Leadership in the Digital Age


How have blogs, social media, and the internet shaped leadership and leader development in the Digital Age?

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What Happens When War Leaves Its Box?

This post originally appeared on the Strategy Bridge on August 17, 2016

How Everything Became War and the Military Became Everything: Tales from the Pentagon. Rosa Brooks. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2016.

In June 1945, 850 delegates representing 50 nations gathered in San Francisco to start the process of drafting what would eventually become the Charter of the United Nations. This wasn’t some exercise in bureaucratic protocol; this was a desperate attempt by humans to bring about stability to a world ripped apart by war, to draw distinct lines between war and peace, and to keep war inside its box. For the ashes were still smoldering on the continent of Europe, and the war in the Pacific wasn’t yet over.  Sixty million of the planet’s sons and daughters perished during World War II with another twenty five million wounded. The work of these delegates and their staffs took two months to complete, and by October 24, 1945 the U.N. officially came into existence. For the last 71 years, the Charter, this international body, and the norms they have established for warfare, have contributed to the prevention of the level of destruction experienced in the early 20th century.

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Be the Duck


By Zachary Mierva

The cabin was very quiet. A few passengers made phone calls or sent text messages to loved ones. Some were saying their prayers. Others would say they were making peace with the situation. If they were going to die, they said, there was nothing they could do about it, and so they tried to accept it.

Some later told me that they were glad I didn’t give them too many details. That would have made them even more frightened.

It wasn’t until about 90 seconds before we hit the water that I spoke to the passengers.

I wanted to be very direct. I didn’t want to sound agitated or alarmed. I wanted to sound professional.

“This is the captain. Brace for impact!”

Cpt Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger

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Using ‘Mental Models’ to Outthink the Enemy


From ARMY Magazine, Vol. 66, No. 9, September 2016. Copyright © 2016 by the Association of the U.S. Army and reprinted by permission of ARMY Magazine.

By the end of August 1944, Gen. George S. Patton Jr.’s Third Army had left a swath of destruction across Europe. They had captured or destroyed over 4,300 German tanks, artillery pieces and vehicles while losing fewer than 500 of their own tanks and artillery. Even the death toll was lopsided. As of Aug. 23 of that year, the Germans had lost 16,000 soldiers, killed at the hands of III Corps, compared to approximately 2,000 U.S. service members killed in action.

Patton’s rapid 500-mile trek across Europe can be summed up in one word: Attack! The speed at which he moved left the Germans confused, and it paved the way for the Allies’ race to the Rhine.

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The Evolution of Leader Development


In 1920, as commander of 3rd Squadron, 3d Cavalry, then Colonel George S. Patton Jr. held a series of sixteen lectures in which we he imparted the lessons he had learned from a mixture of self study and his own experiences in World War I to the junior officers in his formation. When I think about these professional development sessions, I imagine Patton standing in front of a room full of officers with his notecards in hand, and the young captains and lieutenants scribbling furiously in their notebooks. Almost 100 years later, this method of imparting knowledge to the next generation of military leaders hasn’t changed much in our organizations.

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So You Want to Learn About Maneuver Warfare?


Photo of an Australian Soldier reading during a break in operations during #ExHamel. Courtesy of the Australian Army

By Jim Greer

After 15 years devoted to low intensity conflict in the form of counter-insurgency, counter-terrorism and foreign internal defense the U.S. military, and more specifically the U.S. Army, is now focused on restoring the lost capability to conduct mid-to-high intensity maneuver warfare. Restoring capabilities for maneuver warfare is only possible through the leader development, training and cultural adaptation that enables leaders, Soldiers and organizations to think, plan, analyze, decide, communicate and act effectively in combat situations that are incredibly complex, conducted at extremely high tempos and far more lethal than the operations of the last fifteen years. Recognizing that future maneuver warfare will not be the same as that of the latter half of the 20th Century, the following reading list is offered as a start point for those who wish to educate and prepare themselves to lead our Army in preparing for and if necessary conducting large-scale maneuver warfare in the future. Each of these books shaped my own thinking and understanding about maneuver warfare and enabled me to prepare leaders, Soldiers and units to plan and conduct successful combat operations employing maneuver warfare in Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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The Ultimate Summer Reading List


By Joe Byerly

Last summer, I wrote a short article about promoting reading by simply talking about it. I believe the best way to encourage leaders to pick up a book is through conversation, not mandatory reading assignments. So this year, I thought I would continue the tradition by asking folks from around the national security community to share what they are reading this summer.

