Looking for Career Advice? Start in the Mirror

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As soon as I signed my military contract in 2001, I started receiving career advice. Leaders, from my professor of military science to future commanders, began sharing their wisdom with me on the right branch, the perfect career-enhancing positions, and the lock-step series of assignments I should compete for to be successful. I’ve also given career advice to the officers I had the privilege of mentoring. But along the way, I’ve learned something about career advice — it is all autobiographical.

Everyone has a different idea of success and what steps should be taken to achieve it. Everyone has benefited from (or been victim of) luck, timing, and tribes. What worked for one person’s career might not work for someone else, and what one person may view as a career-ending assignment could be the springboard for a leader with a different skill set.

Yes, there are gates that everyone must walk through to be considered for promotion, and certain assignments do lead to better chances of gaining specific positions, but this post is not about that progression. This is about the approach to that progression. If young leaders don’t take into consideration a couple of different factors when making career decisions, they could blindly follow in someone else’s footsteps, leading them not to success, but to disappointment and regret.

So what should we consider when making career decisions?

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Bring Back the ‘Drink & Think’! Unleashing the Power of Professional Development

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By. Chad Foster

Recently, a couple of very talented young majors introduced me to the phrase “Drink & Think.” This was the name they gave to the informal professional group discussions held among a small circle of peers while at the Command & General Staff College. The name these majors offered was new to me, but the activity to which they applied it was not. The US Army has a historical tradition of peer-to-peer informal discussion and debate. The stimulating exchange among fellow leaders in an informal setting has played a key role in shaping the intellects of many of our most prominent leaders in the past, and it should be playing such a role today. Unfortunately, Drink & Think seems to have become a distressingly uncommon practice among our junior officers. Many incorrectly perceive professional development as being almost the exclusive purview of one’s superiors or of the Army’s schoolhouses. Nothing could be further from the truth. Today’s young leaders must bring Drink & Think back to life.

Drink & Think can take many forms. It can be as simple as two young company commanders getting together on a Saturday after watching some college football. Following the obligatory grilling and family time, the two of them huddle together on the back porch over a couple of beers (or sodas or whatever they wish to consume) to discuss the challenges of maintaining readiness for their units and for the Army as a whole. Drink & Think can also be more expansive, such as several battalion-level operations officers in a brigade getting together to discuss the merits and shortcomings of their Intermediate Level Education experiences in preparing them for the challenges of being a field grade officer. No matter the size or composition of the group involved, the defining characteristics of these gatherings remain the same:

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3 Signs that a Star Performer is on the Path to Burnout

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This post originally appeared on Bridge3.com and was written for a corporate audience, however the topic and the advice offered has equal application for military leaders. 

By Jonathan Silk

How does a star performer turn into a loose cannon, or experience complete and total burnout on the job? In most cases there are telltale signs that can be identified in time to turn things around.

Consider this scenario.

Pat, a star performer, has been crushing it at work, a real force multiplier who raises the bar for everyone she works with.  She has been a key driver in her department’s performance and has been identified to supervise a new project, which comes with new levels of responsibility. Rather than prepare her for her new responsibilities by giving her with some management training, her boss decides she should start her new role immediately. And so she does.

What happens next is critical. And if unnoticed can lead to the end of stardom. A wise manager will pay attention to the signs.

3 signs that a star performer is on the path to burnout

1. They are overwhelmed

Before her promotion, Pat was a strong contributor as an individual. Now she has to supervise 16 others. It is safe to say Pat is overwhelmed. She exhibits all the behaviors of someone who is completely stressed out. She is transforming, from a high performer to a loose cannon.

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How to Organize Your Notebook For Success

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By: Jeremiah Hurley

I grew up in an Army where pen and paper were as important uniform items as your pants. In the right hands, a pen and paper are powerful tools. As great as you think your memory may be, it’s not perfect – you need to take notes. The most successful people I know have highly developed systems on how they organize those notes. There is no right or wrong answer on how to do this; however, there are best practices that have made me more effective over time.

Here are some tips that I provide to every new member of my team on how I approach this:

Use a notebook. You will lose the notecards, post-it notes, and random pieces of paper. The pocket organizer / journal / notebook market has exploded with tons of options to help people do this. All you really need is a durable cover and paper, the rest is just marketing and a huge price markup.

Segregate by purpose. I maintain three notebooks at any given time, each with a specific purpose.  The first is my reading notebook. I use it to capture notes  or thoughts from whatever I’m reading. I found that that there was no easy way for me to go back and review highlights and margin notes from the previous books that I’ve read. So keeping them all in a single notebook helps me go back and reference them more easily. The second notebook is dedicated to leadership observations and thoughts. I used to have these spread throughout various notebooks, and as I prepared for battalion command, I found that it was nearly impossible to find them. I now capture them in a single notebook. The third and final notebook is my ‘uniform item.’ This is the notebook I take everywhere – on vacation, the grocery store etc. I use this book to capture notes from meetings, to do lists, random thoughts or ideas.

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Can Your Network Help Your Career?

