From the Green Notebook

Lead with the best version of yourself.

Leader Development in the National Guard: Overcoming Obstacles and Intentionally Developing Others

by Jakob Hutter

Our world is diverse and ever changing. As such, organizational leaders must be able to effectively deal with changes that can influence the organization’s current systems and processes. 

For the Army, developing leaders involves a holistic, comprehensive, and purposeful group of activities where success stems from a culture of developing others using daily opportunities to learn and teach. As a current National Guard Company Commander, developing subordinate leaders can be challenging due to limited daily interactions, time constraints during drill weekends, and annual training events. In this effort, I will share my perspective on leadership development and how I try to challenge and develop my subordinate leaders to improve each day as people and Soldiers.

First, it is important to discuss the Army Leadership Development Model. The Army Leader Development Model includes three domains: the operational, institutional, and self-development domains. These domains communicate the desired pillars of education, training, and experience to have organizational leaders prepare their subordinate leaders and teams for greater levels of responsibility in the future. Through officers or enlisted Soldier’s professional military education, the military training institutions establish the foundational knowledge and skills. Organizational leaders then build their people’s foundational skills collectively to build into an effective team through the operational domain. 

However, the self-development domain can be somewhat taken for granted as it is primarily the responsibility of the individual being developed. The challenges of effective leader development can occur at both the individual and organizational levels. At the individual level, these challenges can be through a lack of emotional intelligence, empathy, or self-confidence. At the organizational level, these challenges can be the organizational culture, lack of investment in leader development, or higher leadership support. While the individuals have the responsibility to improve themselves, I believe it is the responsibility of the leader to assist, guide, and support them in the pursuit of life-long learning.

In the creation of a leader development process, I reviewed my organization’s mission with my higher headquarters to ensure that my process would align effectively. As a Forward Support Company, my company’s mission is to provide logistic support to our respective Battalion. I then begin reflecting on my experiences and training to establish a set of target objectives. These target objectives include the following:

  1.     Agile Logistics Force. Army Doctrine Publication 4.0, Sustainment, details logistics is planning and executing the movement and support of forces. To ensure maneuver forces can maximize their capabilities, logistic units must be able to provide proactive and continuous logistic support effectively.
  2.     Adaptive Mindset. To be agile, logistic leaders need to be flexible in their capabilities and adapt to the changing circumstances and requirements of the maneuver units. As circumstances change, logistic leaders need to be prepared to make timely and effective decisions that will optimize their sustainment capabilities.
  3.     Compassion. I include compassion as an objective for my subordinate leaders because I find that it is beneficial to the team if the leader is actively aware of the lives and experiences their team members have. I believe that compassionate leaders can receive higher levels of engagement with their people and work together effectively to accomplish the mission.  
  4.     Character & Trust. Without the ability to have the willingness to match your words with your actions, it can be near impossible to gain the support and trust of subordinates. To ensure that my subordinate leaders understand the importance of building trust, I want to bring topics that can help strengthen their relationships, increase their self-awareness, and promote consistency in their actions.  
  5.     Army Values. Combined, the Army Values demonstrate the organization’s preferences on how a Soldier should appropriately guide their actions. While everyone may have their value system or code of ethics, the Army Values provides a shared understanding in which the team can be unified under one vision. If everyone conducts their behavior in line with the Army Values, then success will follow.

The goal of accomplishing these objectives is that my subordinate leaders are empowered and disciplined to take the initiative with the appropriate tools and understanding to thrive in complex, ambiguous environments. With these actions, they exhibit moral character and sustain the trust of the Soldiers they lead. I want to ensure that my subordinate leaders ultimately have the tools and understanding to thrive and work towards improving themselves each day. 

As my day-to-day interactions are limited with my subordinate leaders, I work towards sending an e-mail a couple of weeks before drill to my subordinate leaders on the  development topic. A few of the topics that I have had with them include what I feel are essential characteristics or topics that logistic leaders should possess.

Some of the topics have included the following:

  • Communication and leadership
  • Emotional Intelligence
  • Team management
  • Army Systems Familiarization (GCSS-Army, FMSweb, CATS, etc.)
  • Military and civilian education planning
  • The importance of conducting proper counseling
  • Logistic trains
  • Large Scale Combat Operations from a Logistic perspective
  • Developing a personal leadership philosophy
  • Military Career Planning 

After addressing the topic(s) for the month, I believe it is important to explain the “so what?” to communicate why I feel they should care about the topic, why it is important for them to be more knowledgeable on the subject, and the impact it can have in their personal and professional lives. Explaining the “so what” is my process to explain that discussing this topic is meaningful and important for their growth and development. 

To help facilitate the discussion on the given topic, I then provide them with three to five articles or other resources to review. These sources are provided through  articles published here on From the Green Notebook, 3×5 Leadership, Harvard Business Review, Army Regulation and Doctrine, Military Review, or Army Sustainment. Exposing subordinates to a wide range of resources allows them the opportunity to become more diverse and knowledgeable on the subject.

Finally, I wrap up by posing a couple of questions that they can consider regarding the articles and resources on the subject that can then be later addressed over the drill weekend. This provides them the opportunity to think critically and respond thoughtfully. By providing this to my subordinate leaders in advance, I believe I provide sufficient time that they can take some time to read and think before drill and come into the training weekend with these ideas ready to discuss effectively. 

During a typical drill weekend, we coordinate to see when and where we can meet during the evening to eat and discuss the topic. I find that this provides a more comfortable environment in which we can engage critically but informally. Having these discussions in a relaxed environment allows us to briefly step away from our work and socialize, allowing us to learn more about each other than we may have otherwise been able to do. This technique benefits us twofold as we become better as a team through our professional development interactions. 

In summary, this is just one perspective on how a company commander can create a professional development program for subordinate leaders. Through a deliberate leadership development process, I feel that the topics covered have broadened my subordinate leaders’ horizons and holistically better leaders for tomorrow. 

Ultimately, this process is more than a mere “check-the-block” task in which leaders should make time to provide quality development for their subordinate leaders and encourage a life-long learning environment.

 

1LT Jakob Hutter is a Kansas Army National Guard logistics officer currently serving as a Forward Support Company Commander for the 1-108th Aviation Regiment in Topeka, Kansas. In addition, he also serves as the Kansas FLIPL Program Manager. He has a Master of Science in Organizational Leadership and received his commission from Kansas State University in 2016. He is passionate about the science of Army logistics, the art of military leadership, and combining both to provide effective sustainment.

 

 

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