From 431 BC to 404 BC, the two preeminent Greek city-states of the time engaged in what would be a generational struggle. This war (really a period of intermittent conflict with the occasional stretches of peace) commonly known as The Peloponnesian War, was a struggle for hegemony between the land power of Sparta, and the rising master of the sea, Athens. The best account of the war is that written by Thucydides, himself a veteran of the fighting. Thucydides’ sweeping work (one he wrote with the intent that it be a “work for all time”) contains a multitude of lessons in diplomacy and international relations.
Beyond its obvious utility for historians, diplomats, and the strategists, the nearly 2,500-year-old work also holds relevant lessons for any boardroom or operations center given its timeless lessons on communications and leadership.
The Army has a clear definition of leadership. It is carefully and intentionally crafted for Army leaders to flexibly accomplish missions while simultaneously improving their organizations.
However, well-defined as it may be, it’s very easy to drift away from.
Even gifted Army leaders can lose sight of their responsibility to positively influence their unit under the pressures of a high operational tempo and competing priorities. Leaders can combat this natural tendency to drift with an emphasis on transparency and stability across their organization.
As I filled out my location preferences ahead of Intermediate Level Education (ILE), I knew I wanted to try something other than the traditional path of the Army’s Command and General Staff College (CGSC) in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. I considered sister service schools like the Naval War College in Rhode Island or the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterrey, California but ultimately decided, after discussion with my wife, to put a foreign service school, the Ecole de Guerre in France, as my number one preference.
A few weeks later I was thrilled to learn I had received the assignment with the Schools of Other Nations program (SON) and would be PCSing with my family to study in Paris.
Effective leaders who demonstrate confidence, courage, compassion, and character enable an organization’s success. Stay in any organization long enough, and you will understand that counterproductive leaders can leave serious harm to both the individual and to the organization. These behaviors are not immune from any one individual, but regardless of where it occurs, the short- and long-term effects can be destructive and detrimental to the future success of the organizational climate and culture. It is important then to understand what leaders are responsible for, the impact of counterproductive behaviors, and how you can recognize and overcome these behaviors to benefit your team and organization.
Authors’ Note: The authors of this post, @notyourtacofficer and @therecoveringcommander, are mid-career, post company-command officers wallowing in their KD-complete broadening assignment lives and contemplating what’s next. Referred to as the, “meme-lords of a generation” by literally no one, their views are their own and do not represent the United States Army, the Department of Defense, or From the Green Notebook.
Many a well-meaning senior leader shares their personal leadership philosophy or a, “how to handle me” letter and while it’s important to understand, “how the boss thinks”, we feel that many of our leaders fail to understand us as well. Especially in the Profession of Arms, we are duty-bound to obey orders that are legal, moral, and ethical. Yet, as much as leaders say that they want candid feedback, there are “unspoken truths” that are often contradictory to the “unspoken norms”. Dr. Lenny Wong demonstrated that the Army has a problem lying to itself and this problem persists.
We offer these perspectives as the junior military officer audience that LTC Dominick Edwards sought to reach (on this same website no less) in 2016. By no means is this a response or rebuff of his points: the authors of this article were First Lieutenants when LTC Edwards published this piece and could very well have been the ratees he sought to reach. We find many of them to be clear and relatable and with a few more years of service, may find ourselves agreeing with even more. Moreover, sharing your ideas publicly is admirable and we are grateful that leaders such as this consistently give of themselves to the profession. Thank you, Sir. Truly.
Despite claims of open door policies and that “feedback is a gift”, we humbly offer some truths that those you senior rate may hesitate to share with you and a handful of tips to help you understand their perspectives. Here are 16th truths your ratees believe you don’t understand and aren’t willing to risk telling you:
The Olympic runner Eric Liddell, of Chariots of Fire fame, would say that “he felt God’s pleasure” when he ran.
I have no idea what he is talking about.
I’ve always hated running. I’m not bad at it – that doesn’t mean I like it.
One of the things I hate about running is that it never seems to get easier. Sure, getting to a certain pace or time or distance can be done. But the experience of running – fast, hard, past the ability to hold a conversation (or shout a cadence!), often early in the morning in unfavorable weather conditions – has never been the least bit enjoyable for me.
In our modern world, complexities abound. As a result, many assume more specialists focusing on challenges like ‘strategic competition’ is the answer. However, evidence supports officers specializing as generalists via a multidisciplinary method of thinking can offer an asymmetric advantage against a backdrop of wicked problem sets.
This post will not advocate for abolishing specialization in the military; however, the necessity to identify, develop and recognize the utility of our military’s multidisciplinary leaders at all levels, ranks, and functions in an era of increasing uncertainty offers a pathway to recapture our competitive advantage in the cognitive domain.
In the early spring of 2020, my Battalion ran a two-week marksmanship course. Each day, NCOs would go to the range to hone their shooting skills and, on one particular range day, I noticed an NCO kitted in the most expensive after-market gear money could buy: an OpsCore helmet, Peltor ear-protection, a water-cooled plate carrier, Lowa boots, and a Crye-Precision Combat blouse and pants. Simply stated, he looked the part of a tried and tested warrior.
However, he was struggling to zero. Finally, in a fit of frustration, one of our more senior NCOs looked at him sarcastically and said “all that Crye, and no precision.”
His remark captures a core issue in our current army: a culture that values looking lethal over lethality itself.