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Lead with the best version of yourself.

Lead with the best version of yourself.

S3,Ep 36: Anthony Zinni- A Life of Leadership

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Retired Marine Corps General Anthony Zinni joins the show to share the lessons he learned from over four decades of public service. He provides leadership insights and stories that range from his experiences in the jungles of Vietnam to the headquarters of United States Central Command (CENTCOM) and years of working in the private sector.

Click here to listen to the episode

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About General Zinni

 
Anthony Zinni is a retired Marine Corps 4-star General. He joined the Marine Corps’ Platoon Leader Class program in 1961 and was commissioned an infantry second lieutenant in 1965 upon graduation from Villanova University. He held numerous command and staff assignments that included platoon, company, battalion, regimental, Marine Expeditionary Unit, and Marine Expeditionary Force command. His staff assignments included service in operations, training, special operations, counter-terrorism, and manpower billets. He has been a tactics and operations instructor at several Marine Corps schools and was selected as a fellow on the Chief of Naval Operations Strategic Studies Group. General Zinni’s joint assignments included command of a joint task force and a unified command. He has also had several joint and combined staff billets at task force and unified command levels.

His military service has taken him to over 70 countries and includes deployments to the Mediterranean, the Caribbean, the Western Pacific, Northern Europe, and Korea. He has also served tours of duty in Okinawa and Germany. His operational experiences included two tours in Vietnam, where he was severely wounded; emergency relief and security operations in the Philippines; Operation Provide Comfort in Turkey and northern Iraq; Operation Provide Hope in the former Soviet Union; Operations Restore Hope, Continue Hope, and United Shield in Somalia; Operations Resolute Response and Noble Response in Kenya; Operations Desert Thunder, Desert Fox, Desert Viper, Desert Spring, Southern Watch, and Maritime Intercept Operations in Iraq and the Persian Gulf; and Operation Infinite Reach against terrorist targets in the Central Region. He was involved in the planning and execution of Operation Proven Force and Operation Patriot Defender during the Gulf War and noncombatant evacuation operations in Liberia, Zaire, Sierra Leone, and Eritrea.

He has attended numerous military schools and courses including the Army Special Warfare School, the Marine Corps Amphibious Warfare School, the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and the National War College.

General Zinni has held academic positions that include the Stanley Chair in Ethics at the Virginia Military Institute; the Nimitz Chair at the University of California-Berkeley; the Hofheimer Chair at the Joint Forces Staff College; the Weissberg Chair at Beloit College; the Harriman Professor of Government Chair and membership on the Reves Center for International Studies at the College of William and Mary; membership on the board of Villanova University’s Center for Responsible Leadership and Governance; and selection as a Carter O. Lowance Fellow in Law and Public Policy at the William and Mary Law School. He has also lectured at numerous colleges and universities in the US and abroad.

General Zinni retired from the military in 2000 after commanding the US Central Command.

Every Soldier A Warrior: Bridging the Divide Between Combat and Support

by Benjamin Phocas

After twenty years of counterinsurgency, with some spending entire combat deployments in an air conditioned office on a city sized forward operating base, it has become easy for soldiers not at the tip of the spear to treat the Army as a simple nine-to-five job. Simply stated, an attitude of complacency became pervasive. Peacetime has worsened this attitude for every branch, with the true purpose of the Army, fighting our nation’s wars, taking a backseat as everyday priorities pile up.

Developing Your Reading Plan

by Jakob Hutter

During a speech in 1957, Dwight Eisenhower made a paradoxical statement about preparation when he told an anecdote about the maps used during military training in Leavenworth. He stated, “plans are worthless, but planning is everything.” 

Just as leaders most likely have plans to conduct training, perform physical fitness, or even meal planning, planning helps you stay focused on what you want to accomplish and achieve.

Leading into the Future: Why You Should Write a Thesis at CGSC

by Benjamin Van Horrick

To the incoming class, welcome to Fort Leavenworth and the United States Army Combined Arms Center Command and General Staff College (CGSC). You are embarking on the most pivotal—and certainly not the easiest—year of your life. 

CGSC serves as both a hammock for deep reflection and a trampoline for your career and life outside of uniform. As a mid-career professional, you have been granted a year by your service to improve yourself. Most will stick to the curriculum. However, if you want to maximize your experience at CGSC, you might choose to author a thesis, which equips you for the growing demands of our profession. Whether you selected the general studies, history, or war-gaming track, the exercise of conceiving, researching, and composing a thesis is an endurance exercise. The thesis becomes secondary to the shift in your mindset as you shatter preconceived limits on your ability.

Two of the most powerful tools a field grade officer will employ are influencing decision-making and coalition-building. CGSC requires those drafting a thesis to build a three-person thesis committee that includes a terminal degree holder (Ph.D.) who will guide and shape the thesis. The exercise of building a thesis committee prepares a CGSC student for the demands of managing external stakeholders. The opportunity to develop the skills of influencing and coalition-building are even more rewarding than penning the thesis. Interaction with the committee forces the author to receive and integrate feedback on each chapter in a compressed timeline. The iterative feedback process mirrors a high-level joint staff, where civilians and military officers shape products and help the commander make an informed decision. 

