Lead with the best version of yourself.

Suicide is a Battle, I Could Not Fight It Alone

By Danita Darby

On 25 May 2019, in Bagram, Afghanistan, I had reached the end of my rope. I was suspended from my command in February 2019, but that single situation is not why I am writing this. What I am writing about today is the fight I had internally during that time period. I am ready to tell my story, and I hope that it strengthens those who are struggling and informs others. I tried to kill myself. 

A Note to the Slick Sleeves

By Micah Ables

During my time in command, I had numerous conversations with disappointed young soldiers who regretted that they hadn’t had a chance to go to war and get a deployment patch. I signed reenlistment contracts for several outstanding soldiers who wanted to leave our unit to deploy to a combat zone with another. I had many conversations with frustrated young officers who signed up to serve when the war was still relatively “hot” and were disappointed to commission after the war slowed down. I know there are far more across the Army who feel this way.

This note is for you:

Be proud of your service. Although you may not feel like it most days, you are a part of the legacy of your unit and our Army. It’s easy to get bitter or cynical about motor pool Mondays, garrison gate guard, range details, red cycle taskings, and on and on and on. But never forget that, despite all that frustration and the less-than-glorious action, you are integral to your unit and the Army, as well as their legacy and role: to stand ready to fight and win our nation’s wars.

Has Anyone Seen the Boss?

Has Anyone Seen the Boss?

By Sam

When faced with a toxic leader, you can find multiple studies and a massive amount of information on what can be done to deal with this individual, but what happens when you have a boss who is just plain ineffective? They aren’t a bad person but they are a bad boss and what’s worse, they are in charge. They are approachable, they seem to be open to feedback however, despite feedback points and development sessions, the problems still persist.

It is easy to wallow in negativity when faced with this situation but with each challenge, the opportunity for development is available. When I experienced this scenario, I learned lessons and developed coping mechanisms that I now wish I had from the beginning to help me manage the situation better.

This list is not exhaustive and I am sure there are more methods out there, but you will find the most important lessons I learned below:

The Goal of Self-Development: Knowledge vs. Wisdom

The Goal of Self-Development: Knowledge vs. Wisdom

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By Joe Byerly

“For even sheep do not vomit up their grass and show to the shepherds how much they have eaten; but when they have internally digested the pasture, they produce externally wool and milk. Do you also show not your theorems to the uninstructed, but show the acts which come from their digestion.” –Discourses of Epictetus

I came across a reference to this quote the other day while reading How to Think Like a Roman Emperor: The Stoic Philosophy of Marcus Aurelius by Donald Robertson.

It sparked some thoughts on the difference between knowledge and wisdom and its application to military leaders.

How to Keep a Notebook Like Da Vinci

How to Keep a Notebook Like Da Vinci

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By Joe Byerly

When we hear the name Leonardo Da Vinci, the word “genius” immediately comes to mind. His 16th century works “The Last Supper,” “Mona Lisa,” and “Vitruvian Man” are still popular today. The Da Vinci namesake is a part of our modern pop culture as well: The Da Vinci Code dominated the New York Times best seller list, he’s been represented in cartoons, movies, and TV shows, and the episode of Epic Rap Battle about him has had more than 74 million views on YouTube. Most recently, in November 2017, one of Leonardo’s paintings broke a record, selling at auction for $450 million.

There is something, however, we should know about his genius: he wasn’t born with it or guided to it through schooling (he didn’t go to one) — he worked for it. And as Walter Isaacson argues in his latest biography, Leonardo da Vinci, his style of creativity is exportable, because we can all learn from and adopt one of his most important practices — keeping a notebook. Leonardo’s creativity and artistic abilities grew out his talent for making connections across disciplines. And it is within his notebooks where those connections were made.

So what can Leonardo’s notebooks teach us about creativity?

How to be a Successful S6

How to be a Successful S6

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By: LTC Joshua Trimble

Did the Army select you to serve as an S6? If you are lucky, you remember your training. If you are extra lucky, the Army even sent you to a refresher S6 course.  Chances are, you are not that lucky, and you probably do not remember everything that isn’t written down in your little green notebook. It would be impractical to expect you to remember everything. But, if you can remember these three themes and what they imply, you are on your way to success.

Have a PACE not a Prayer.  Many are familiar enough with the communications practice of a PACE. It’s the abbreviated signal way of having different courses of action – the acronym standing for, “Primary, Alternate, Contingency, Emergency.” Each letter representing the preferred method of communications between you and adjacent units.  There are different PACEs for communicating to higher units, to lower units and to adjacent units because each unit will have different types and quantities of communications equipment.

