Lead with the best version of yourself.

Lessons Learned from a Company XO in EUCOM

by Chard Phebe

Being an Executive Officer (XO) as a First Lieutenant (1LT) has been described as “unglamorous” and “thankless.” I knew that entering the role back in August 2021, when previous Battalion Commander encouraged me to take the position. What I didn’t foresee was Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, or that my unit would deploy to the Baltics a year later. I was responsible for getting all our equipment to Lithuania—but I honestly had to Google “Lithuania” to know where it was going. In short, I had no idea how unglamorous and thankless being an XO would really be. 

But these unique challenges gave me the chance to gain experience and insight. In this article, I will share practical advice I currently use as an XO in three key areas: maintenance, administration, and self-care. While my experience comes from the European theater, this advice is relevant anywhere. These tips are intended to help company XOs excel and maintain personal well-being during this intense professional challenge. Should you ever find yourself assigned as a Company XO, your success in this challenging position is based on the habits and skills you bring to your daily life.

Maintenance Tips from the Field for Junior Leaders

By Victor Littleton

The best professionals in any given field have a deep understanding of their profession, and they use that to mentor and lead the next generation of professionals. The best doctors seek out teaching positions and help create better doctors; the best lawyers oversee practices with numerous junior attorneys. The officer corps in the Army is set up differently; we place young and inexperienced men and women in positions of authority and ask them to lead the Soldiers of all ages and backgrounds without the experience to guide them.

This article’s goal is to assist platoon leaders, executive officers, maintenance officers, or staff officers gain an understanding of maintenance knowledge by providing three tips–listen, acquire knowledge, and seek development– which will help them become more effective maintenance leaders.

The XO and S3 Relationship is a Force Multiplier

By Dave Leydet and Ryan Stephenson

The transition from company grade to field grade leadership is met with numerous maxims, such as “moving from direct to organizational leadership,” “Iron Majors run the organization,” and “relationships matter.” We were exposed to several of these sayings from our mentors and through the curriculum of the Command and General Staff Officers’ Course. Despite their overuse, these phrases contain sage wisdom. One common theme emerges: field grade officers’ primary responsibility is to their organization—and this means relationships matter just as much, if not more. We argue that building and maintaining strong relationships is one of the most important factors toward field grade officers’ professional and organizational success.

It’s Not About the Money: Retaining Through Inspiring

Photo by Jp Valery on Unsplash

by Terron Wharton

It is no secret the Army is having recruiting and retention challenges. The Army’s primary response has been a tried and true one: money. Big bonuses to sign up and re-up are proven methods that have worked in the past. 

However, despite the $1.8 billion the Army budgeted for 2023 recruiting and retention efforts, exit surveys show that many reasons for leaving are not solvable by big checks. In short, soldiers may join for the money and benefits, but they do not stay for them. Instead, soldiers say the sense of purpose, the ability to realize their potential, and the shared camaraderie keep them in uniform. Simply put, people like feeling they are a part of something. Instead of focusing on financially incentivizing retention, professionals should focus on inspiring commitment through engaged, inspirational leadership.

Negative Capability: The One Skill Military Leaders Need

Photo Courtesy of Lucasfilm

By Joe Byerly

In the early 1970s, a young George Lucas had an idea to create a movie the likes of which no one had seen (or experienced) before. It would be a mix of science fiction and mythology. But there were problems. No one had tried to do anything like this before. The special effects technology didn’t exist, and the filming technique he wanted for the dog fight scenes was still only a theory. 

One of the biggest challenges Lucas faced was people questioning his sanity. 
As Brian Jay Jones highlighted in George Lucas: A Life, many of those close to him didn’t think he was taking on the right project. “His friends,” wrote Jones, “saw it as a juvenile exercise unworthy of his talent.” His wife even thought what he was doing was beneath him and wouldn’t work. They thought he should do Apocalypse Now, not some kid’s movie about a war in space. 

The self-doubt ate away at him. At one point Lucas sank into a bit of a depression. He started to question his own sanity, his choice of creative projects, and his talent.

Could he keep going? Could he pull this off?  

It’s easy for us to look back now and say that Lucas had a billion-dollar franchise on his hands, but at the time, conventional wisdom said something different. 

What would you have done in Lucas’s shoes?

Rise to the Level of Creativity: Assessments from Large-Scale Combat Operations

by Daniel R. DeNeve, Kevin J. Quigley, & Larry Kay

Army units at every echelon struggle to meet mission and training requirements due to lack of creativity, critical thought, and disciplined initiative. While repetition and trauma facilitate tactical and technical competence in training, they do not help units overcome these shortcomings. As an Army, we often practice singular solutions for singular problems. For a division-level exercise, this means that we only experience one way to do a wet gap crossing. At the Company level, we practice a singular way to conduct a combined arms breach. Yet, many of the great tactical and strategic victories in warfare have come from daring innovation. From scaling the cliffs of Abraham to the cliffs of Pointe Du Hoc, from the landing at Incheon, to the Anbar Awakening, some of our greatest victories have worked outside of the traditional confines of doctrinal lessons. 