Simply stated, drafting a thesis at CGSC affords a field grade officer with the experience of managing relationships, receiving feedback, and improving their work while building a coalition. These skills are invaluable when you transition as a field grade officer into key development billets and beyond.

Managing a thesis at CGSC is much like having a child in that the thesis requires daily care. The author of a thesis, much like a parent, will experience a range of emotions. Composing the thesis while managing the course demands your time and best effort. In addition, your family will deserve your best, and you must maintain physical readiness. Placing a new demand on your time forces adaptation. A deadline on a chapter improves your time management, forcing you to outline your work, synthesize your research, and compose a cogent response.

Taking a knee for a year at CGSC comes at a cost often not realized until later in one’s career. The cost is not taking advantage of the time you have at CGSC to work hard and significantly develop yourself intellectually and mentally. Field grade officers who stop growing while they are at CGSC will regress and find themselves marginalized by their respective services. 

The events of the past two years show that field grade officers cannot afford a year of stagnation or regression. 

Rising tensions with Iran, the COVID-19 pandemic, domestic social unrest, an increasingly aggressive China, and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine place field grade officers in a critical position. The operational demands we face demand a year of growth at CGSC. One can develop without penning a thesis, but composing one is the best way to maximize personal growth and provide long-term value to the service.

The people who benefit the most from your thesis are those you will lead in the future. You will ask your future charges to continue their personal growth and education. You can offer your advice or set the example. People forget advice, but examples endure. 

Composing a thesis is an arduous yet meaningful experience you can leverage in the future while training, coaching, and mentoring peers and subordinates alike. The bound copy of the thesis will remain on your shelf, while your example will permeate your future command. This year of life can make that future a reality for you and those who will rely on you. 

Major Benjamin Van Horrick is a US Marine Corps officer based at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. He has served four overseas deployments. This past year Maj Van Horrick authored a history thesis on Operation Moshtarak while attending the US Army’s Command and General Staff College.

S3,Ep35: Dr. Cassie Holmes- How To Fight Time Poverty

Dr. Cassie Holmes, an expert on time and happiness, joins Joe to discuss her recently published book, Happier Hour: How to Beat Distraction, Expand Your Time, and Focus on What Matters Most.  She provides useful advice for those who find themselves feeling like they spend all their time working and don’t have any time or energy left for the things that bring them happiness.

About Cassie

Cassie Mogilner Holmes is a Professor at UCLA’s Anderson School of Management. Cassie is an expert on time and happiness. Her research examines such questions as how focusing on time (rather than money) increases happiness, how the meaning of happiness changes over the course of one’s lifetime, and how much happiness people enjoy from extraordinary versus ordinary experiences. Across these inquiries, her findings highlight the joy that stems from interpersonal connection and paying attention to the present moment.

Cassie’s academic research on the role of time in cultivating well-being has been published in leading academic journals, including Psychological Science, the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, and the Journal of Consumer Research, and earned her the Early Career Award from both the Association of Consumer Research and the Society of Consumer Psychology. Cassie was identified by Poets & Quants as one of the best 40 business professors under 40, and popular accounts of her research have been featured on NPR and in such publications as The Economist, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, the Financial Times, and Scientific American

Professor Cassie Holmes is the author of Happier Hour: How to Beat Distraction, Expand Your Time, and Focus on What Matters Most, which is based on her wildly popular MBA course, “Applying the Science of Happiness to Life Design.”

Holmes is a faculty affiliate with The UCLA Bedari Kindness Institute, an interdisciplinary organization dedicated to the research, education, and practice of kindness.

Previously, Holmes was a tenured faculty member and award-winning teacher at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. She has a Ph.D. from Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business, and a B.A. from Columbia. (Bio courtesy of Cassieholmes.com)

Planning to Win the Tactical Level Fights: How Simple Operations Products Enable Synchronized Success

by Sean Leary

Battalion and brigade staffs operate somewhere in between the company tactical level  and the operational machines that are division headquarters. In this area, it is essential for commanders and their supporting staffs to be trained and proficient in the development and production of five key warfighting products. These warfighting products allow commanders at all levels the flexibility to accomplish their assigned missions and meet their Commander’s Intent. Common graphics, decision support templates, execution matrices, execution checklists, and target list worksheets allow commanders to better understand, visualize, describe, direct, lead and assess operations in time and space. 

Simply stated, staffs that produce effective products for their commander and subordinate commands increase the unit’s combat effectiveness and ability to execute command and control.

