[September 12, 2019] The fastest and most effective way to progress as a leader is to be in a crucible under fire and have your performance critiqued. Those who lead men and women in our military regularly review their team’s ability to accomplish a mission. During a review, the leader will receive feedback in its brutally honest form and your personal sensitivities will be found to be irrelevant.
I’m sure we all remember the Disney Pinocchio story where the kind-hearted, woodcarver Geppetto created a wooden puppet named Pinocchio. In the movie, the Blue Fairy told Geppetto that because he had “given so much happiness to others that you deserve to have your wish [for Pinocchio to become a real boy] to come true.” But she also warned him of his lack of sternness, his whimsicalness, and lack of practicality.
What is so great about this story is that it shows us how even the best people do need others to help them see themselves. Ideally, we will listen. Preferably, this criticism is made in a manner that we acknowledge what we need; that we learn from what we are told and what we can do better next time.
The practicality of the military review process is that anyone can speak; from the highest rank to the lowest Private. Everyone is encouraged to discuss their perspective and tell what went right and what went wrong because any worthwhile mission is complex and difficult, thus requiring an understanding at multiple levels of experience and analysis.
The analysis that takes place, whether it is for Geppetto or as part of the U.S. military is that thoughtful feedback is a necessary condition for us to advance. It is based upon an old idea that learning takes us away from our comfort zones and thrusts us into a new world; a place we may fear the chaos and not want to go.
Like all military leaders, I’ve received my share of criticism for mistakes. That is part of the military’s formal After Action Review, but it could have been in a bar drinking a beer or at a cookout with my team. The setting is not relevant. But the thought that your sensitive nature will somehow protect you is a foreign idea that deserves the dustbin of human history.
In the Disney story, Pinocchio went missing. Geppetto wasted no time in searching the village and beyond. The search took him through dark streets, rainstorms, and to the deadly whale Monstro. Geppetto was relentless in ensuring his son was safe. When they reunited and Geppetto learned of Pinocchio’s mishaps, he made no effort to reprimand his remorseful son.