“The 30th of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land.” General John Logan, National Commander of the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) issued this order to all the GAR posts. He also instructed members to guard in perpetuity the final resting places of the fallen in order to remind future generations of “The cost of a free and undivided republic.” Generations in communities since them continue to come together to decorate those graves, remember the fallen, and the true price of peaceful liberty.
Many communities across the post Civil War Nation would gather in the spring, clean up after winter, and decorate the grave sights of those who died in the bloodiest conflict in US history. Soldiers on both sides of the conflict fought bravely, like those on both sides in wars before and after our current wars. Each as a father, son, husband, or brother, and sometimes a mother, daughter, wife, or sister. As a result of the timing of these remembrance and spring cleaning activities, it is easy to understand why and how so many people who lack any connection with our Nation’s Armed Forces see this long weekend as nothing more than the unofficial start of summer.
In spite of over 20 years of fighting a war against terrorists around the world, few Americans know a member of the military and even fewer know someone who died in any of our Nation’s wars. In 2018, Forbes quoted a Rand Corporation report that 2.77 million people fought the war on terror. That is less than 0.8% of our Nation’s total population. Given that in 20 years of fighting, our Nation lost 6,840 service members, it is very unlikely most Americans even know a family who had a loved one die. Even now, the United States still has a small contingent of military personnel deployed in hazardous duty zones.
The small size of those who served and died in uniform shows the impact any individual has in a given situation. This small set of Americans died defending freedom. As a result, we have an absolute obligation to remember them as a group, and as individuals, as we enjoy the liberty they guaranteed.
You may notice that community remembrances are led by current military members, veterans, and family members. They know that if they fail to lead these events, those who never knew liberty’s defenders will forget them. Just because you do not personally know a person who died serving in uniform does not mean you should let the burden of remembering fall only upon those who have a personal connection with those individuals. Everyone has a personal connection by virtue of their freedom. Step up, volunteer to read a poem or lay a wreath. Take time this Memorial Day, and every day, to remember those who laid down their lives so you could live free.
As trust grows between members of your team, you will find your team functions better. As teams function better, trust grows. It really does not matter where the leader inserts team building in this cycle, only that s/he does. Communication is a key aspect to building trust in teams, described in an earlier post. Creating channels of open communication between team members about more than just work helps all the team members understand each other better. Engage your team in challenging work. Great challenges create a shared team identity and history. Challenging work develops confidence in team members, improves trust, and encourages greater positive risk taking because team members know they are supported.
While communication was discussed in the second post of this series, there are some specific aspects of communication to help improve team development. During Project Aristotle, Google researched why some of their teams were more effective and productive than others. One of their first reported findings was that teams that permit everyone about equal say are the most productive. They found such teams have the greatest teams had emphatic communications which created a culture of psychological safety. Google found that teams with these characteristics tended to allow about equal time for communication from all members.
Leaders start the discussion by opening up, so others see their vulnerabilities. They insist on respectful descent. They present a future that is hard but achievable. Leaders encourage the team to attempt difficult tasks and support them when they fail by examining what happened and how to improve. These behaviors support disciplined risk taking. A leader’s vision for the future is, “Like water in a bucket, vision evaporates and must be constantly replenished – that is, communicated.” (Blanchard)
As you project your vision for a better future, you begin to paint a picture of something that does not yet exist. Your vision should invite your teammates to join you on the achievement adventure. While the vision you present should be hard to achieve, it should not be impossible. People bond when they accomplish hard things.
Stephen Ambrose documents the trials and tribulations of a company of infantrymen from WWII in his book Band of Brothers. Easy Company was a well respected company because of the many victories it earned. The men of Easy became life-long friends. It is unlikely these Soldiers would have every known each other outside the war. However, their leaders trained them hard which built their confidence. Their battles were difficult, testing those bond, hardening them like steel. Each man trusted the other with their own lives. Imagine what it is like to work in a team like that.