A warfighting product is a tool that aids in the accomplishment of a task.  Outlined in ATP 6-0.5, Command Post Organization and Operations, Appendix D, are several synchronization and decision making tools that can effectively “assist the commander and staff during execution.” While ATP 6-0.5 focuses highly on staffs at Echelons Above Brigade (EAB), it describes in detail key tools that can be quickly created at brigade and battalion levels to promote synchronization and decision making. What makes a tool a warfighting product is the ability of a staff to disseminate these tools to subordinate commanders in a medium they can effectively fight with. For example, staffs in an Armored Brigade Combat Team (ABCT) may tailor their products for use on a Joint Battle Command Platform (JBC-P) to support their commanders and print products from their mobile command posts to enable product dissemination. On the opposite end of the spectrum, staffs in an Infantry Brigade Combat Team (IBCT) may utilize a more analog approach, such as hand drawn or hand copied products and pre-formatted templates. In all cases, commanders at echelon and their staffs should develop their Planning Standard Operating Procedures (PSOP) together and outline a section focused on their fighting products and how they are intended to be used.

Of all the tools, Common Graphics are the most essential and are required for each other tool to be used properly. They are at the core of mission orders and are critical to warfighting.  ADP 6-0, Mission Command: Command and Control of Army Forces, explains how graphics accompany mission orders and “provide enough control for those activities requiring synchronization, but they should avoid constraining subordinates’ freedom of action within their areas of operation (AO).”  Disseminating these products widely to subordinate and higher headquarters ensures that effective communication is possible using a common geographical tool.  Good common graphics must contain all essential graphic control measures for each Warfighting Function (WFF) to conduct their mission and “foster freedom of action, decision making, initiative, and reporting during operations.” Battalions and brigades use their common graphics to create a Common Operating Picture (COP) and enable their commanders to visualize operations within their Area of Interest (AOI). By using the common graphics as the base for the COP, staffs are able to quickly and effectively communicate current actions to their commanders at echelon. Without common graphics, units are required to construct more detailed reports and fragmentary orders to effect change and implement decisions during an operation. Staff must prioritize and complete common graphics to ensure all commanders maintain a common situational awareness for the mission.

During the Military Decision Making Process (MDMP), the creation of a Decision Support Template (DST) and or Matrix (DSM) is essential to maintain initiative, freedom of actions, and is a key tool for control for larger formations. 

A Decision Support Template depicts a “combined intelligence and operations graphic based on the results of wargaming that depicts decision points, timelines associated with movement of forces, the flow of the operation, and other key items of information required to execute a specific friendly course of action”. A DST is used by commanders to assess a current friendly Course of Action (COA) against their anticipated enemy COA and inform execution decisions identified and planned for during MDMP. Additionally, a DST contains the DSM which is “a written record of a war-gamed course of action that describes decision points and associated actions at those decision points”.  DSMs enable commanders to anticipate execution decisions prior to an operation and coordinate their unit’s actions up to and through a decision point.  

The DSM enables staffs and subordinate commanders to understand indicators in an enemy COA that will lead to the anticipated execution decisions. A DST provides commanders and staff the ability to visualize these execution decisions in time and space and acts as the initial point for identifying and planning adjustment decisions under the Rapid Decision-Making and Synchronization Process (RDSP) when threat and opportunity variances to the planned COA are identified. The DST and its associated DSM enable rapid execution of anticipated decisions and indications of variances to the current operation. The DST and DSM maintains unit initiative and enables unit flexibility through relaying anticipated decisions and their indicators to subordinate commanders and staffs.

Critical to the synchronization of any mission are a complete and accurate Execution Matrix (EXMAT) and Execution Checklist (EXCHECK).  “An Execution Matrix is a visual representation of subordinate tasks in relationship to each other over time.”   It helps commanders and staffs follow the progress of subordinate and adjacent units and is used to “control, synchronize, and adjust operations as required” (ADP 5-0). The execution matrix must span all WFFs within your AOI and include actions conducted by adjacent units and higher headquarters within your AOI.  

A complete and detailed EXMAT provides a starting point for commanders and staffs to synchronize operations when conducting RDSP.  Staff cells must update the EXMAT prior to operations and issue fragmentary orders to achieve the commander’s envisioned endstate. 

Additionally, the EXCHECK “is a distillation of the execution matrix that list key actions sequentially, units responsible for the action, and an associated code word to quickly provide shared understanding among the commander, staff, and subordinate units on initiation or completion of the action.”  By highlighting key actions sequentially, all commanders and staff following an operation are able to maintain situational awareness during execution.

The only WFF specific product that must be issued to commanders and Soldiers is the Target List Worksheet (TLWS). The TLWS is used to facilitate fire planning and is a simplified version of the Fire Support Execution Checklist .  It is a preliminary list of targets and their descriptions that allow Soldiers to quickly reference and adjust planned fire support missions to the current situation on the ground. This product helps command posts to provide indirect fire support quickly and accurately during execution. Staffs should include TLWS details in all fighting products (i.e. using target numbers and descriptions in an EXMAT or EXCHECK and associated graphics) and must refine the TLWS when conducting RDSP.

Commanders and staffs who produce and use these tools are more effective at visualizing their operations and tracking their progress in both time and space. 

