Win Friends and Influence People as a Field Grade Leader

A Guest Post by Kyle Trottier

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.

.S. military personnel assigned to Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa, along with French Foreign Legion soldiers, attend a desert commando course in Arta, Djibouti. Through unified action with U.S. and international partners in East Africa, CJTF-HOA conducts security force assistance, executes military engagement, provides force protection, and provides military support to regional counter-violent extremist organization operations in order to support aligned regional efforts, ensure regional access and freedom of movement, and protect U.S. interests.

U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Barry Loo

Colonel Ross Coffman, while serving as the commander of the Ready First Combat Team (1/1AD), made multiple podcasts where he communicated his vision and expectations to his formation. One series was dedicated to field grade officers. He explained that a successful major must have the ability to close the deal, generate and preserve options, communicate effectively, and enable units. He describes that as a major, for the first time in your career you will not be able to solve problems by yourself, it will require an ability to work with a variety of different organizations to accomplish the mission. The question remains, how do you as a field grade officer work with people and organizations, most of whom you have no authority over, to accomplish the mission? An answer lays in a timeless classic, Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends & Influence People.”

Fundamental Techniques in Handling People

“The great aim of education is not knowledge but action.” Herbert Spencer

 Principle 1: Don’t criticize, condemn, or complain.

Imagine if a leader arrives at a division staff surrounded by bitter, jaded, or disinterested peers. Individuals are often prone to criticize, condemn, or complain. People never see anything as their fault, but that everybody else is wrong. This would not only create a difficult work environment but also result in other staff sections having no desire to work with them. As a field grade leader, it is hard to generate options, communicate effectively, close the deal, and enable units when nobody desires to work with you. Most problems on a division staff require not only synchronizing warfighting functions but also integrating multiple civilian agencies and contractors. To be a successful field grade leader, people must want to work with you.Carnegie’s first principle to handling people is “don’t criticize, condemn, or complain.” He begins by saying, “criticism is futile because it puts a person on the defensive and usually makes him strive to justify himself. Criticism is dangerous, because it wounds a person’s precious pride, hurts his sense of importance, and arouses resentment” (Carnegie, 5). People will not remember what you did, they will remember how you made them feel. When we criticize we often believe we are making a necessary correction, but often the message is received in a manner that will incur resentment and the other person is likely to justify himself and condemn us in return. Carnegie continues, “Any fool can criticize, condemn, and complain and most fools do. But it takes character and self-control to be understanding and forgiving. A great man shows his greatness by the way he treats little men” (Carnegie, 13). We need to try to listen and understand, not condemn. Each staff section, subordinate unit, contractor, or agency has its own set of priorities and modes of operation, many of which will differ from your current pattern of thought. Instead of complaining ask them why

Principle 2. Give honest and sincere appreciation.

“There is nothing that so kills the ambitions of a person as criticisms from superiors.” Charles Schwab

There is only one way to get anybody to do anything; it is by making the other person want to do it. Dr. John Dewey, one of America’s most profound philosophers said, “the deepest urge in human nature is the desire to be important” (Carnegie, 7). He further stated, “this desire makes you want to wear the latest styles, drive the latest cars, and talk about your brilliant children” (Carnegie, 19). As a field grade leader, you will put your entire heart and soul into a project, brief it to the commander, and your reward will be more work. Building upon Principle 1, and not complaining, take time to genuinely thank your team for their efforts. Appreciation is sincere when you recognize the value of the contributions of others. It is not counterfeit flattery, it is not fake or disingenuous. You build a team willing to work with you when you display genuine emotion when you recognize the value others contributed when you don’t care who gets the credit. As a field grade leader, you will not be able to solve problems by yourself. By building a team willing to contribute, a team that feels valued and appreciated, you will be able to generate options, communicate effectively, close the deal, and enable units.

Principle 3. Arouse in the other person an eager want.

“If there is any one secret of success, it lies in the ability to get the other person‘s point of view and see things from that person’s angle as well as from your own” (Carnegie, 35).

 Carnegie states that “the only way on earth to influence other people is to talk about what they want and show them how to get it” (Carnegie, 31). The US Army definition of leadership is to “provide purpose, direction, and motivation while working to improve the organization and accomplish the mission” (ADRP 6-22). A field grade leader must use organizational leadership to enable mission command. He/she must create cohesive teams through mutual trust, create shared understanding, and provide clear intent. Throughout this process, the field grade leader must arouse in others an eager want, a passion or desire to put in the effort to accomplish the mission. As organizational leaders dealing with a variety of units and agencies we must stop and ask ourselves “how can I make this person want to do it?” The world is full of self-seeking people, the leaders who can put themselves in the place of others, and who can understand the workings of their minds, will enjoy higher levels of success. They will be more readily able to generate options, communicate effectively, enable units, and close the deal because they have the buy-in of the entire organization.

A field grade leader who does not condemn, who gives genuine praise, and inspires others will create an environment where people feel valued and are willing to provide ideas or input. This enables the staff to communicate effectively which facilities the generation of options. A staff that is able to openly debate the value of courses of action based on their merit will be able to support and enable subordinates and close the deal at a high level.

The challenges of a field grade leader are many. But, those who do not criticize, condemn or complain, who genuinely appreciate the work of others, and who can inspire an eager want will find themselves better able to win friends and influence people. These three principles from Carnegie’s timeless classic are as true today as they were in 1936. In the Army profession, leaders seek to continually seize, retain, and exploit the initiative. All divisions must continually stand ready to deploy to serve our nation’s strategic interests. As a field grade leader, one of our primary weapon systems is our ability to positively interact with others on a daily basis. Our ability to win friends and influence people enables us to generate and preserve options, communicate effectively, close the deal, and enable units.

Major Kyle Trottier is an armor officer, a graduate of Texas Christian University and holds a master’s degree in Organizational and Business Security Management from Webster University and a Masters in Military Art and Science (Theater Operations) from the School of Advanced Military Studies (SAMS). MAJ Trottier is currently serving as the 3ID FUOPS Chief.

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One thought on “Win Friends and Influence People as a Field Grade Leader

  1. Trottier’s unearthed a secret weapon for the ambitious staff officer. This is one of those cornerstone volumes that if you haven’t started B-School, or don’t have a wise uncle, you probably haven’t read. There’s a reason it’s still in print. I give copies of another Carnegie book, “How To Enjoy Your Life And Your Job” to mentees, unschooled in the art of being happy and successful, regardless of your relative condition. Bravo my friend.