It is easy to point to any number of military units to illustrate the point that hard work builds a team. There are plenty of examples of teams outside the military that worked hard, build trust, and accomplished great things. Jocko Willink wrote, “Combat is a reflection of life, only amplified and intensified,” in his book Extreme Ownership (p.12). As a result, there are many successful teams where the leader established an expectation of success and provided support. The leader understood when teams take on difficult tasks, failures will occur. That leader knew every mistake was a learning opportunity to be shared across the team. Those teams earned bragging rights when they accomplished things others thought impossible. Their successes, not their failures, are what others noticed and remembered. They attracted others who wanted to do great things because of the shared history and team identity. Trust grows in these teams, allowing them to function better.
An example is the child advocacy center movement. There are over 900 child advocacy centers across the United States recognized by the National Children’s Alliance. Each consists of a team from several organizations that serve abused children such as law enforcement, child protection services, medical and mental health providers, prosecutors, and advocacy programs. The team leader does not supervise any of these people.
The problems are real. The work is difficult and challenging. While it seems all these people are working towards a common goal of protecting children, each has their own view of how to approach the problem of child abuse. Sometimes these organizations have rules that make communication difficult. Often there is a great deal of friction between the organizations the team members represent. Yet, the team leader is trained to create trust between team members by facilitating meetings that create bonds between members. The leader asks team members questions to find the common ground between competing interests.
Over time, team members create strong bonds that inspire collaboration and cooperation. The result is, offenders are held accountable for what they have done. Child receive appropriate services to deal with their traumatic experiences, allowing them to heal and lead more normal lives. Team members often become friends because of their common history. As these teams grow, they find people want to belong rather than go it alone.
Team building is a core leadership competency. Building trust is an essential element of that process. Leaders build their teams by ensuring everyone has a voice, challenging them with hard work, and creating a culture of learning by allowing mistakes and providing support. These teams have shared experiences they value, a history of success, and create space others want to join. Building teams is a cycle to creating trust and improving performance. Pick an activity that does either, build on it, and before long you will find you have a trusting, highly functioning team.
Ambrose, S. (2001). Band of brothers : E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne from Normandy to Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest. United Kingdom: Simon & Schuster.
Blanchard, K. & Miller, M. (2014) The secret. Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc. San Francisco, CA. Kindle Ed.
Cha-BOOM! Another morning starts with mortars landing on the roof. Bap-bap-bap-bap-bap. The M-240 machine gunner on the observation post over my head fires at someone or something as I roll out of bed and turn on the radio. I hear the Sergeant of the Guard (SOG) informing the operations center that we are receiving direct small arms fire and indirect mortar fire. I think, “No $#!7, we can hear it!” As I pull my body armor on, I hear the SOG directing one of the posts to fire on a position believed to house the forward observer for the mortars. He controls the fire of that position by calling in small corrections, allowing the gunner to zero in on the forward observer. As he radios each correction, we can hear shots cracking around him and the mortars continue to rain down.
By now I am racing to the operations center to check in, receive accountability from my other squads, and coordinate a counter-attack. Cha-BOOM – another round lands on the roof, shaking the building. “I’ve been hit!”, the SOG yells into the radio. “Tweak it down one more notch,” he directs the machine gunner as they continue to zero in on the observer. “You got him. Now find that RPK.” directs the SOG. The mortars stop and soon, so does the small arms fire. The insurgents melt back into the city before we can roll out the gate and engage with them.
The one thing that stands out in my mind after nearly two decades since this battle occurred was the way the Sergeant of the Guard skillfully directed the fires of the fighting positions while under direct fire. What still amazes me however is that had he not announced on the radio he had been injured, no one listening would have any idea he was wounded. He continued to direct the battle and move from position to position like he was doing a little fitness training in his hometown.
