“There is at least one thing worse than fighting with allies – And that is to fight without them”
-Winston S. Churchill
Sitting down in a conference room surrounded by blank whiteboards and charged with developing a plan can be a daunting task for a group of Army planners. The task becomes increasingly difficult in a joint environment, as planners wrestle with joint and service doctrines, service-specific jargon and acronyms, and conflicting service interests. These challenges multiply in a bilateral or multinational environment. Yet this is a situation that we will face more frequently as the trend of coalition operations continues, and working with international partners becomes our new normal. Unfortunately, while doctrine addresses the planning process broadly, there are no doctrinal references that address the actual nuts and bolts of combined planning, laying out the hurdles to multinational planning at the operational planning team (OPT) level.
U.S. Army Soldiers assigned to 1st Battalion, 30th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Inf. Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Inf. Division and the Senegalese Army’s 1st Paratrooper Battalion rehearse mortar crew drills July 12, in Thies, Senegal as part of Africa Readiness Training 2016.
What is the worst trap an operations officer can fall into? From my perspective, it is falling in love with the plan. Anyone who has been an S3, planner, or action officer knows the emotion that I am describing here. It occurs in the moment when someone attempts to provide constructive comments, and you take the side of “the plan” instead of listening to their perspective. You instinctively shield “the plan” like a protective parent sheltering their child from the rain. After years of planning all kinds of things, I still find myself falling into this trap from time to time. Here are three thoughts to help with perspective in planning:
March 13, 2014 – Photo courtesy of Christopher Bodin
If you are going to close the deal, generate and preserve options, and enable units to accomplish their mission, you must understand how to handle people. Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends & Influence People” proposes three principles to handle people: 1) Don’t criticize, condemn, or complain; 2) Give honest and sincere appreciation; and 3) Arouse in the other person an eager want. By applying these principles, field grade leaders will be better prepared to successfully improve their organizations and lead their units towards mission accomplishment.
U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Barry Loo
Do you get frustrated when someone throws roadblocks in the way of progress? I certainly do. I get really, really angry when someone on the staff derails progress, focusing on why a plan will fail instead of figuring out how to make it succeed. There is always someone who starts with no, focusing on every regulation, doctrinal imperative, and potential friction point to prevent action. But what’s the true source of this frustration? Is it truly about the organization, or does it become personal when someone challenges your work? Effective leaders realize that it isn’t about being right or wrong. Intelligent organizational leaders use diverse and divergent thinking to make projects stronger rather than letting their ego get in the way. Here are three quick thoughts on using divergent thinking to the team’s advantage – the change starts with you.
A Soldier in Basic Combat Training with Company A, 3rd Battalion, 13th Infantry Regiment, at Fort Jackson, S.C., exits the Skyscraper obstacle by falling several feet onto a mat at the confidence course, June 22.
Empathy: In the context of conflict, empathy is your ability to appreciate someone else’s perspective. Rather than writing someone off as an obstacle, have the patience to think through their concerns without bias. A good perspective is that analyzing these arguments only strengthens your initiative.
Humility: I am a flawed leader – I often take conflict or disagreement personally. In the context of professional disagreement, humility reminds me that my initiatives and approach are always flawed. Facets of my plan will always be flawed, and divergent perspectives can be credible.
Compromise: Once a leader has considered divergent perspectives and applied critical analysis to their approach, they can pursue stronger initiatives and plans. Good leaders compromise, understanding that being right is less important than collaborative inclusion.
Organizational leadership is not about being right. Organizational leadership is about maximizing the diversity of a team through collaborative inclusion.
Check out more thoughts on improving your organizational leadership here
“Leadership is the process of influencing people by providing purpose, direction, and motivation to accomplish the mission and improve the organization” (ADRP 6-22, 1 August 2012, p. 1-1). As Army leaders, we are well versed in leading to accomplish the mission. We begin our careers at the direct leadership level, having daily face-to-face contact with those in our charge, and getting the job done. As organizational leaders, we must place more focus on the second aim of leadership – to improve the organization. However, we still have direct leadership responsibility in our staff sections.