I love this list because it’s a mix of history, fiction, poetry, and current events. With vacations upon us, I encourage you to check out these books, and grab one for yourself as you prepare to hit the beach!

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Resources for Iron Majors and Company Grade Officers


By Joe Byerly

Company Command and S3/XO time are two critical seasons in an officer’s career, and one of the keys to being successful is to show up prepared. Below are three resources that leaders can tap into to help prepare ahead of time for these positions:

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Surviving Headquarters Company Command


The Batallion Staff

By CPT Scott Nusom

There are few assignments in the Army that produce the same unique leadership challenge as commanding a headquarters and headquarters company (HHC) and what makes the HHC command so challenging is learning how to productively integrate and interact with the battalion staff. To be fair, the company-battalion staff relationship is complicated. First, members of the staff have a diverse group of leaders competing for their time and resources that you don’t normally find in a traditional company. Second, the battalion staff usually works in a separate building, physically dividing the company. Finally, the perception of how the company headquarters communicates can be just as bad as the perception of the staff failing to attend company training.

More likely than not, there is one of two reasons why you were selected to command and HHC. You were either a successful commander rewarded with a second command or you were selected because the brigade commander believed you were professionally capable of handling the complexities of leading an HHC. Regardless, how you choose to handle the company-staff relationship will probably be the difference between having a successful and enjoyable experience or being continuously frustrated and falling into the stereotypical HHC mentality of “us versus them”. Although command philosophies and styles of leadership differ, focusing on these three techniques will help an HHC command team build a strong, integrated relationship with the battalion staff.

Establish realistic expectations through simplicity and redundancy. Let’s be honest, you are not training the staff for a major collective exercise, as a matter of fact, you aren’t really training the sections at all. Any training they do as a collective entity will be planned by the field grade officers who have daily oversight over the sections. As the HHC Commander, your training role as it pertains to the staff is to ensure that all Soldiers meet the individual requirements needed to deploy (and to function effectively as a Soldier). Your company’s training plan for the staff needs to solely focus on individual training. It can be challenging enough to complete the basic requirements in an HHC, much less accomplish more audacious training objectives. If your training plan requires a majority of the staff to be pulled away from their primary responsibilities, you will end up frustrated and disappointed. In order to maximize staff participation at company training events, remove the guess work from the training schedule. Establish a weekly training battle rhythm where a few simple training events are occurring on the same days each week (or each month) and ensure you build in redundancy as it is an unrealistic expectation to think that the entire staff can attend a company training event simultaneously. For example, conducting Sergeants Time Training in the morning and again in the afternoon will allow the staff sections to rotate their Soldiers to training without shutting down the battalion. Additionally, scheduling mandatory training twice a week will give the staff flexibility and greatly increase the level of participation.

Build relationships and practice strategic communication. Building effective relationships with battalion leaders will set the foundation for your success at integrating the staff with the company training plan. As a result, you need to get to work on this as soon as you assume command. The two field grade officers understand the difficulties of leading an HHC and they will want to ensure you and the company succeeds. However, they can’t support what you don’t tell them and their priorities of running the battalion will always be their main focus. It is important that you sit down with both field grade officers after assuming command and let them know your plan for ensuring the staff remains trained and ready for deployment and ask them for their input and feedback. Be willing to make adjustments and always let them know about important events in advance so they can apply the appropriate amount of pressure when needed. Further, you should make it a priority to develop a positive relationship with the operations sergeant major. No one understands the importance of training like senior non-commissioned officers and he/she can be very influential at getting the staff to company training events. Another important leader on staff that you should build a strong relationship with is the assistant S3 (AS3). As a peer, you can be more candid with the AS3 if the situation warrants, they can influence the staff, and as an officer waiting in the command queue, they will have an appreciation for ensuring company training is completed. Finally, keep in mind that a majority of the primary staff officers are junior captains or lieutenants that come from a variety of different branches. Although the field grade officers are primarily responsible for their development, you should still assume a mentoring relationship with them as well. Provide assistance if they are struggling and always give them the courtesy invite when you are conducting leader development training as staff officers (and NCOs) are almost always forgotten when it comes to company professional development.