I have heard people say that leadership is the most important thing on the battlefield. The leadership provided by the Sergeant of the Guard on that June morning directly resulted in the enemy lose of their eyes directing the mortars being used against us. Because they lost the ability to control their fires, the others fighters gave up the fight. The SOG’s cool reaction under fire, and while wounded, set an example of how good leaders instill confidence, provide guidance, and create trust under pressure.
Most leaders in the most work places will never face such a life and death situation. However, many react like minor things are life and death events and engage in seagull management. The term comes from The One-Minute Manager. Ken Blanchard shares the story of a manager flying over his workers. When she catches someone doing something wrong, she swoops in, flaps her wings, makes lots of noise, and on the way out dumps on the people as they sort out the confusion.
When an employer hires a veteran, they gain an employee that knows what crises look like. Most know what an appropriate response is to given situations. Too often, employers look at a veteran’s employment history and sees they served in one of the combat arms, infantry (queen of battle), field artillery (King of Battle), armor, or carvery and has no idea what their real skills are.
The military makes leaders of young people. A 20 or 21-year-old Soldier might be responsible for the very lives of four or five other people, like the Sergeant on the roof during the mortar attack. Even if that Soldier makes a text book correct decision, the Soldiers he leads might still die. How many life and death decisions do leaders in your organization have to make on a regular basis? I suspect in most cases, the answer is few. Yet the very people who are qualified to recognize and make those decisions are placed at the bottom of hiring lists because they do not appear to have skills.
If you are an employer that values leaders who can work independently, create a positive work environment, motivate people with a variety of skills, and accomplish things, you need to look at that veteran a second time. Lots of people now feel free to walk up to a person in uniform and thank them for their service. What are you really thankful for? If you are grateful they provided leadership in tough circumstances, offer them a job or connect them with someone who can.
Veterans have demonstrated the capability to learn new things under pressure. They know how to work in teams. They understand you do not have to like the other person in your foxhole, but you need to know how to work with them so you both survive. Veterans value loyalty, duty, honor, and service. They know what hard work is because for them, and eight-hour day is only the first part of the work day; many have worked 20 or 30-hour days
As a job interviewer, you may not understand all the jargon veterans use. Ask them to clarify what they mean. Even the most junior leader in the military creates mission orders for their team based on what their boss needs. Veterans learn to understand the intent of the mission, which in the business world is a job or project. They develop plans to accomplish their part of the project. They communicate their plan with their bosses and their team. Veterans learn to coordinate their actions with the teams operating to their left, right, and rear, basically, all around them.
Veterans may not know how to operate your Black Hole Client Management System, but they know how to gather information. They may not be able to operate your particular milling machine, but they learn to operate lots of different military equipment. They may not know your particular protocol to deal with a crisis, but they know how to quickly make decisions based on the available information, their understanding of the intention of the project, the guiding principles of the organization, and then how to execute in a calm, disciplined way. Every organization needs people who can make decisions under pressure, inspire others to be more than they are, and complete important work with little supervision. Those are normal days in the military, and that is why veterans make good hires. Do not just thank a vet this Veterans Day; hire one.
Blanchard, K, & Johnson, S (1983). The one-minute manager. Berkley Books. London, UK.
Marshall A. (2019). Baqubah: Bones and blood. Baqubah Press. Barrington, NH
Willink, J, & Babin, L. (2015). Extreme ownership. St. Martin’s Press. New York, NY.
Top photos by author
Bottom photos from New Hampshire National Guard
These are a small number of organizations looking to help employers find and hire Veterans. Selecting these sites for sharing here is intended only to raise awareness for employers and Veterans of some ways they can connect. Their selection is not an endorsement.
Twenty-one paces north. Halt for 21 seconds. Right face and freeze for 21 seconds. Right face. Change shoulder arms wait 21 seconds. March south 21 paces and repeat. This is the life of a Tomb Guard, one of the most elite small units in the United States Army. Every day, around the clock, in any weather they stand guard over the bodies of three unknown Soldiers honoring their sacrifice.