Sentinel Spc. Preston Millison, 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard), conducts his last walk at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Arlington National Cemetery, Va., Dec. 6, 2016. Millison is badge holder number 633 and has served at the Tomb since June 2014. (Photo by Sgt. Cody W. Torkelson)
As leaders, time is usually our most valuable resource (as previously discussed here). Since time is often scarce, it may appear wasteful to invest in communication that appears inefficient. Stated more directly, why waste time interacting with a subordinate who can’t get to the point or doesn’t have one? Before shutting down a conversation to save time, think about some of the other factors at play. First, think about what the other person is trying to achieve. Even if it is just small talk, they are usually attempting is to establish a relationship. If they are complaining, they consider you a trusted agent or someone who can influence change. A few seconds of thought are helpful in identifying their purpose. Next, think about your leadership role broader than the context of your daily tasks. As a leader, you probably internalize the responsibility of professional development. A person-to-person interaction in the headquarters is likely more valuable than a formal, group leader development session. In this context, investing time in junior leaders may be the most important thing you do all day. Finally, think about the example you are setting as a professional. If you are the leader who never has time to listen, junior leaders will likely model your behavior. Just like in small units, good leaders have time for their people. Time is scarce, and likely your most valuable commodity. Take a few moments to reflect on how to most effectively use your time today. Is your inbox more important than interacting with your people?
To be successful in multi-national operations, the US military must create an environment where coalition staff officers can provide meaningful contributions to the team. The differences that exist between nationalities are magnified in the pressure cooker that is a coalition headquarters. Acceptance in this environment is a difficult path to navigate for a coalition officer, and an easy one to misjudge. This entry offers three recommendations that will allow coalition officers to integrate effectively into a US-led HQ during the initial few months of their tour. It falls to the Field Grade leaders in an organization to drive this integration and build the effectiveness of the staff. This is not an exhaustive list, but rather observations formed from personal experience.
U.S. Army photo by Sgt. William Reinier, 82nd Airborne Division
‘Tis the season of reflection. All the leadership and military blogs are awash with articles from Majors completing their key developmental jobs, capturing fresh insight and prime takeaways from what has likely proven the most demanding 18-24 months of their military careers to date. Every unit is different. Every commander is different. Therefore, every experience is a bit different. The number of articles and essays and the breadth of their focus demonstrate the complexity and challenge of key-developmental assignments. This article deviates from those highlighting the incredibly important processes, roles, and systems that make or break S3s and XOs. Here, the focus is on a matter that is often overlooked or overcome by competing demands: the planning process for post-KD assignments.
Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Jeremy J. Fowler
The summer PCS season is upon us, bringing with it a large number of outstanding articles written by former Iron Majors who are moving to other assignments. Our goal with this article is to present an area not commonly discussed but was a significant challenge we faced for our entire KD time.
What follows focuses on readiness – the Chief of Staff of the Army’s (CSA) top priority. For the field grade officers, it is a broad term that encompasses a number of systems and data input streams that ultimately empower commanders to determine who is ready to fight today, who will be ready tomorrow and who needs more work. As a battalion or brigade level field grade officer, especially an S3 or XO, you are the readiness data custodian. You will plan and run training for units and staffs, manage numerous systems of record and enforce maintenance and accountability processes, all of which turn numbers and percentages into a picture of unit readiness.
Oct. 1, 2015 – Photo by U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Brian Hamilton
Leading others is a challenging yet rewarding aspect of our profession. Some leaders have an ability to inspire individuals and create organizations that train hard to accomplish many great measures. How does this happen? What can one emulate from these leaders and inculcate into our own organizations? The answer lies within the mindset of the leader. In her 2009 book Mindset The New Psychology of Success, Dr. Carol Dweck, a PhD Psychologist at Colombia University, describes two types of people – those with a “Fixed” mindset and those with a “Growth” mindset. She applies twenty years of research at Colombia University to demonstrate how the view you adopt for your life profoundly impacts how we approach and solve problems. Leaders must provide purpose, direction, and motivation; a growth mindset enables you to create a positive environment, prepare yourself, and develop others to accomplish the mission and improve the organization.
Photo by Staff Sgt. Marcus Fichtl