This weekend there were a couple of big, headline-making mistakes that occupied national news and social media feeds. The first, an erroneous message from the state of Hawaii indicating an inbound missile, represents a system error. The second, a missed catch by Saints safety Marcus Williams, represents a human error. Both categories, system and human, will occur in your organization on a daily basis. A learning organization adapts and improves from mistakes while a zero-defect organization rushes to place blame on an individual. This article provides thoughts for leaders facing failures, errors, or mistakes in any organization.
Leader development is one of the most important contributions we make to the United States Army. We use leader development to build a foundation in the profession, instill unit culture, and evaluate subordinate leader attributes. This is the “what” of leader development, the focus areas a Commander emphasizes based on their perspective and experience. As Field Grade Leaders, the “what” is important, but we must also focus on the “how” of leader development.
Leaders from 1st Squadron (Airborne), 91st Cavalry Regiment prepare for a jump. Oct 27th, 2017.
In this article we interview LTC Ian Palmer, an extremely successful leader and professional team builder. LTC Palmer discusses leadership at the Field Grade level and tools he has employed over the years to manage time, tasks, and priorities.
LTC Palmer commissioned as an Armor Officer from Notre Dame in 1997. Assignments include Fort Hood, Wuerzburg, Schweinfurt, Fort Polk, The Pentagon, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, and Fort Benning. LTC Palmer has served in various positions as a Field Grade Leader including Squadron S3 and XO, Brigade Combat Team XO, Stryker Squadron Commander, and as Squadron Commander for the 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade.
LTC Palmer (right) addressing the formation
Leadership is the process of influencing people by providing purpose, direction, and motivation to accomplish the mission and improve the organization (ADRP 6-22, 1-1).
U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Erin Piazza
In a 2010 New York Time OpEd titled The Unsentimental Warrior, Lucian Truscott, grandson of his namesake, a famous WWII general, argued that Army leaders must be willing and able to give deadly serious orders to accomplish the mission they are given, that men die for a cause and not for their generals, and if leaders are unable to influence Soldiers they may as well pack up their stuff and go home. Carl Von Clausewitz argues the nature of war is a human endeavor, it is brutal and violent, and it is uncertain. As leaders, we must develop our organization to maneuver through the fog of war and win against a competent and determined foe and we cannot do that without developing our organization’s leaders’ ability to cultivate and exercise influence judiciously. By understanding what it means to counsel, coach, and mentor, leaders will be better prepared to influence people to accomplish the mission and improve the organization. To empower subordinates, execute mission command, and accomplish the mission, leaders must develop their own organization through counseling, coaching and mentoring. This approach directly supports General Robert Abram’s FY18 FORSCOM Command Training Guidance which emphasizes “mastering the fundamentals, strengthening leader development, caring for soldiers and their families, and informing the future force.”
“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?