he successfully helped shape the careers of many of the U.S. Army’s most senior officers. His career as an officer was something of pride to his family yet he never achieved senior flag rank as a general and was not a strategic leader in his own right. But he knew how to develop strategy and how to teach others how to do it.
How did he do it? That was my wife’s question when we attended his retirement ceremony. She asked; how could a colonel with a humble background, a sociology undergraduate degree from a small college, and ROTC commission succeed where others had failed? I was fortunate enough to know the man since we were roommates at Fort Benning, Georgia at the U.S. Army Advanced Infantry School course.
There are four basic steps for developing senior leaders … strategic-level leaders that he followed. First, one must be a master at their professional craft and be dedicated to personal and professional development. Second, one should recognize and recruit talented subordinates. Third, one should also encourage and challenge protégés to develop their strengths and overcome their weaknesses. And, finally, one should not be afraid to break the rules of the organization to do it.
Not unlike Major General Fox Conner1 who mentored Generals George Patton and George Marshall and also U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower, my friend was the epitome of a great mentor and friend. The study of strategic officership is all about leadership; developing expert knowledge and imparting that knowledge to others. Few can do this but my friend was one of them. Like Fox Conner, he was a gray eminence.
[Don’t forget to “Like” the Leader Maker at our Facebook Page.]