Most Americans are familiar with the 20th century Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers. There are videos on YouTube of Sentries confronting visitors for acting disrespectfully. There are tales of their dedication to the point of not abandoning their post in the greatest extremes of weather. The view of Washington, DC is one of the best in the area. Few however know there is a second Tomb of Unknown Soldiers.
Less less than half a mile north is the less famous Tomb of the Civil War Unknown Soldiers. This monument was placed over the remains of 2,111 Soldiers found and gathered from the Civil War battles around the Washington, DC area. About 100 yards from the front step of Arlington House, and in Mrs. Lee’s rose garden, this large grave was clearly intended to shame Robert E Lee and his family. The government of the Unite States, at the direction of President Lincoln, acquired the title to the estate after Mrs Lee failed to pay taxes assessed on the property during the Civil War (Hanna, 2001).
By 1864, both sides lost many sons to the fighting. The War Department was tasked with gathering the fallen and ensuring they received proper burials. Even before the United States received the deed to the property, they began burying Soldiers from both sides of the conflict on these grounds. The War Department attempted to return remains of the dead to their families when possible. Before long existing cemeteries were full. Those who could not be identified were gathered in a single location. It is estimated that about one half of those who died fighting in the Civil War could not be identified (Hanna, 2001).
The tomb was described as a pit 25 feet deep and round, it was divided into chambers as it was filled (Hanna, 2001). It is is the first memorial to unknown Soldiers in Arlington National Cemetery. Even though burials in the tomb ended sooner, the monument was not dedicated until September 1866. It was topped with cannon and inscribed,
Beneath this stone
Repose the bones of two thousand one hundred and eleven unknown soldiers
Gathered after the War
From the fields of Bull Run, and the route to the Rappahanock, their remains could not be identified. But their names and deaths are recorded in the archives of their country, and its grateful citizens
Honor them as of their noble army of martyrs. May they rest in peace.
SEPTEMBER. A. D. 1866 (US Army, ND).
James A. Garfield, then an Ohio Congressman – later President, officiated the first national Memorial Day service at this site in 1868. He denied he had the words to adequately convey the meaning of the deaths of those laid in the Tomb. He noted that in the days before the war, “Peace, liberty, and personal security were blessings as common and universal as sunshine and showers and fruitful seasons.” Of those laid to rest he said,
And now consider this silent assembly of the dead.
What other spot so fitting for their last resting place as this under the shadow of the Capitol saved by their valor? Here, where the grim edge of battle joined; here, where all the hope and fear and agony of their country centered; here let them rest, asleep on the Nation’s heart, entombed in the Nation’s love! (Garfield, 1868)
Arlington National Cemetery also became home to Unknowns from the War of 1812 and the Spanish American War. Those Unknowns from 1812 were originally buried at the Washington Navy Yard. More casualties were identified during the Spanish American War, but not all. They were also buried at ANC (Arlington National Cemetery (2020).
People discuss things for which they are willing to die. For many, it is just talk. For those who serve and guard our Nation’s liberty, it is more than talk. On Memorial Day, we remember those who defended liberty with their very lives. For them, defending freedom, justice, and liberty were more than words. They willing risk their lives on every mission, in training or in combat. For those buried in the Tombs of the Unknowns, not only did they give their lives, they surrendered everything, even their identity. That is why the Sentry walks those 21 steps north and south everyday around the clock. Those Soldiers do it to honor those with nothing left to give. When you gather this Memorial Day with family and friends over burgers and beer, remember the Soldier guarding those known but to God. Remember those Unknown who died so you may enjoy the blessings of “Peace, liberty, and personal security”.
Arlington National Cemetery (2020). Explore the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Arlington National Cemetery History Education Series, Arlington, VA.
This is the final topic in my series on managing as a leader. While it might seem odd to discuss leadership in this series, there are some basic leadership principals all managers must possess. Successful manager lead even if they lack direct reports. Possessing leadership skills ensures your ability to influence others to accomplish what needs to be done. An example of someone without direct reports is a project manager. You lead teams that may be working on other projects. None may report to directly to you. Project managers still influence team leaders to complete projects appropriately.