Complete and simple tools set conditions for subordinate commander and staffs to apply disciplined initiative to meet their senior commander’s intent. When opportunities and threats outside the planned COA are identified, these tools act as the foundation for creating adjustments through RDSP and enable flexibility to commanders and staffs to keep the operation headed toward the desired endstate. Equally, commanders and staffs must standardize and rehearse the minimum fighting products required for operations, the standard expected for each product’s production, and the use of each product during the operations. Together, these tools enable commanders at echelon to understand, visualize, describe, direct, lead and assess operations in time and space.

Sean Leary is an Infantry Officer and current student at the US Army Command and General Staff Officers’ Course.  He recently served in First Army – Division East as a HHC Team Chief and OC/T.  His staff experience includes Battalion and Brigade Plans Officer with experience on staff in both 101st Airborne Division and 1st Cavalry Division.

S3,Ep34: Sanyin Siang- What is Your Superpower?

Sanyin Siang’s mission in life is to enable greatness in others. In this episode, Sanyin and Joe discuss  how each of us has a unique set of superpowers that are waiting to be unleashed. She believes that  once we understand our superpowers, we can improve our lives and the lives of those around us. 

If you want to learn more, check out Sanyin’s biweekly newsletter, The Leadership Playbook: Unleashing Your Superpowers

Click here to listen to the episode

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About Sanyin

Sanyin helps leaders launch and create value by focusing on mindset, behavioral change, and team and culture building. Sanyin is a CEO Coach, Author, and the Executive Director of the Fuqua/Coach K Center on Leadership & Ethics (COLE) at Duke University. The COLE center is a leadership laboratory that engages all of Duke’s Daytime MBA students and convenes high-level think tank gatherings to explore today’s complex leadership opportunities and challenges.

Sanyin works with C-suite executives and generals to help them become even more successful. She is an advisor for GV (former Google Ventures), Duke Corporate Education, and the Sports Innovation Lab. Her thought leadership has appeared in Forbes, Fortune, The Wall Street Journal, and CNN. She has more than 865,000 LinkedIn followers. She is a LinkedIn 2017 Top 10 Influencer and a 2018 Thinkers50 On the Radar.

She has served on boards of startups and nonprofits including the National Board of the Duke Children’s Hospital & Health Center, the Governing Board of the Emily Krzyzewski Center, and Museum of Life & Science, and the National Governing Board of USA Taekwondo. She is a member of the 86th Joint Civilian Orientation Conference.

Driven by the belief that today’s complex challenges require collaboration across public, private and social sectors, a theme through her work is convening interdisciplinary, diverse think tank gatherings towards defining complex problems and implementing new approaches for solving them. Prior to Duke, she was at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (the world’s largest federation of science and engineering societies) where explored the ethical, legal and social implications of technological advances and served as AAAS Professional Ethics’ Publication’s Managing Editor.

Her award-winning book, The Launch Book: Motivational Stories for Launching Your Idea, Business, or Next Career helps readers build the leadership mindset for addressing the changes in their careers, businesses, and lives.
Sanyin received a BSE in Biomedical Engineering and an MBA from Duke University.

10 Rules to Live by on Social Media for Those who Serve

by Orlandon Howard

“When there are many words, transgression is unavoidable, but he who restrains his lips is wise.” – King Solomon (1010-931 BCE)

It’s easy to make mistakes when communicating regularly on social media. Humans are prone to it because of our emotional and psychological makeup. Nevertheless, errors on publicly accessible social platforms can cause a lot of pain that can be difficult to overcome, especially if you kick the wrong wasp nests.

Here are some general rules to reduce the risk of problems.   

1. Maintain self-control. Good public communication requires self-control. Emotion and instinct have high horsepower that can drive us to do unwise and even hurtful things if unregulated. Self-control entails being led by reason (thinking), not emotions. Reason provides the internal checks and balances we need to conduct ourselves in the measured way appropriate for a service member.

The Webster Dictionary defines “reasonable” as having sound judgment and being fair and sensible. All our public communication should be reasonable, even in response to inflammatory situations. Restraint in words demonstrates greater strength and wisdom than the boldest and cleverest comments. 

2. Avoid partisanship. This is a tricky one. We’re servants of the country, its designated authorities, and its citizens who have a countless diversity of views and perspectives. Service members have an obligation to remain objectively neutral and maintain a high-ground perspective over all positions. If forced to choose sides in public, we should align with the sitting administration’s standing policy.

It’s always safer to repeat senior leaders’ ideas and messages (in our own words). However, it’s safest to avoid wading into those discussions in public because it’s high risk, low reward. Don’t make statements you wouldn’t want to be pressed on by the media or anyone else in public. Similarly, avoid becoming a pawn in someone else’s political or activist agenda. Some people may try to exploit your military affiliation and a position you seem to be taking in public.  