If you discover that there is animosity between the staff and the company leadership after you assume command just accept that the company headquarters is just as much as fault as anyone on staff. Almost certainly, the main cause of any animosity is probably a lack of effective communication. In a traditional company, communicating tends to be easier when unit leadership is co-located and subordinate organizations are more or less focused on the same mission. In an HHC, this is not the case. As a result, it is extremely important that you and the company leadership establish a strategic system to communicate with each staff section and that you identify one leader in each section that is responsible for disseminating information to their Soldiers. This is an area you will want to assess often to ensure the company is communicating effectively. As the company commander, send a weekly SITREP to the field grades and primary staff officers to let them know what issues you are having, where you need support, and to remind them of upcoming training events. The first sergeant and operations NCO should maintain constant communication with the operations sergeant major and the other sections NCOICs and the company executive officer should be the primary source of communication with the support shops. Ensuring you have multiple touch points within the battalion headquarters will fix the communication problems and will alleviate a majority of the animosity between the staff and the company headquarters.

Be an ambassador in addition to a commander. An HHC is not a traditional company and you are not a traditional commander. Succeeding in an HHC requires more collaborating and mediating than in other types of commands where the commander and first sergeant have more control over the circumstances. Constant face-to-face interaction with the staff is the best way for you and the company leadership to subtly remind the section leaders of upcoming company priorities and it is far more impactful than sending constant e-mail reminders. Feeling that Soldiers in the company blew off training is frustrating and may trigger the desire to march up to the headquarters building and blow up on the staff…don’t. This is unprofessional and counterproductive. There are three things to keep in mind when it comes to dealing with the battalion headquarters. First, unlike a traditional company where every subordinate organization is concentrated on a similar mission, the staff is going to be more aligned and focused on the battalion METL than they are with the company METL. Second, battalion staffs are constantly hit with last minute tasks that can derail even the most supportive staffs. Third, HHCs are leader-heavy organizations so going on a tirade inside one of the “S” Shops is not going to earn you any credibility with the section or the battalion leadership and will degrade your efforts to build effective relationships. Just like in any other organization, leaders on the battalion staff struggle to complete all their tasks during the duty day and constantly interacting with the headquarters will ensure sections practice economy of force and rotate their Soldiers to company events while still completing their daily operations. Finally, there are a lot of factors that force the staff to become separated and divided from the rest of the company. In order to keep the unit connected and to foster esprit de corps, use your position as the commander to schedule events that unite the entire organization. For example, having a monthly physical training challenge during PT hours is a great way to bring the entire company together in the spirit of competition and does not impact the work day.

Figuring out how to interact with the battalion staff and integrate them into the company is a challenging and complicated undertaking. Although there is no blueprint for guaranteed success, being mindful of these three techniques will greatly assist in alleviating frustration and will help to ensure that commanding an HHC is an enjoyable and rewarding experience.

Scott Nusom is an Armor Officer in the United States Army. He is currently a graduate student in The Educational Leadership Program at Pennsylvania State University. His views are his own.





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Look to the Past for Lessons


From ARMY Magazine, Vol. 66, No. 6, June 2016. Copyright © 2016 by the Association of the U.S. Army and reprinted by permission of ARMY Magazine.

By Joe Byerly

As military professionals, one of the most critical components of our personal growth is the time and energy we spend on self-development. Whether it is through reading, reflection, or deliberately placing ourselves in experiences that force us out of our comfort zones, we must be relentless in this endeavor. The men and women we lead need us to be the most competent and confident versions of ourselves.

So how can we improve our leadership abilities? By looking to the past. History is a landscape full of commanders who led soldiers through extreme conditions and faced great fear and uncertainty yet accomplished amazing feats. Their leadership made the difference, and we can improve ourselves by studying their successes as well as their failures.

Some might argue that we get enough leadership training and development from our everyday experiences in the military. They believe these experiences provide enough of the raw materials to build ourselves into better leaders. This can be evidenced by a claim that Lt. Col. Drew Steadman recently made on his blog at TheMilitaryLeader.com, arguing that we’ve taken leadership out of leader development. I believe this is why many military professionals rarely pick up a book. I’ve met several officers through the years who read only during professional military education courses. They’ve been platoon leaders, squad leaders or company commanders; what more do they need?

I see three problems with viewing our narrow experiences as enough to maximize our leadership potential.


In the grand scheme of things, we do not have a lot of time to perfect our leadership abilities. For most of us, positions of leadership come quickly and then are gone in a blinding flash. We’re leading platoons—bam! We’re an assistant S-3. We’re leading companies—bam! We’re preparing slides for the next day’s brief on a brigade staff—bam! Let’s face it: For officers, command is the exception, not the norm.