With all that said, regular readers know this post could never cover all the details of leading. Scores of books, articles, and classes are done every year on leadership. I have been a leader for a long time and I still read books, articles, take classes, and practice.
At my first leadership class in the Army, I learned the three legs of the leadership stool are Be, Know, Do. Decades later, Be, Know, Do remain the core of Army leadership doctrine. These three principles apply whether you are an Army leader, CEO of General Motors, or president of the local Lions Club.
The foundation of leadership is character. It is the Be in Be, Know, Do. The cornerstone of that foundation is trust. Every action you take determines your character. If you are always late to meetings you become known as a tardy person. If you yell at others anytime you are stressed, others think of you as an angry person. If you effectively use resources to achieve quality results, people judge you as reliable.
Trust is the cornerstone of character because every other character trait rests on trust. Using the examples above, setting a meeting time means that you trust others to show up at that time and place. In order to avoid stress and become angry, you trust others to complete tasks as promised. When you trust others to use resources effectively they do. Every other character trait relies on trust.
Aligning your actions with your professed values creates a state of virtue. That becomes your character. When you say one thing and continually do something else, others view you as untrustworthy and a hypocrite. The hard part for everyone in this daily struggle is living up to the values you profess requires examination and reflection of your actions. People justify when their actions run contrary to their values. Find someone you trust to hold your mirror as you reflect on your actions. That second person provides perspective to your reflective observations.
My friend Gerry Berry used to say you could tell what was important to someone not by what he said, rather by what he did. He used that line with me every time I feed him an excused to not work out or go fishing with him. Gerry is gone now, so working out with him and joining him on the lake are no longer possible. When acting, recognize what really is important. Gerry held my mirror for many years which helped me see how my actions were often contrary to my values.
Some people say leaders are born and not made. I disagree. Leadership is like any other activity. Some people are born with natural talents. Talented people who work hard improve their skills becoming excellent. Others with less talent but a great desire to learn coupled with discipline outperform those talented people who choose not to improve their natural talent.
Think about someone you knew in high school who had a natural athletic ability but only played JV and the person who had less talent but always made varsity. The difference was work. It is the same with leadership. Some people are born with a natural charisma, yet they cannot lead a group in the Pledge of Allegiance. Others never have many friends yet lead important organizations. People choose to follow that person because the leader knows how to use power to ethically influence others by providing purpose, direction, and motivation. Together they can accomplish great things and make organizations better. Those unnatural leaders learn the process through education and practice.
Good leaders understand the process of leadership. It starts with a clear idea of what needs to be done and why it is important. That is the purpose. They clearly, continually, and consistently communicate that message to group members. They motivate. They assign each team member a role explaining why what they do is important to the greater good. That is direction. Leaders focus on building their followers skills and abilities in order to provide the best product of service possible with the available resources. As a result, the organization becomes better as they strive to accomplish their mission.
Leadership is a process. People can learn processes. Teaching people the leadership process provides the opportunity for them to adapt behaviors and become better leaders. Leaders use processes and people to produce results. Leaders DO things like teach, inspire, motivate, and learn.
To become a good leader, one has to have some knowledge and desire to learn. Leaders need to know about people, what motivates them, how they work together, understand how personality affects their perspective, and how to use the strengths of each individual well. Leaders know something of the work to be done or how to hire knowledgeable people to supervise the work. Leaders learn about the people they lead. Leaders combine prior knowledge and current learning to create new ideas and better ways of accomplishing things. Leaders learn about their strengths and weaknesses, biases, and habits. That learning allows leaders to grow and create change in themselves and others. Leaders never stop learning.