3. Stay in your lane. The best advice public affairs officers give service members engaging media is to stay in their lane. It means avoiding speaking publicly about topics outside your purview and expertise. It also suggests staying away from subjects you haven’t been prepared to discuss or don’t have permission, especially on U.S. or Army policy matters. The advice works for social media discussions as well.

The policy component is the stickiest and most consequential. The safest bet is to be silent, neutral, or positive about policy in public. We should be careful not to contradict or undermine leaders’ decisions on social media because it can have a corrosive effect on the policy and the force. There are usually more appropriate forums for discreet debate or contrary opinions. This advice doesn’t discourage (nor encourage) speaking out when there are legitimate questions about a policy’s morality, legality, or ethicality. But it should be thoroughly considered and consulted with other mature, informed persons before addressing publicly.

4. Don’t become an unintended or unwanted spokesperson. A service member speaking in public on social media can easily be construed as a service member speaking publicly on an issue. It’s definitely true if you are an officer or senior enlisted leader. Media and blog writers look for quotes from troops seen as a credible representation of a bloc within the military. Some writers report on opinions they identify as prevalent if multiple service members of any rank discuss them on social media.

Also, don’t try to speak for other people. It’s not safe to assume others share your position or that you’re speaking for anyone but yourself. Sometimes we wrongly think our position is an objective truth that most others share. American service members have a lot in common, but we also have a lot of different perspectives.  

5. Acknowledge your ignorance. Be honest with yourself. How much do you really know about things outside your normal scope? Similarly, how much do you know about the situation someone is presenting as a WTF incident or controversial policy? There’s too much to keep up with in our lives, careers, and families to stay abreast of the countless things happening outside our normal sphere. That’s why we should avoid rash and hardened judgments before gathering enough information.

Most of us have little insight into situations governed by forces outside our scope and control. We need to accept we might be uninformed, underinformed, or even misinformed. One technique that’ll help remind you of your limitations is challenging yourself to thoroughly explain what’s happening when an issue arises. It can be humbling when you realize how little information or understanding you have when struggling to explain something.

6. Be diplomatic. Diplomatic means “dealing with people sensitively and effectively.” It implies communicating in a way that avoids igniting unproductive feelings and opposition. The best way to do that is to be civil and respectful by softening your language and trying not to offend. It maintains relationships and gets better results. Conversely, you can protect yourself from being offended and losing your cool by giving others the benefit of the doubt, treating their positions fairly, and never forgetting they’re human.

Likewise, service members should also give proper respect and courtesy to the people and situations that deserve it. With all due respect, we’re still a military force with a rank structure and certain expectations of our profession. 

7. Don’t call people out in public. Correction in the military is essential to maintaining a high-quality organization with high standards and should happen often. However, it should rarely be done in public. Every platform has a direct message tool. We should use that to give feedback intended to correct or critique. If reprimanding a person in public seems warranted, it should be done empathetically by a “competent authority.”

Similarly, don’t call out your military service in public. Each service is made up of people, but individuals don’t make the service. It’s not fair to blast your service over issues with one person or one organization. The great thing about the military is every service member serves under a higher authority you can appeal to. 

8. Remember recruiting. Guard your public persona and our collective public persona. It impacts recruiting. Outsiders are watching, some of whom we need to join the military or recommend joining. Active and former service members serve as the US military’s best recruiters.

Your attitude and opinion significantly influence the next generation of our all-volunteer force. A first principle should be: do NO harm to the military’s reputation and public image. We must be careful about what we say and how we say it. Similar to rule #7, there are ways to complain without casting shade on the whole organization.

9. Remember your current and future employer. Freedom isn’t free, and neither is all speech. It comes with social consequences that can cash out into more material consequences. It can impact whether you’re chosen for a job or if you’re able to retain it. From their perspective, an undisciplined social media user could be a careless team member and an unnecessary risk to the organization’s reputation.

10. Communicate for positive effects. Before communicating on social media, ask yourself what you are trying to achieve. If the outcomes you want are constructive (or neutral) and consistent with the rest of the advice shared here, you’re on message. But if you’re trying to vent negative vibes, stoke a fire to get other folks emotional, or ridicule, degrade or shame someone, you should consider taking a page from Abraham Lincoln’s playbook by keeping that diatribe as a draft. It’ll do more harm than good.

Final thoughts. Social media has given us significant power to be heard by people and communities in ways impossible before the internet and modulated before social media. It’s not too corny to remind us of Spiderman’s ethos that “with great power comes great responsibility.” A little judgment and restraint are accessible superpowers that can help uphold that responsibility and keep you out of a web of turmoil.

MAJ Orlandon Howard is a U.S. Army public affairs officer (PAO). He has served as a PAO observer-controller-trainer (OC/T), public affairs operations officer, brigade combat team PAO and marketing operations officer. He also served as an Field Artillery Officer, NCO and Soldier during the first half of his career.

The views presented are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of DoD or the U.S. Army.

S3,Ep33: Arthur C. Brooks- Are You Addicted to Success?