Now let’s examine our time in actual leadership positions. We spend the first couple of months figuring stuff out. Then, we get in a groove and an event or person happens—a lost weapon, a death, new boss, troubled subordinate—that consumes us. We shake it off and get back in our groove, and then we finally feel like we’ve got this leadership thing down. Time’s up; now, we must begin prepping for the next person to take over our organization. We start looking toward the handover to make sure it goes smoothly. We say goodbye to our squad, platoon or command. It’s over; back to staff.

It is for this reason we need to arrive prepared, ready to hit the ground running when we are in charge, and make the most of our time leading others. One way to do this is to think about the type of leader we want to be ahead of time. Nothing helps drive introspection better than studying past leaders.

Additionally, we can come loaded with vicarious experiences that will greatly improve our decisionmaking abilities. British Field Marshal Sir William Slim can help us think through the value of calm and cool-headed leadership when we are up against insurmountable problems. Gen. George S. Patton Jr. can teach how aggression on the battlefield affects enemy decisionmaking. Finally, Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant can prepare us to effectively exercise Mission Command when one of our subordinates is a Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman and the other is a Maj. Gen. Gouverneur K. Warren.

Whatever investment we make ahead of time in self-development will ensure that we arrive better prepared to lead our formations. Additionally, the interplay of the leadership experiences of others mixed with our own will help us quickly develop into the leaders our organizations need.

Great and Horrible Bosses

We learn a lot from and are largely influenced by the leaders we encounter in the military. Most of the bosses I’ve worked for have been good, and I consider myself fortunate to have served under them. But in 12 years, I can give the title of “great” only to a limited few. The same goes for horrible bosses; I’ve had only a small number along the way.

Just like we need a harsh winter to appreciate a wonderful summer, we need both great and horrible leaders in our lives to help mold us into the best version of ourselves. We don’t run into too many of these in our careers. This is the second reason we must turn to military leaders from the past to help shape our leadership identity.

Great leaders such as British Vice Adm. Horatio Nelson can inspire us to truly achieve Mission Command in our organizations. Gen. George Washington teaches about the importance of self-study and the character required to lead in the face of friction and uncertainty. Sir Winston Churchill’s early career was rife with failure; he teaches that failure does not have to define us but can develop us. And Maj. Gen. Fox Conner, who was a role model to then-Maj. Dwight D. Eisenhower, highlights the importance of mentorship.

While I’ve learned a great deal from the leaders listed above, I’ve also learned much from the horrible bosses of history as well as rising stars who fell from grace. Maj. Gen. Charles Lee, who was permanently dismissed from the Continental Army, is a great example of what happens when we fail to follow others and let our personal flaws go unchecked as we are given more responsibility. The careers of Gens. George McClellan and Douglas MacArthur should help us reflect on ego so we may keep ours from clouding professional judgment. British Gen. Sir Redvers Buller, from the Boer War, exemplifies what happens when we fail to develop our intuition through self-study.

Combat Experience

Finally, war is a phenomenon that breaks down the best systems, the best plans and the best armies with a vengeance. As Carl von Clausewitz noted in On War, this is overcome only with exceptional leadership. Because most of the professionals serving today have limited experience in combat, we must study the actions of those who led under those conditions to better prepare ourselves for the type of leadership required to overcome the horrors, uncertainties and moral dilemmas presented in war.

There are several books that when paired with the study of individual leaders can help us think through leadership in combat. Karl Marlantes’ What It Is Like to Go to War can aid in preparing for the moral struggles we will face from prolonged combat. We can learn about the effects war has on an organization’s discipline in Jim Frederick’s Black Hearts: One Platoon’s Descent into Madness in Iraq’s Triangle of Death. Peter Hart’s Voices from the Front: An Oral History of the Great War brings the day-to-day realities of large-scale warfare into clear focus. Finally, we can learn to avoid many of the failures of past leaders by reading Eliot A. Cohen and John Gooch’s Military Misfortunes: The Anatomy of Failure in War.

When we study the leaders who came before us, we begin to reflect on the leadership traits we want to develop in ourselves. We become better prepared to respond when the need arises, and we more clearly understand what is required of us to win in battle.

The choice is ours. We can either be shaped and influenced by our narrow experiences, or we can allow leaders from over 5,000 years of combat to mold us into the great leaders our subordinates deserve.

Download the .pdf version of this article courtesy of ARMY Magazine! Byerly_FrontCenter_June2016






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