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.
Effective Field Grade Leaders transition the Commander’s priorities from concept into executable professional development events, linked over time to achieve a desired effect. This short article provides three thoughts to consider while developing your organization’s leader development strategy.
- Like any other good training, your leader development progression must be predictable to be effective. Subordinates should understand the information they are responsible for, the method you will employ to facilitate the session, and how it links to the organization’s overall leader development strategy. Predictability sets conditions for engaged junior leaders by providing them time and resources to prepare effectively. An engaged group of subordinates is key to a beneficial (and enjoyable) leader development session. To be predictable, make your leader development program a part of the organization’s battle rhythm. Additionally, communicate the overarching leader development strategy by addressing it briefly at the beginning of each session.
- Design your leader development strategy to target the audience appropriately. At the Battalion level, your commander’s developmental audience is two levels down, focusing on platoon leaders and platoon sergeants. Emphasis at this level does not advocate exclusion of company and staff level leaders, but rather provides a focal point for the program. Separate the audience according to position to achieve targeted leader development sessions. For example, hold separate sessions with platoon-level leaders, staff, and command teams. Bring the whole team together regularly for inclusive discussion.
- Finally, your leader development strategy should follow a systematic progression over time and generally nest with unit training. Your leader development strategy should not be cognitively separated from other training, but rather serve as a complementary line of effort. Look at the long-range calendar and identify culminating events that warrant focus through the leader development program. Likely, these events include live fires, collective training events (such as a Combat Training Center Rotation), or deployment. Next, consider the skills and attributes that are most important to your organization. These leadership attributes are probably stated in the unit vision or the commander’s philosophy. Additionally, look to the leader development philosophies of the Brigade and Division Commanders. Their priorities should strongly influence your priorities. Finally, lay the focus areas out in a systematic progression over time. Again, use this infrastructure as a tool to build shared understanding amongst leaders. Your leader development program will be more effective if participants understand the broad themes and progression over time.
These simple considerations will assist in developing an effective leader development program. As a Field Grade Officer, you play a primary role in developing a systematic progression. Consider your leader development strategy first when populating the training calendar and refrain from canceling sessions whenever possible. Focus two levels down first, then build a program that benefits all leaders in the unit. Build the strategy to develop leaders in conjunction with training milestones. The investment you make in the organization’s leader development program will make a difference in the careers of countless young leaders.