Many of us are success addicts and we don’t even know it. Arthur C. Brooks, author of From Strength to Strength, joins the show to discuss why our brains are wired to chase achievement and how it can negatively impact our overall happiness.  He also shares where we should focus our lives to find more fulfillment. 

Click here to listen to the episode

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Meet Arthur (@Arthurbrooks)

Arthur C. Brooks is the William Henry Bloomberg Professor of the Practice of Public Leadership at the Harvard Kennedy School and Professor of Management Practice at the Harvard Business School. Before joining the Harvard faculty in July of 2019, he served for ten years as president of the Washington, D.C.-based American Enterprise Institute (AEI), one of the world’s leading think tanks.

Brooks is the author of 12 books, including the #1 New York Times bestseller “From Strength to Strength,” and national bestsellers “Love Your Enemies” (2019) and “The Conservative Heart” (2015). He is also a columnist for The Atlantic, host of the podcast “How to Build a Happy Life with Arthur Brooks,” and subject of the 2019 documentary film “The Pursuit,” which Variety named as one of the “Best Documentaries on Netflix” in August 2019. He gives more than 100 speeches per year around the U.S., Europe, and Asia.

Brooks began his career as a classical French hornist, leaving college at 19, touring and recording with the Annapolis Brass Quintet and later the City Orchestra of Barcelona. In his late twenties, while still performing, he returned to school, earning a BA through distance learning at Thomas Edison State College, and then an MA in economics from Florida Atlantic University. At 31, he left music and earned an MPhil and PhD in public policy analysis from the Rand Graduate School, during which time he worked as an analyst for the Rand Corporation’s Project Air Force.

Brooks then spent 10 years as a university professor, becoming a full professor at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs in his seventh year out of graduate school and occupying the Louis A. Bantle Chair in Business and Government. During this decade, Brooks published 60 peer-reviewed articles and several books, including the textbook “Social Entrepreneurship” (2008).

In 2009, Brooks became the 11th president of AEI, also holding the Beth and Ravenel Curry Chair in Free Enterprise. Under his leadership, the Institute more than doubled its annual revenues, deepened its outreach to leaders across the ideological spectrum, and expanded its research portfolio to include work on poverty, happiness, and human potential. During this period, he was selected as one of Fortune Magazine’s “50 World’s Greatest Leaders” and was awarded six honorary doctorates.

Originally from Seattle, Brooks currently lives in Needham, Massachusetts, with his wife Ester Munt-Brooks, who is a native of Barcelona. They have three children, Joaquim, Carlos, and Marina. (Bio Courtney of arthurbrooks.com)

Lessons Learned for an Effective Training Pathway and Development

by J David Thompson

“What did we do that made us so effective?” 

A few weeks after returning from a deployment to the Levant, one of my Team Sergeants asked me this question after he and his Team Leader had a chance to reflect on the past rotation. One thing that struck them: this was the most effective deployment they had ever had. They had reports reach the highest levels of the U.S. Government; multi-star General Officers and Combatant Command Commanders were reading and sharing their reports; the interagency community regularly relied on them for insights; and more. This team was not the only effective team either. In other missions Civil Affairs Captains served as Ground Force Commanders for Cross-Functional Teams (CFT) that included Special Forces and Psychological Operations; Team medics saved dozens of lives; Teams had Embassy Political Officers tasked to support them; the Department of State included a “Civil Affairs Comments” section on applicable Cables; and more. Despite this effectiveness, the Team leadership could not identify anything beyond the basics beyond our training pathway. “That’s exactly the point,” I responded. “We did the basics very well. There’s no magic trick. We did the basics over and over until we got really good at them.” 

The purpose of this article is to help capture lessons learned so that other organizations can continue to build on what we developed. The experiences gained come from my time as Commander of A Company, 96th Civil Affairs Battalion (Special Operations) (Airborne). However, nothing in this paper is going to be much different than what all of my peers likely know. I will not provide any one-step tricks to make organizations more impactful but feel the lessons I learned extend beyond my experiences. (One thing that cannot be replicated is the exceptional people I was able to serve alongside; the Company had outstanding Team Members and headquarters support.)

Ultimately, there are five main takeaways that can be replicated across any organization: 1) Team-led training in semi-ambiguous situations, 2) building trust with the supported headquarters, 3) understanding how civil information reaches the Intelligence and Diplomatic communities, 4) quality writing, and 5) knowing the area. While perhaps underwhelming insights, these are some of the most effective things I was able to capture that can be replicated.

Team-led Training throughout the Training Cycle. In a Special Operations deployment, operations are generally bottom-up driven. To accomplish their mission, they must be able to apply Commander’s intent to their specific area of operations with little to no oversight. None of my Teams were going to be in the same country as me. Therefore, we needed to use the training cycle to build trust between each other. They needed to be comfortable planning, resourcing, and executing their own missions. I needed to be comfortable not having complete oversight and trusting them to execute professionally. I also needed to practice communicating a clear intent so that Teams could operate towards a desired end state. 

