Lead with the best version of yourself.

The One Thing Series: On Self-Preservation

by Nadir Attar 

Of the myriad of things which come into my mind reflecting on my time as a company commander, one word stands out: self-preservation. 

At first glance this might look like an awkward, even selfish choice. Isn’t command about the people you lead? About giving everything for your fellow soldiers to ensure that they can not only accomplish their specific mission, but also to make sure that they thrive in life?

Yes, this is essentially the nature and purpose of command, no matter the level. But, in order to properly command you must be physically and mentally able to command. Logging long hours in the office or in the field, trying to be everywhere and solving all problems of your soldiers at once, can surely work but will come with a price. 

After some weeks, months, or sometimes years, you will definitely begin to feel the impact: slower and decreasing quality work. Inattention and even mood changes due to sleep deprivation. Also, because of these aforementioned examples, your personal life will be affected. Your families and friends will notice. This can lead to additional stress which will further decrease your performance as a commander. In the end your professional and your personal life will become unbalanced. 

I have learned the hard way that you have to enforce self-preservation in order to ensure that you can stay a healthy and therefore effective commander. We all like to think that we are irreplaceable, especially in command positions. Guess what: we are not! 

In fact, the better you are as a commander, the better your men and women are prepared to handle things on their own because you have prepared them for these situations in accordance with the highest standards. We are all training our soldiers to accomplish their assigned missions, even if their commander is unavailable. So, let us trust them to handle their own during the normal peacetime routines of ordinary garrison life. 

This will give you as a commander the opportunity to make a necessary and often well-deserved step back. Take care of your physical and mental fitness. Take also the chance to spend time with your loved ones. This does not mean that you are running away from your responsibilities. It is more like a necessary pit-stop in order to ensure that your own batteries will get recharged and your life as a whole gets balanced again. 

Trust me: by taking the time for necessary self-preservation, you will return as a more effective commander. Also, your soldiers will realize that they are prepared to lead themselves and able to temporarily step up to the task.

In the end, a win-win situation for everyone.

Lieutenant Colonel Nadir Attar is a Military Intelligence Officer in the German Army with more than 19 years of active service. He has served on a variety of positions including several operational deployments to Afghanistan and Mali. Editor’s Note: In June, we asked our From the Green Notebook community a simple but profound question: What’s the one thing you wish you would have known before you started your last assignment? This week, we are pleased to share the nuggets of wisdom leaders have learned with the hope that it doesn’t have to be relearned by someone else the hard way.

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