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Are You a Third Generation Leader?

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When most of us think of leadership, we think of the immediate. Our leadership focus tends to be on the task at hand, not really looking beyond the next rifle range or field training exercise. But, eventually we will move on and continue to climb the professional ladder- and so will those we lead. We might prepare them for future leader tasks (planning training or running a meeting), but what are we doing to ensure they are prepared to develop those they lead?

In a 2007 issue of ARMY magazine, Tony Burgess introduced the idea of “Third Generation Leadership”:

This is the idea that the investment you make in developing your Soldiers will decidedly influence successive generations of leaders. In first-generation leadership the primary focus is the immediate future—commanders are training their lieutenants to be good platoon leaders. Second-generation leadership broadens the focus to include leader development for sub- sequent service—commanders train their lieutenants to be good platoon leaders and good future commanders. In third-generation leadership, commanders not only develop lieutenants to be good commanders, they also provide them with a model of how to develop their lieutenants.

When I was a second lieutenant in 2004, my troop commander consistently beat the drum of professional development. He instilled in me the importance of professional reading, investing in subordinates, and he taught me that my actions could change the greater organization. He did this not only through role modeling, but he also imparted the why behind his actions so that I grasped their importance. Those lessons he passed onto me were ingrained in him back in 2001 from his Squadron Commander, then LTC H.R. McMaster. I didn’t appreciate the impact they would have on my leadership style until much later, when I was in command.

While in command, I found myself passing on the same lessons that Captain Louis Netherland had passed on to me six years earlier. In 2012, after I finished my company command time, I coauthored an article with my former troop commander and one of my lieutenants. I wanted to capture lessons that each commander imparted to their subordinate, through the eyes of the subordinate. We each wrote our sections without seeing what the others wrote until publication. We discovered that the lessons passed down from LTC H.R. McMaster in 2001 continued to influence the development of subordinates a decade later. This is Third Generation Leadership in action.

Are you leading with a “Third Generation Mindset”? How will those you lead today, develop those they lead tomorrow? Will your legacy end as soon as you give up command, or will it continue long after you’ve moved on?

Do you have a Third Generation Leadership story? If so, please share it in the comments section below!

For more on Third Generation Leadership, read:

Third Generation Leadership

Third Generation-Redux

4 thoughts on “Are You a Third Generation Leader?”

  1. I just had a conversation along the same lines of this article with one of my mentors yesterday. I’m in a NG Squadron and we have the ability to hire an entry level full time officer. We discussed the chain of events to make not only myself, but multiple company grade and junior field grade officers within our State and how to mentor a new full time Officer within the state. There were 3 Officers that a bunch of us listened to and learned from, those Officers were mentored by our now TAG and our BDE Commander. Now we are in the position to mentor new full time Officers and impart the knowledge we received. Those 3 officers have been the model for many officers in the state, it’s fun to watch and be a part of.

  2. Would the co-authored article be available to those without access to juniorofficer.army.mil? Although I’m a Warrant Officer, the article would prove useful in my leadership development. Thanks!

  3. I’ve tried to practice it as much as I’ve been a recipient of it. I first got involved with PL.Mil at the end of 2009 and was fortunate enough to be invited to an offsite pretty quickly in 2010. As a junior 1LT in the Guard at the time, having Pete, Tony, Jon, and others there to provide me a first hand instruction in the theories has resonated my whole career. This times that I felt like maybe it was time to get back to my civilian career I always had them as sounding boards. Now that I’m active and working in a complex environment in a unit outside my branch, I look at how they impacted my decisions and think about how they affected my way of mentoring and leading my PLs and SLs.

    One bit of my experience: I expected that I mentor my PLs and that my PLs mentor their SLs and SLs their TLs. I also expected my 1SG to mentor the XO and the PSGs. My 1SG and I worked on our “schedule” for more formal activities and coordinated our ad hoc. What I didn’t expect was some pushback from the PSGs at first to their PLs going to the SLs. They thought that all mentoring of enlisted was their purview. It took a couple of months to work the bugs out, but we started seeing Leader emulation and more independent proactive activities. Retention was up, satisfaction was up, and post deployment successes still come into my email and messenger years later.


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