The process of leadership requires people to possess character; creating action through the efforts of others; to learn and know about the job, leading, and people. Character is developed every day with every action you take. You become known by your actions, not your words. Ensure what you say is what you do. Learn more about your job, people, and leadership. Learning helps you think better because you have more information to create effective solutions to problems. Develop and work processes that inspire others to achieve. Motivate them to create the world envisioned in your organization’s mission statement. Your actions improve your organization and create a better world by influencing others to make a difference. Manage your leadership actions using the three legs of the leadership stool. Become a leader others choose to follow; BE, KNOW, DO.
Little Leadership Lessons provides ideas and insights to become a better person and by extension, a better leader. You may notice at the top of each page there is a link to a training page. Little Leadership Lessons is published by Saint Cyr Training. We provide virtual, in-house, and off-site training opportunities for progressive organizations that understand the need for high-quality, well-rained leaders. Click here if you want to learn more.
Kinicki, A. & Williams, B. (2008). Management: A practical introduction (3d Ed.). McGraw-Hill Irwin. New York, NY
Sinek, W. (2014) Leaders eat last: Why some teams pull together and others don’t. Portfolio/Penguin. New York, NY
Wickham, J. (1983). Military Leadership: FM 22-100. U.S. Army Adjutant General Publications Center. Baltimore, MD.
Willink, J. & Babin, L. (2015). Extreme ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALS lead and win. St. Martin’s Press. New York, NY
Veterans Day is the day the United States recognizes all its military veterans. Many people often wonder what the difference is between Memorial Day and Veterans Day. That probably is the fault of Veterans. Memorial Day is the day we remember service members who died in our nation’s conflicts. It originated from any of a number of communities who claim to have created the holiday to commemorate those who died during the American Civil War in the years after that conflict. Traditionally it was celebrated on May 30th. While many communities still celebrate Memorial Day on the 30th, the recognized federal holiday is the last Monday in May. As the name suggests, Memorial Day is about remembering those who died serving our nation.
Veterans Day is a more recent holiday devoted to recognizing all military veterans regardless of time of service, whether they served during wartime or in peace, from all branches, and is dedicated to living veterans and those who have died whether during conflict. This last part is where the confusion rests. Most military veterans do not consider themselves heroes. Some are happy to regal others with their feats of daring in peace and war. Some not so much. In most cases, military veterans claim the real heroes who died in battles long ago or more recently. Every service member signs a check when they sign their enlistment papers payable to the people of the United States for everything up to and including their very lives. Only a small fraction of service members are asked to cash those checks at that level. Almost all military members sacrifice something of value during their time of service. For some it results in broken relationships. For others the sacrifice is missing important family events. Many suffer some sort of injury, even in peacetime, that follows them through the rest of their lives. Training for war is dangerous and does sometimes results in loss of life in spite of strong risk reduction measures taken by leaders. That is why one day each year we honor those who voluntarily and involuntarily served our nation’s military.
Veterans Day was not an official US holiday until 1954. There was a holiday before 1954 that recognized the service, accomplishments, and sacrifice of the veterans of “The Great War”, what we now call World War One. It was celebrated on November 11th because that is the anniversary of the day the shooting stopped based on a cease fire agreement between the Allies and the German Empire. Veterans Day ceremonies begin in many communities at 11:00 AM because that as the hour appointed for all shooting and maneuver by both sides to stop.
By 1954, the world had engaged in another great conflict which made the war waged between 1914 and 1918 look like a long battle. There was pressure to recognize the contributions of the veterans of the Second World War, the conflict in Korea, and those still serving. It was becoming increasingly apparent that not only was WWI not the war to end all wars but neither was WWII. Since that time, the United States has engaged in military conflicts and operations in Vietnam, Kuwait, Panama, Haiti, Grenada, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, and others.