In laying out the training pathway, we had three gates: individual certification, Team certification, and Company validation. Each phase built into the next, and we maximized each event by a concept we called ‘fighting to the field.’ Fighting to the field forced us to see each event as an opportunity to work on other things. For instance: if the main event was land navigation, Teams submitted concepts of the operation (CONOPs) detailing black and gold routes on moving from the Motorpool to the training location. Teams exercised their communications PACE plan with the Civil Military Operations Cell (CMOC), who trained on battle tracking Teams. While waiting between day and night land navigation, Teams would use the time to train on other tasks. (My Teams specifically liked to see who could create the most challenging conditions for gaining IV access, and they used a lot of the extra training time to focus on enhanced medical capabilities. This proved valuable as Teams saved dozens of partner forces’ lives.)

In individual certification, the Team Leadership certified individuals on Skill Level 1 tasks. In this phase, each Team was assigned a main event to give the Team practice on planning, resourcing, and executing a collective event. Other Teams would then ‘fight to the field’ as part of the overall event. We used the ‘Best Archer Competition’ (Company name was ‘Archer’) as the individual certification to enable competition and have a little fun. By utilizing an iterative process, Teams had multiple repetitions on planning, resourcing, and executing training. By the time we got to Team Collective, Teams were comfortable conducting all the coordination for effective training. This phase culminated with Team Leadership providing an out-brief to the Battalion Command team, which gave them experience talking to senior leaders in a professional manner.

Team collective was the heart of our training. Each month was structured into crawl, walk, run, and R3 (retrain, recover, and refine standard operating procedures (SOP)) weeks. Each month had a specific mission essential task (MET) for Teams to train on the supporting collective tasks (SCT) under that MET. The crawl and walk weeks were entirely Team-led. Teams submitted CONOPs on their training plans. The run week was Company-led. The CMOC and I created field training exercises (FTX) that tested Teams on the SCT under the MET. We used the training and evaluation outlines (T&EO) for each SCT as the grading criteria. Teams knew what they were being tested on, which enabled them to properly structure their training. We often used outside graders to provide a fresh perspective. The R3 week was a hybrid. Teams conducted training based on shortcomings identified during the run-week. This phase culminated in a situational training exercise (STX), where Teams tested against the recurring SCTs under multiple METs (called ‘Civil Affairs Battle Tasks’). The Company Headquarters and CMOC used Team Collective to train on Company-level functions. Teams then did another out-brief with the Battalion leadership before we moved into Company collective.

Company collective was the Company’s opportunity to validate against the METs. In this subset the focus was more on the Company integrating with the supported Special Operations Task Force (SOTF). Teams used this opportunity to dive deeper on the problem sets they would face while deployed, integrate with adjacent units, and further mission analysis. This phase culminated with the Company conducting an external evaluation exercise (EXEVAL) with the supported headquarters.

Given that Special Operations Forces (SOF) operate from the bottom-up, I rarely gave Teams more than an intent and desired end state. Teams received just one or two operations orders (OPORD) through the training cycle, and they were only to enable mission analysis in certain training events. While this uncertainty created some frustrations at times, it paid dividends later. Teams were comfortable stepping into ambiguous situations, figuring out their role in what needed to be done, and then executing. I also became better at providing clearer tasks, conditions, and standards. 

One additional note on our structure: we rarely conducted training on Monday and Friday. Mondays were devoted to maintenance and services—with any training being focused on that equipment. Fridays were devoted primarily to personnel readiness. This allowed individuals to forecast appointments or maximize family time.

Building Trust with Your Supported Headquarters. The SOTF Commander gave me a great compliment at the end of our rotation: he told me that it felt like we should be going back to their home station (instead of our own home station, which was a different base). During our training cycle we had five significant touchpoints with our supported headquarters. These included: a communications exercise (COMEX), key leader engagement (KLE) training in target language, staff exercise (STAFFEX), EXEVAL, and mission analysis. 

During several of the training events, Teams integrated with the B Teams (AOB) and Operational Detachment – Alphas (ODA) that they deployed alongside. Teams used the training events to build trust; develop CFT tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs); and socialize ideas for what they wanted to accomplish while deployed. Given that the Teams had so much integrated training, they were able to hit the ground running immediately on deployment. The ODAs and Civil Affairs Teams had mutually beneficial relationships focused on using their unique skills to achieve a common objective. Additionally, the CMOC was able to integrate battle drills to effectively integrate with the SOTF staff.

The multiple touchpoints during training was incredibly beneficial and appreciated. Multiple leaders in the SOTF stated that they had never seen a Civil Affairs Company so present during multiple training events. A lot of credit also goes to the SOTF staff for their willingness and desire to integrate early and often. 

Understanding How Civil Information Reaches the Intelligence and Diplomatic Communities. The Teams’ reports had unprecedented outreach. Multiple reports helped inform the highest levels of the U.S. Government. By informing senior leaders–both military and civilian–about the nature of the problem, our Teams received resources and reprioritization of efforts to help them achieve their mission. For Civil Affairs, this is something most Companies dream of reaching (we want to know that our reporting matters). Being able to see the effects of quality reporting reinforced the importance of ensuring the reports reach a broad audience.