There can even be different PACEs for operations or phases of operations.  Ask an aviation unit S6 how many PACEs there are in an air assault operation (Hint – at least three: 1. Aircraft to Command Posts (CPs), 2. Aircraft to Aircraft, 3. Aircraft to ground forces) and you understand the complexity of developing a PACE. The best PACEs also account for different Warfighting Functions (WfFs). For example, the intel team wants to talk differently than the fires guys who want to send digital fire missions.

5 Battlefields that Influenced My Outlook on War, Leadership, and Life

5 Battlefields that Influenced My Outlook on War, Leadership, and Life

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By: Jim Greer

Throughout my life I have visited many battlefields, certainly more than I can remember. The first battlefield I visited was Kennesaw Mountain, with my Dad when I was seven years old. The most recent was Fort McHenry last year (crossing the birthplace of our National Anthem off my bucket list). Some of these visits have been strictly tourism, some personal development, some staff rides, and some for other reasons. All have been instructive and visiting battlefields has been a core component of both my personal and professional growth as a security professional and a member of the human race. Below are the five battlefields I’d like to highlight that have had a profound effect on my life.

Kennesaw Mountain

When I was six years old we moved to Atlanta, Georgia. My Father was an artilleryman and always very interested in the Civil War and Civil War battlefields, particularly since he had grown up in the Northeast where none of those battles had taken place. When I was seven he took me out to the battlefield of Kennesaw Mountain. Kennesaw Mountain was one of the series of battles and engagements that took place during the defense and siege of Atlanta in 1864. It was the first battlefield of any type that I have been to, although it would prove to be the first of many more.

Kennesaw Mountain was a particularly violent battle. In it, the Confederates were defending the heights of Kennesaw Mountain, well entrenched and with commanding fields of fire. The Union troops attempted to attack up the mountain to dislodge the Confederates and secure the high ground in support of the broader operation to take the city of Atlanta. The Union attacks were repeatedly repulsed with severe losses.

At the battlefield my Dad took me to the Confederate breastworks. We knelt down behind them just as the Confederate soldiers had done and so we had a view of the long slope up which the Union forces had struggled against withering fire from prepared defenses. My Dad explained the battle to me in terms a seven year old could comprehend. What I have never forgotten is how he stressed to me the leadership the Union officers must have been able to exert and the courage the Union soldiers must have had to attack over and over up that slope even in the midst of horrendous losses.

Can You Learn to Take Initiative?

Can You Learn to Take Initiative?

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By Joshua Spodek

Chatting about my upcoming book, Initiative, a friend and fellow blogger, Joe Byerly of From The Green Notebook, asked if people could learn to take initiative. I saw his question as rhetorical, since he’d read an advance copy, so he knew I’d taught just that, but he wanted to see how I’d answer. A lot of people believe you can’t.

Joshua Spodek's Initiative: A Proven Method to Bring Your Passions to Life (and Work), 3d cover

First, there’s a big reason why, independent of the answer, most of us would believe we can’t learn initiative: mainstream schooling.

For whatever facts, analytical, and testing skills schools teach, if you look at the behavior they teach, it’s compliance — nearly the opposite of initiative: when you have to attend, where, what subjects you study, what about each subject to study, how to study, how to act, how to show what you’ve learned, and so on. Schools mostly teach the opposite of initiative. They often punish initiative.

How Writing Books Gave Me an Education

How Writing Books Gave Me an Education

By Joe Byerly

This is the final question, in a five question interview with author Robert Greene.

Joe: Because of writing, I’ve had the opportunity to interact with academics and those with advanced degrees and it can be a bit intimidating. You don’t have PhD. You only have a bachelors in classical studies from UC Berkeley, yet you’ve written several books on some very weighty topics. How has writing contributed to your self-education?     

Robert: Since I started writing these books, my education has gone up to a whole different level. On one hand when I give myself a task to write a book, I want to understand it very deeply so I’m not just spouting bullshit. I read all the books I can get my hands on, and in the process I learn a lot about the subject.

I don’t come to the subject with a closed mind; I come to it with a very open one. I want to learn. I want to see what I don’t know and I want to discover things. By now, I’ve gone through six books and the process six times.  I’ve read thousands of books to write six. So my knowledge level has increased.

On the other hand, knowledge has to have a practical aspect. I’m not into gaining a lot of useless abstract knowledge. I want to learn things I can apply to my life because I’m a practical person.

Leaders Worth Studying: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Leaders Worth Studying: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

By Joe Byerly

This is the fourth question, in a five question interview with author Robert Greene.