The Man in the Stands

By Joe Byerly

It’s the critic who counts; the man who points out when we stumble, or where we could have done better. It’s the one in the stands, who’s well above the dusty floor with a beer in one hand and a warm hot dog in the other, not having to worry about coming up short again and again, because they remain seated, safely in the anonymity of the crowd. The man in the stands plays it safe. They know no great enthusiasms, no great devotions, no worthy causes. No, they’ve never dared greatly so they are strangers to both victory and defeat.

Resistance wants us to remain as the Man in the Stands because when we answer the Call and embark on the Hero’s Journey, we step onto the Arena floor, and all bets are off. 

Wesley Schultz stepped into the Arena in grade school when he wrote poems in his spiral notebook. As he got older, he taught himself to play the guitar. By the time he graduated high school, he had written and recorded his own songs on a CD that he gave his dad for Christmas. 

While others went to college and found normal 9-5 jobs, Wesley continued to practice. He continued to refine his musical ability. He worked whatever crappy jobs he could find to make ends meet. 

You would think that friends and family would have cheered him on and told him to keep going, but they didn’t. Resistance doesn’t work that way. It uses other people to hold us back. They told him to grow up, to take life seriously, to get a real career. 

Wesley refused to walk on the well-worn path. He created his own. He answered his Call, and he stayed the course even as Resistance, sitting high above the Arena floor, questioned his choices.

At some point in our lives, most of us set aside our gifts to do what the world wants us to do. We focus on school or our jobs and follow preset career paths. 

Recognize that this is a choice, and that you can choose the path less traveled if you so desire.

Even after you answer the Call, understand that it will be difficult. Resistance will use the Man in the Stands to scare you into submission. There will be people in your life who don’t see what you are trying to do. Yes, they love you. Yes, they think they are looking out for your best interests. However, they won’t understand your Call no matter how crystal clear it is to you, because it’s not theirs to understand. 

Wesley says there were moments when it hurt and he felt misunderstood by friends and family. He didn’t see the crappy jobs and struggles as a dead end. He saw what they didn’t. He understood what they didn’t. The struggles he faced were the material for his Calling. He was on his path. 

People will question your ability to change. They will encourage you not to risk it. They will warn you that you will fail. 

Do not look up from the Arena floor.

Do not give in. 

Do not try to explain yourself. 

Do not waste time crafting clever responses to naysayers in your social media feeds. 

The only thing you can do is keep going and putting in the work. 

AI for the Win: Four Game-Changing Resources for Your Organization

by Joshua Caballero

The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read or write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn. -Alvin Toffler

Innovation is no longer a choice but a necessity in today’s constantly evolving world, where organizations need to continuously improve to stay ahead of the competition. The Army, with its level of responsibilities and complexity, is no exception to this rule. To thrive in this environment, our enterprise needs to embrace innovation, and adopt the latest tools and best practices. Artificial intelligence (AI), one of the most powerful tools available for driving innovation, is transforming the way organizations operate. 

Today, we will explore four AI tools that the Army can use to automate and streamline tasks, gain new insights from data, and create new products. By embracing AI and other cutting-edge technologies, our organizations can become true innovation leaders and build the military of the future – one that is more efficient, effective, and requirements-centric. 

The Importance of Property Accountability and Readiness

by Jakob Hutter

From helmets to Humvees, property accountability is a critical aspect of sustaining operational readiness. Property accountability refers to an organization’s ability to effectively track, manage, and report on equipment and assets. At the company level and below, leaders and subordinates are crucial in being good stewards to care for the property entrusted to them to execute missions and maintain readiness. The following article will explore why property accountability is important and how leaders can maintain and sustain it to optimize their readiness.

The Department of Defense policy states that all persons entrusted with the management of government property are expected to possess and demonstrate a high level of competency in property management, while adhering to ethical standards. They are also responsible for the appropriate use, care, physical protection, and disposal of all government property in accordance with policies and procedures. Additionally, this responsibility includes the appropriate disposition of government property, following applicable laws and regulations. For the Army, the property accountability policies are found in Army Regulation (AR) 735-5 and AR 710-2.

Understanding Sun Tzu through the Mongols

by Chris Horvilleur

Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, written in 400 BC, has shaped strategic thinking for nearly two and a half millennia, foremost amongst military minds but also recently amongst western business leaders. The breadth of the book’s impact makes it worthwhile for military leaders at all echelons to understand its basic structure and principles and consider its efficacy via historical case study. 

The Art of War consists of thirteen chapters which may be grouped into four sections. Chapter One identifies the critical calculations prior to war. These calculations include identifying the morale of the people, climate, geography, leadership and logistics. The next chapter lays out the costs and dangers of mobilizing a state to go to a protracted war. Then chapters 3-12 describe commanders’ skills in the way they lead, maneuver and organize their Army, as well as assessing the terrain and their enemy. The final section, chapter 13, concludes by explaining the importance of spies and intelligence. 

This piece explores three principles (each one a chapter) from The Art of War: picking battles, knowing thy enemy, and using diplomacy as a weapon. In order to bring these principles to life, I will provide historical examples of Sun Tzu’s maxims using case studies from the Mongol military victories of the 12th through 13th centuries. The Mongols, at their height, built the most extensive single-connected Empire in world history—via military conquest according to Sun Tzu’s principles. Leaders today, in our era of great power competition can glean much from these principles.