The Right Read Can Make You a Better Leader

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From ARMY Magazine, Vol. 68, No. 4, April 2018. Copyright © 2018 by the Association of the U.S. Army and reprinted by permission of ARMY Magazine.

Reading for professional growth is an important practice for military leaders. However, there can be plenty of false starts along the way—especially for younger officers and NCOs. For instance, I remember walking into a bookstore as a second lieutenant, going to the military history section and picking out the first book I thought looked interesting. Many times, these books lacked professional value or the reading was so dense that I could not bring myself to finish. Too often, I took a break following these self-study missteps.

While there are numerous reading lists out there for young leaders to choose from, many of them don’t explain the “why” behind the book’s importance. Even the Army chief of staff’s list provides nothing more than a brief synopsis of a book (which is more than most give).

Selecting a Book

So, to help professionals with their reading journey, here are five practices to adopt to help select the right books for development:

Ask a mentor: “What book (or books) have you given most often as a gift and why?”

Tim Ferriss, a bestselling author and host of a popular podcast, The Tim Ferriss Show, asks this same question in his latest book Tribe of Mentors: Short Life Advice from the Best in the World. I have asked a variation of it throughout my career. I have found that if someone gives the same book over and over again as a gift, it has had a profound impact on their life. And when you ask this question, mentors provide great insights they gleaned from the book or books, making the title even more appealing to read.

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Are Customs, Courtesies, and Traditions a Thing of the Past?

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By SGM Paul Ellis

Since it’s creation, the Army has undergone numerous evolutions, ranging from everything such as the way we fight to the weapons we bring to the fight. In recent years, the Army also seems to be transitioning to a culture where it appears that customs, courtesies, and traditions are slowly becoming a thing of the past. In today’s Army, there seems to be a lack of effort to practice or preserve Army customs, courtesies, and traditions.

Are Army customs, courtesies, and traditions becoming a thing of the past?

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Three Books You Should Read Before Company Command

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For most officers, company command ranks in the top ten of their professional highlights reel. It’s a rewarding, yet humbling position for those who experience it. Over the course of 12 to 36 months, command provides captains with the authorities and responsibilities to lead, train, and prepare individuals for combat (and in some cases, lead them through it).

So is there a way to prepare for this experience through reading so that captains get the most out if it and lead with the best version of themselves? Yes. I recently hosted a conversation on our Facebook page and got a tremendous amount of responses.

As I read the responses, the same books appeared in multiple comments. This speaks to the importance of these works. Taking those into account, I recommend three books for all leaders preparing for company command. The first two are actual books, and the third consists of doctrine and regulations that leaders need to understand before taking command.

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How to Fail as the S6

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By: Chris Byrd, Dre’ Abadie, Joe Pishock, Joshua Tremble, Brian Jorgenson, Oz Ortiz, Shawn Carden, and Charles Smith.

Two factors determine the operational reach of fighting formations: communications and logistics. The S6 is the center of gravity for the Signal Corps and it is our responsibility to ensure that commanders and subordinate leaders are able to communicate across their formations. Communication helps synchronize operations, mass effects, and enables warfighters to seize the initiative. And when units lose this ability, operations suffer.

The authors of this article are all former Division G6s and have observed well over 100 Battalion and Brigade S6s on training exercise, CTC rotations and operational deployments. Each contributor has at least three years as an S6/G6 with some having as upwards of seven years in these vital positions. We gained a sense that many officers want to avoid S6 positions and seek to stove-pipe in strategic jobs. This mis-guided intention seems to be fostered by the below-average promotion rate for Signal Officers to MAJ over the last 3 years. While many factors contribute to the low rates, it is noteworthy that officers who did well as an S6 also did well in the CSL selection where a premium is placed on leadership.

However, since the concern is there, let’s address right up front the reasons that we saw officers fail as S6s:

They try to be the “smartest” communicator in the unit.  There are plenty of technical problems to solve but that’s why you have Soldiers and NCOs.  An S6 behind the keyboard during operations means that a Soldier is unemployed.  It also means that the officer responsible for future operations is consumed with a current task.  Nobody is “in charge” when this happens.

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The Leadership Lesson Our Parents Taught Us

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When I first started learning to talk, my parents taught me an important lesson about great leadership. They taught me to be gracious. Whenever someone did something nice for me, they would look down at me and ask, “What do you say?”

And I would reply “Thank you.”

I don’t think my experience is much different from that of other leaders when they were children. Somehow, though, many of us discarded this lesson. We quit being gracious along the way, and started expecting people to do for us without saying “thank you” in return.

When we fail to exhibit gratitude, those who work for us take that as thanklessness, and our organizations suffer. When people aren’t happy, they start to give less and less to the organization. They no longer want to “buy in” to the mission.

