Lead with the best version of yourself.

Rowing Well, and Living Better: Leader Influence on Officer Retention

by M. Caleb Bloom

The first time I heard the phrase, “Row well, and live,” I did not know what it meant. I was a First Lieutenant on a Battalion-level staff after finishing my time as a Platoon Leader. The Battalion was only a few months into a 9-month rotation to Kuwait. Up to that point, I had been generally happy in my career since commissioning. However, that assignment and that particular rotation were breaking me. 

I felt forgotten by my leadership. The previous battalion commander told me, “We forgot we had you for so long.” I found no enjoyment as I adjusted the size of cell blocks on the Excel document holding the battalion’s long-range training calendar. The relatively new battalion operations officer noticed the decline in my morale and general demeanor. He decided to offer some advice: “Row well, and live.”

When he noticed my bewildered look, he told me it was a quote from a movie. The quote comes from a scene in the 1959 film “Ben-Hur.” Upon finding the scene on YouTube, I gained an understanding of the context and meaning of the phrase. The titular character finds himself in the galley of a Roman warship as a rower. A Roman guard or officer explains the plight of all the rowers to motivate them. “You are all condemned men,” the Roman says. “We keep you alive to serve the ship. So, row well, and live.” 

Since that first encounter with this quote, I have heard it referenced many other times. I now understand it is common to call a maneuver officer’s time on a staff “rowing.” However, I find it peculiar that in an all-volunteer force, we equate any duty position with involuntary and forced labor. In a military that professes itself to be the guardians of freedom, and a country that regards itself “The Land of the Free,” perhaps we should find better ways to motivate our officers as they fulfill the less desirable, yet necessary roles within the military. 

Security Force Assistance Brigades: In Competition, Crisis, and Conflict

by Brian M. Ducote, Jim Gallagher, and Jason Elmore

The thought of U.S. Army advisors often conjures images of an American Soldier in a foreign land, standing side by side with an inexperienced recruit. The advisor demonstrates the finer points of handling a rifle to the trainee (who may or may not have military experience), or offers basic planning considerations to an inexperienced staff. 

While this perception of security force assistance (SFA) is still accurate in some instances, the US military’s recent experience with foreign partner force advising has shifted to a much broader, more strategic purpose. Security Force Assistance Brigades (SFABs) no longer just “teach Afghans to shoot AKs.” The SFA role, including SFABs’ contributions within it, has become much more comprehensive and is entirely aligned to what the U.S. Army needs during each phase of the Strategic Contexts: competition, crisis, and conflict. 

Train Small to Win Big: Rethinking Our Training Plan for Lethality

By Jake Murphy

It is all too easy to forget that higher echelons exist to set the conditions for small units, in both tactical and garrison environments. To combat this, it is critical to trust subordinate leaders to effectively lead their formations. Staff must assist, not burden small units and tactical leaders.  It is incredibly common to find battalion and brigade staff personnel who consistently have workdays that are over ten hours while in garrison. This hurts their respective organizations in a few ways. Soldiers on staff grow bitter, resulting in lower qualities of work and a likely departure from the military. This also reduces the lethality of companies and platoons as higher echelons create requirements for junior leaders to complete, reducing the amount of time they can lead and teach their formations. 

There are already too many training requirements. The US Army War College found in 2015 that there would need to be 258 more work days per year to meet every requirement. Staff at all levels will create more ready and effective formations if they reduce tasks to lower echelons, provide more time for retraining, and place more trust in subordinate units to train their formations without stringent oversight from higher level commanders. 

Operationalizing and Prioritizing Leader Development Programs

By Derek Prario

Particularly in the time of preparation, modernization, and ‘culture reset’ that we find ourselves in, an effective military leader must develop others for future battles. The mandate to ‘develop leaders’ is essential and commonly discussed. But in practice it is often nebulous, defined and enacted differently depending on the unit and leader. The best leaders are extremely effective at developing their subordinates, who in turn, become far more effective at accomplishing the higher leaders’ goals. Conversely, some leaders don’t realize that their organizational dysfunction is often a result of poor leader development in the past. The Army would enable success in developing leaders by publishing an ATP (or similar) filled with best practices and example products. This would enhance the Army’s leadership development efforts and create a more effective and lethal Army for the future.

The Army’s Purpose is NOT to “Deploy, Fight, and Win Our Nation’s Wars”

By Ben Ordiway

I hope our wisdom will grow with our power and teach us that the less we use our power, the greater it will be. Thomas Jefferson

What is the Army’s purpose? The answer depends on where you look. Doctrine enthusiasts will point to ADP 1-0, The Army, for their answer (also featured prominently on the Army’s flagship website). In this fundamental text, we find the language of offense

“The Army mission—our purpose—remains constant: to deploy, fight, and win our Nation’s wars by providing ready, prompt, and sustained land dominance by Army forces across the full spectrum of conflict as part of the joint force. The Army mission is vital to the Nation because we are a Service capable of defeating enemy ground forces and indefinitely seizing and controlling those things an adversary prizes most—its land, its resources, and its population.” (§3-4)  

Mission and Motherhood: Tools for Leading Pregnant and Postpartum Soldiers

By Katie Walter

I was terrified when I discovered I was pregnant as a young Second Lieutenant in the Armor branch. Among the other stressors of pregnancy and raising a child, I was nervous my Squadron’s leaders might view me negatively for being unable to participate in our upcoming training rotation at the National Training Center (NTC). Their opinion of me could impact my opportunity to serve as a platoon leader.