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One of my favorite books this year is Friend of a Friend: Understanding the Hidden Networks that Can Transform Your Life and Your Career by David Burkus. It’s not your typical business self-improvement book. Burkus examines 50+ years of research to argue that it’s not about growing your network—it is about understanding and navigating it. I recently interviewed David and we discussed networks, beers calls, and the success of General Stanley McChrystal.

Joe: How important are networks to personal and professional success?

David: They are so important that I wrote a book about it. A lot of people assume that networking is something they only need to do when they are looking for a job. But networking is fundamentally about information. Yes, it’s information about new opportunities, but it’s also information to help you make better decisions and see things from different perspectives. The quality of the decisions you make and who you get your information from are affected by your network.

The other thing I think is interesting that doesn’t get enough attention is that networks affect more than just your professional life.

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The Three Hardest Words for Leaders: “I Don’t Know”

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“Throw out your conceited opinions, for it is impossible for a person to begin to learn what he thinks he already knows.” – Epictetus, Discourses

I think three of the hardest words for leaders to say are, “I don’t know.” No matter the situation, we want to have the answers. We want to be trusted by our subordinates, peers and leaders. Trust within organizations is based on both competence and character, but sometimes we value competence over character. Many of us have even sacrificed character to appear more competent than we actually were.

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That’s #NCOBusiness

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Hey NCOs!

We recognize that it’s our NCO Corps that makes our military great. So, we’re running a series in September called #NCOBusiness. Every article will be for NCOs by NCOs and we’re looking for submissions!

This is a great opportunity to contribute and share your hard earned lessons with those coming behind you as well as those looking for some help.We’d like to hear from all the Services too, because you never know when your ideas will help a fellow NCO out in another branch of the military.

Want to contribute, but don’t know what to write about—Here are some ideas:

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The Jump: Preparing for the Transition to Organizational Leadership

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By: Josh Suthoff

The jump from direct to organizational leadership in the military is probably one of the most trying non-combat tests an officer or senior non-commissioned officer will experience. In a few years a company commander will go from leading/managing a hundred Soldiers to over 500. No longer is there the comfort of relaying your guidance face to face with your subordinates.

All leaders do not make the jump easily and Army career windows move at such a fast pace that someone may fail before they even realize it. An Army major today only spends around 24 months in their key developmental assignments, certainly not enough time to master the position. The best company commanders are not always the best field grade officers, because of choice or failure to adapt. In order to be successful, the jump to organizational leadership must be taught and reflected on prior to execution. Here are some key points I believe must be understood to set the conditions for that transition.

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Leaders Must be Ready When Tragedy Strikes

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By Brittany Simmons

Following my time as a battalion and brigade S3, I experienced a broadening opportunity working in the Department of the Army’s Casualty and Mortuary Affairs Operations Division at Army Human Resources Command for about 20 months. CMAOD is mostly a civilian employee-run organization that, alongside installation Casualty Assistance Centers and Casualty Assistance Officers, works extremely hard with immense compassion to honor our fallen and take the utmost care of Army Families. In my time at CMAOD, I made some observations on what our Army units do well, don’t do well, and simply don’t know when it comes to Soldier deaths.

The Army trains to treat and evacuate casualties on the battlefield, but I saw enough from inside the process to believe we can do better at home, where we see most of these casualties, simply by gaining some additional knowledge at all levels of leadership. We, Army leaders, put an emphasis on taking care of Army Families, as we should. This is quite possibly the most important part of that.

Preparing for casualties has to go beyond planning our casualty collection points and knowing where on the battlefield our medical assets are. We have to prepare at home, too. Don’t get me wrong, we are not failing at this mission; however, at the unit level we can better posture ourselves in order to reduce the stress and complications that occur when tragedy happens, and thereby increase the readiness of both our formations and our Families.

In thinking through my time at CMAOD, I captured six key areas that I would offer to my fellow Army leaders to chew on and consider in order to do the casualty mission even better than we already do.

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Can Reading Make Us Better Leaders?

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One of my favorite podcasts is the Read to Lead Podcast hosted by Jeff Brown. In each episode he interviews an author about their book and discusses insights on leadership, personal development, productivity, and more. I recently caught up with Jeff to discuss the importance of reading for personal growth, book recommendations, and how to incorporate reading into our weekly battle rhythms. 

Joe: You went from not reading at all to reading becoming the focal point of your professional career. That’s a drastic leap. Can you discuss your transformation?

Jeff: From the time I graduated college until I was in my early 30’s, I didn’t do any reading at all. That was in large part because when I was done with school I didn’t think I had to learn anymore. One day, a supervisor introduced some business books – books from Seth Godin, Jim Collins, Pat Lencioni and suddenly I saw the light. It helped that the person who recommended the books was someone I had a lot of respect for and I was ready to learn. So as I read Purple Cow by Seth Godin and Good to Great by Jim Collins and Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Pat Lencioni, I was mesmerized by what was available and what I had been missing out on.

I learned that if I wanted to grow in my career and as a human being, that I had to be a life-long learner. Learning never stops. I would finish a book and then start another one. I was looking for more recommendations, much like you provide on your site, and taking advantage of services like Audible on my commute. And it snowballed from there.

Joe: How do you think reading improved your leadership abilities, or for that matter, improves anyone’s leadership abilities?

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