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If You Want To Write, Collaborate!

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By Gary Klein

At some point in time, all of us have written for school, our jobs, or publication. However, chances are, most of us have done this alone. Admittedly, writing by yourself simplifies the process of prewriting, drafting, revising, editing, and publishing; but writers do not need to forge this path alone. Writing with others (aka coauthoring) has its benefits, but there are challenges as well. This article will briefly discuss some of the benefits and challenges of coauthoring while outlining a way to facilitate collaborative writing and overcome some of these challenges.

Benefits and Challenges of Coauthoring

Writing enables critical and creative thinking, learning, and leader development; but as From the Green Notebook previously highlighted, we can also sharpen our ideas and enhance our learning by engaging in discussion with others.[1] Our connections and network can challenge us intellectually, provide different perspectives, and enhance our learning.[2] Combining the benefits of writing and our network, coauthors provide additional ideas, experiences, and perspectives that stimulate discussion and facilitate synthesizing diverse ideas.

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How to Leave a Legacy

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By Ryan Kenny

When you look back at your contributions throughout your career what will matter most to you? How will you judge yourself and expect to be judged? Too often, as leaders, we do not ask ourselves these simple questions throughout our everyday lives. We wait until the end. Then we examine the tough questions. Did I do all I could? Did I put enough energy in the right areas? Did I make a difference? Instead, we should pose this question all the time.

What will be your legacy and how will you achieve it?

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Chuck it in the F*ck It Bucket! A Lesson in Resiliency

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By: Liz Schloemann

There are times as leaders when you expend a lot of effort on a project, a plan, or in some cases, a person. You spend weeks to months building up to the perfect pivotal moment of success, when your effort comes to fruition. You just know that it’s going to work because every detail has been captured and every variable accounted for. And then, just before the inevitable success, it happens. Your train gets derailed. Someone tells you the plan has changed. The boss is canning your project. The person you were trying to help hits rock bottom.

You are stunned. How can all that effort and time be completely wasted? And yet, as a leader, you must adapt to change. You tell yourself you can make a course correction, that your work can still be salvaged. You pull yourself up by the bootstraps and prepare to dig in, ready to expend even more energy on something that cannot be recovered.

As Newton’s first law of motion states, an object in motion will stay in motion unless impeded by an external force. Similarly, you feel like you must keep going. After weeks or months of working toward your goal, you find yourself on auto-pilot. You have deep-rooted values that prevent you from capitulating.

The best leaders, however, will recognize when it’s time to “Chuck it in the f*ck it bucket”, even when you have sunk so much energy into something with no results. Sometimes the best thing you can do is walk away, and instead of trying to salvage the unsalvageable, save yourself. Save your time and energy for something that will produce results. Failure bites, but sometimes it’s unavoidable. Accept it, learn from it, and move on to face your next challenge.

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Learning is a Team Sport: An Interview With General Dempsey and Ori Brafman

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Back in the fall, I read an advanced copy of Radical Inclusion: What the Post-9/11 World Should Have Taught Us About Leadershipand couldn’t put it down. In 173 pages, General Dempsey and Ori Brafman challenged me to become a better leader. Thankfully, I got a chance to ask them a few questions about teamwork, leadership in the 21st century, and some recommended reading.

JOE: The two of you come from radically different backgrounds, yet you’ve worked together on several projects throughout the years. What have you learned about the importance of connecting outside of your professional circles?

ORI: It could very well be that your average Berkeley student is less likely than to have interacted with a personal in uniform than a civilian in Iraq. But when we have substantive conversations with those outside our circles that aren’t bogged down by politics or platitudes, we find that our core beliefs are much more similar than we could have expected. Getting the other’s perspective allows us to have not only a broader but a more accurate perspective of the world. We’re humbled that even the City of Berkeley has declared June 4 Bridging the Military/Civilian Divide Day.

DEMPSEY: You mean the fact that Ori is a Berkeley instructor with a degree in Peace Studies and a Vegan, and I’m…well, none of those things! Actually, we became friends when he offered to help me adapt the Army’s training and education system to address the realities of speed, complexity, and decentralization in our missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. From that point, we became mutually-committed to sending the message together that learning is a “team sport.”

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Field Grade Years- The Journeyman Experience

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By BG Ross Coffman

Defining success as a major in a succinct manner is difficult. Leaders typically serve at this rank for seven years and transition from position to position. Each of these positions require different learning objectives and keys to success. The journeyman years of field grade life enable success in battalion command and beyond. They provide depth and breadth to the leader’s skill set. Let’s explore a few learning objectives and measures of success during each phase of your Field Grade Journey:

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