Joe: In your books, you’ve examined the stories of hundreds of leaders. Who are some great and bad leaders we should study? And what do you think is the dividing line between these two types?

Robert: In the military, I’m attracted to people who are innovative and creative. I’ve also been a student of Sun Tzu. He advocates the more open creative and East Asian style of battle: Winning Through Maneuver.

If you’ve read The 33 Strategies of War, you know that I’m a great admirer of Napoleon Bonaparte. A lot of young men died under his flag and that isn’t so great. But he’s a genius who revolutionized western warfare. I like to call him the Mozart of maneuver warfare. He was so creative and so ahead of his time and understood the one aspect of war that most people miss: the organizational and structural aspect.   

He understood the importance of an army being structured the right way. In his case, it was structured into these fast moving easily divisible divisions led by field marshals who had a mission statement; that was the key to his success. It wasn’t in some particular strategy, he merely used strategies that had been in warfare for centuries such as the counterattack, the flanking maneuver, etc. What he revolutionized was how you structured the army and the art of letting go of control. He didn’t have to control the army like the Prussian generals who tried to control every aspect of the battle, and he crushed them. He gave a lot of leeway to his field marshals and he unleashed on Europe a kind of maneuver warfare that no one had seen since Genghis Khan.

The Benefits of Being a Mentor

The Benefits of Being a Mentor

By Joe Byerly

This is the third question, in a five question interview with author Robert Greene.

Joe: You and the author Ryan Holiday have a well-known mentor/protege relationship. You’ve both written bestselling books and he’s been very vocal about your role in his success. How important is the mentor/protege relationship in our quest for mastery?  

Robert: I discuss this aspect of mastery a great deal in my book Mastery. It’s a very satisfying relationship. I’m married but we don’t have any children, so Ryan is kind of like a surrogate son.

If it’s done right, it’s a very enriching experience for both the mentor and the protégé. I’ve had a lot of people come to me who were fans of my books, asking to be  a research assistant or work for me. And I found a lot people didn’t possess the right character. They weren’t persistent and they couldn’t take criticism. They didn’t want to get inside the spirit of the books I’m writing. They didn’t have the right attitude.

Ryan was very unusual because early on he demonstrated that he could take criticism. This is an extremely important quality in people. Earlier, we discussed the importance of character. A key sign of a person’s character is their ability to take criticism. Sometimes, criticism is unfair. And you have to know how to distinguish that.

When I was twenty-four, an editor at a magazine told me over lunch, “Robert, you are terrible writer and you’re never going to make it in this world and you should give it up and go to law school.” It hurt and then I slowly realized that this was unfair criticism, so I quit taking it personally. It strengthened me. It made me realize that this wasn’t the right place for me to work.

How do you take criticism? Are you able to step outside yourself and see the value in it? Are you able to see what is true and what’s not true? This is an important quality. Ryan had that. And when I recognized that in him, I was very happy and very excited. Our relationship has been very satisfying.

Ryan helped me on the research I did for 33 Strategies of War and The 50th Law, the book I did with 50 Cent. He helped me a lot. He understands what I’m looking for; the kinds of books that I want; the kind of stories that I need. I didn’t need to train him as much as I trained other people.

On the other hand, I was able to help him with his career. I helped get him an important job that turned into the material for his first book, Trust me I’m Lying. I’ve helped him with all of his books. I taught him how to organize his material with the notecard system. I also showed him the key ingredients to making a successful book.

Our Dark Side and the Need for Self-Awareness

Our Dark Side and the Need for Self-Awareness

By Joe Byerly

This is the second question, in a five question interview with author Robert Greene.

Joe: In Chapter 9 Confront Your Dark Side of The Laws of Human Nature, you describe the darker aspects of our personalities. Do you think it’s possible to gain self-awareness to understand and conquer these blind spots?  

Robert: That’s the goal. It’s not easy because we don’t like to look at ourselves and sometimes these things are hidden. In the book, I make the point that we have a shadow or dark side and that it comes from our earliest years as children. We have a certain spirit, perhaps a mischievous one, and we learn to cover it up and to present the most polite agreeable front to the world as possible. So the people around you that are all smiling and showing off what they what want people to see. They are hiding their dark side and you are doing the same thing.  

You don’t want people to know that you have a temper or that you’re extremely sensitive to criticism, etc. So you’ve learned to compensate for that over the years. You’ve learned to project the very opposite of what your weakness is or what you’re vulnerabilities are. And then comes a moment of tremendous stress or pressure and suddenly you don’t have the self-control, that mask that you wear slips off, and the dark side of yourself comes out.