Early in the training, I exposed Teams to serialized reporting. We then refreshed on the process shortly before deploying. Without going into details on the process, we ensured Teams understood: 1) how to write for intelligence, 2) how to conduct a proper debriefing, and 3) the importance of serialized reporting (Intelligence Information Reports (IIR) or Cables). From my experience, I have seen quality reporting lose its outreach by only staying in the operational reporting chain. Situational reports (SITREPs) lose context and important details as they progress higher. Serialized reporting enabled the intelligence and diplomatic communities to directly access Teams’ raw reports. 

We also found what could be declassified and shared in open source media. Teams had multiple projects and initiatives through the headquarters’ official social media pages and in credible news outlets. People less inclined to read serialized reporting could see some of what our Teams were doing and the effect they were achieving. 

Quality, Regular Writing. Writing is a skill that needs practice and feedback. During the training cycle Teams submitted weekly situation reports (SITREPs). Even though I generally knew what they were doing, the SITREPs gave them opportunities to write and gave me the opportunity to provide feedback on grammar and sentence structure. 

Upon taking Command, I provided some guidelines and rules for effective writing:

  1. Keep sentences to around 10 words.
  2. Use active voice. Active voice is when the person doing the action comes before the action completed. Active: David wrote this sentence. Passive: This sentence was written by David.
  3. Grammar matters. There’s a big difference between “Let’s eat Grandma,” and “Let’s eat, Grandma.”
  4. Structure for SITREP paragraphs: 1) what happened, 2) implications of operations, 3) way ahead. 
  5. Don’t make the reader guess which lines of effort (LOE) or operational priorities your efforts supported.

After a few weeks, there was a noticeable jump in the quality of Teams’ reports. The reports were clearer, succinct, and provided sufficient information. When Teams deployed, there was no lag in learning how to write effectively. They had already written effectively for a year. Their effective writing also enabled easier production of IIRs and Cables.

Knowing Your Area. The last major takeaway was telling Teams early where they were going to deploy. This helped Teams build the knowledge base to operate effectively. Teams connected with Teams two rotations prior while those Teams were still deployed. Once those Teams redeployed, my Teams were able to have quality discussions on training, equipment, and operational considerations. My Teams also observed the pre-deployment brief for the rotation preceding us. They observed the questions being asked by the headquarters, Commander’s concerns, and discussions that ensued. They maintained regular discussions with these Teams throughout the predecessor’s rotation. Our relief-in-place (RIP) began before our predecessors even deployed. Teams observed an entire rotation start to finish. This allowed Teams to have a solid understanding of the operating environment.

The First Sergeant and I conducted analysis before recommending where Teams deployed. We used a balancing approach that considered: Team preference; skills, knowledge, and abilities (SKAs); professional development; and psycho-social health. I generally believe people will work harder when they are excited about the mission. Therefore, I took preference into account. 

For SKAs, I was fortunate to have a few native speakers in the Company. It made sense to deploy them to those countries, if possible. 

For professional development, we looked at the individuals’ previous rotations to see where they may have professional gaps. Training to build future leaders does not just happen in garrison. 

For psycho-social health, we tried to balance deploying operating environments. If a person had a more permissive previous deployment, I was apt to suggest a more combat-heavy deployment. If the person had multiple back-to-back combat rotations, I suggested a more permissive environment. We also looked at family situations to see if anyone would need to redeploy for the birth of a child, attend professional military education, and other life events. As we balanced these factors we provided our recommendations to the Battalion Command team for their decision.

Conclusion. As stated in the beginning, nothing in this should be ground breaking. If you made it this far, I appreciate you taking the time–even if the recommendations are underwhelming. I was fortunate to have a Battalion Commander that focused on developing subordinate leaders and invested a lot in my professional education. I learned a lot from him over my 20 months of Command. He provided his Company Commanders a few reading excerpts early in Command that proved helpful. One of the books he recommended was The Score Takes Care of Itself by Bill Walsh. The main thing I remember from the reading was to focus on the process. If we had a good process and did the right things well, we would be effective. Throughout training and deployment, I tried hard to focus on the process. I am sure my Team Leaders got tired of me asking “What process did we use for X?” or “Where are we in this process?” Nonetheless, focusing on the process for the things above helped us have a successful training plan and deployment. I hope it helps you. 

J David Thompson is a U.S. Army Civil Affairs Major. He has multiple deployments to Afghanistan, Jordan, and Iraq. He has a Juris Doctorate from Washington and Lee University School of Law. Outside the military he has experience with the United Nations Refugee Agency, Physicians for Human Rights – Israel, and Department of Defense. Follow him on Twitter at @jdthompson910. 

The opinions expressed in this paper are solely that of the author. They do not reflect the Department of Defense or the Department of the Army.

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