Despite my anxiety, my leaders received the news with compassion and support. We spoke deliberately about how to achieve my goals and support the team while adapting to my complex new situation. With engaged leadership, I contributed meaningfully on staff while pregnant, delivered my baby, took maternity leave, and then became a platoon leader as soon as I felt physically ready. Through intentional counseling and shared understanding, my unit empowered me both as a mother and a Soldier. 

After benefitting from positive leader support, I was disheartened to hear the negative experiences of several other Soldiers. Despite advocating for themselves, many were neglected by leaders who did not understand or want to enforce Army policies on pregnancy, postpartum and parenthood (PPP). It was admittedly difficult to find up-to-date versions of these regulations because they were scattered across several Army publications. I began looking for ways to solve this problem.

What Junior Leaders Need to Understand About Their Field Grade Boss

By Quentin O’Neal

Major Dave Leydet and Major Ryan Stephenson recently penned a phenomenal article detailing the importance of the relationship between a unit’s Executive Officer (XO) and its Operations Officer (S3). It also expounds upon those two field grades’ (FG) unique responsibility to their unit and its members. 

By comprehending the significance of these relationships, JOs and senior NCOs can pave the way for personal success. Investing time to understand their FG bosses as well as FGs understand each other leads to better outcomes for their organizations. These takeaways primarily apply to JOs and senior NCOs who are running a staff section at the battalion (BN) level, but should also offer insight to any leaders working for or with field grade officers.

Does Your Organization Need a Command Sergeant Major?

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on LinkedIn for a corporate audience. Listen to Joe’s interview with Juliet here. And keep your eyes open for Juliet’s return to the podcast! 

by Juliet Funt

I have no military family, nor do I have close friends who’ve served. My perception of the military has primarily been shaped by media, movies, and a few corporate leaders I’ve worked with who have military experience. So, it was a bit of a surprise to learn that my book, A Minute to Think, has found a significant audience within these honorable groups and opened the door to many wonderful connections and new ways to think about leadership.

The “relationship” began with my appearance on the military podcast From The Green Notebook. Then, Command Sergeant Major JoAnn Naumann, who recently became the first woman to serve as the senior enlisted leader of U.S. Army Special Operations Command (USASOC), with over 30,000 people under its command, ranked A Minute to Think as the top choice on her list of 69 books for the year. (Yes, she’s an incredibly dedicated lifelong learner.)

Shortly after, the Army War College and Joint Special Operations University began using the book in their curricula. Through this exposure, I’ve been invited to speak at several events for military leadership and have grown a marvelous crop of new, warm friendships.

Together, these experiences have introduced me to numerous individuals possessing a type of honorable character I’ve rarely seen. Spending time in military environments has already yielded some of the most genuinely refreshing experiences I can remember.

4 Reading Recs For Holistic Self-Development

by Jack Hadley

Military professionals’ reading for self-development tends to fall into two general categories. First, well, military professional reading. This genre is flexible, but generally includes things like A Message to Garcia (and other classic military fiction), World War II histories, and modern geopolitics. Second, we read self-help literature, primarily written for business people. For example, Good to Great, Atomic Habits, or Thinking, Fast and Slow. Both these genres are full of excellent and informative books.

There are other books less read in military circles, yet with transformative potential. Here I offer four examples. They are oblique recommendations, from off the beaten path. They offer new insights for holistic self-development. First, a quirky science journalist’s chronicle of his (self-)experimentation with breathing. Next, a women’s business book written for more than just women. The third isn’t really a book at all. And finally one written by a well-known military author—but it’s mostly about creativity. These works may not fit easily into military standard self-development reading lists. But they are eye-opening in new and robust ways, benefiting leaders of all kinds, and helping you unlock your full potential.

Overcoming Imposter Syndrome: One Foot In Front Of The Other

by James Duncan 

July 1st, 2013. I only remember bits and pieces of it, but make no mistake about it – I was there. You have only to look at the picture of an incredibly nervous, skinny kid sitting in a bus, waiting. For all I knew, I was about to be whisked away to the gates of hell. Might as well have been, anyway.

My dad loves to tell the story of how “green” his son looked on R-Day. Not green as in young, but literally developing a green complexion from the nerves, anxiety, and nausea. Ten years later and I still take it on the chin as Dad lets out a hearty laugh, but deep down, I go back to that moment and realize not all that much has changed.