Today, military veterans enjoy a great deal of prestige. That has not always been the case in our nation’s history. Many Soldiers and Sailors who served during the War of Independence never received pay they were promised when they signed up with either their State militias or as regulars in the Continental Army. Additionally, the Continental Congress authorized pensions for Soldiers from our first war. However, the promise was not readily fulfilled. Many veterans lacked documented proof of their service. In many cases, because Soldiers served with militias their States, not the national government, the newly formed States were responsible for their pay and any benefits. In the postwar — pre-constitution period there were many citizens who believed those veterans were trying to scam the government to give them something they neither earned nor deserved. Those who were paid received cash notes that were virtually worthless allowing those veterans to only purchase goods at extreme exchange rates from the face value. Their cash was nearly worthless.
After the Great War, many WWI veterans fell into poverty. Homeless they took up residence in abandoned buildings in our nation’s capital and in many of the parks around the city. Soldiers, under the command of Gen. Douglas MacArthur attacked the unarmed veterans with swords and tear gas killing one and injuring 69. Soldiers returning from Vietnam were discouraged from wearing their uniforms when returning to the States. It was common for service members to be spat upon or assaulted by members of the peace movement.
America has a long love/hate history with those who protect her. Veterans Day is the one day the nation thanks and acknowledges the suffering, sacrifice, and selfless service of those veterans who defend liberty 24/7/365 for the last 245 years (I realize the Declaration of Independence was signed 244 years ago but the U.S. Army was established by Congress in 1775, a little more than 12 months earlier). That service continues today. Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, Airmen, and Coasties are standing guard all over the world today protecting liberty, training hard, and fighting our nation’s enemies. When you next thank a vet ask them why they serve. Remember, less than one percent of our population protects the United States. Take a few minutes this Veterans Day to attend a local ceremony and chat with a Vet.
Have you ever noticed that the hero leader in any war movie is less than perfect yet seems to motivate and inspire their team to accomplish impossible things? Whether it is Gunny Highway in Heartbreak Ridge, Patton in his namesake movie, SGT Kelly in Kelly’s Heroes, or MAJ Charles Whittlesey in The Lost Battalion each leader is flawed in some way. It does not matter whether the character is real or fictional they, like all real leaders, have strong points that help them successfully lead others in great adversity and flaws they learn to overcome through their strengths and deligation. One could argue that the main characters in these movies are less than an ideal mentor or role model, but others would argue each is the very definition of a great leader. The military is full of commissioned and non-commissioned officers who are less than perfect yet meet the definition of great leaders. This article seeks to identify why the military successfully develops so many leaders who meet this definition.
Before looking at the reasons the military generates so many great leaders, a review of great leadership is in order. Great leaders build enduring greatness by placing the needs of the organization and their followers above their own. They blend humility with personal will-power influencing others to accomplish things they thought impossible. They do the things that need doing, establishing demanding standards. They allow mistakes but learning from those mistakes and continuous improvement. They bask in the reflected glory of the successes of those they lead. They create sustainable leadership development programs ensuring competent leaders continue their success long after their departure. Great leaders are well respected attracting others who want to follow them.
Even the real life leaders mentioned above are fictionalized for the entertainment value for their movie’s success. Their exploits might be exaggerated but typical of many military leaders. They are humble about their achievements by acknowledging the fact they could have only achieved success through the efforts of their followers and subordinate leaders. They set high standards and expect others to meet them not occasionally, but every day. They accomplish those things that need doing whether pleasant or distasteful. They demand their followers achieve excellence and continuously improve their performance. They provide junior leaders opportunities to lead, allowing them to make mistakes, hold them accountable, and permit them to try again until they succeed. These actions set an example for future leaders to follow when promoted.
In the movie Heartbreak Ridge, Gunny Highway’s first impression of CPL Jones and the other members of the platoon was unfavorable. As the new Platoon Sergeant, he established high standards and through his will-power influenced them to achieve those standards and succeed. The platoon went from being the laughing stock of the post to a well-respected organization capable of meeting any challenge presented. He developed other leaders such as Jones and his Lieutenant who tripped when presented problems but learned the value of adapting, improvising, and overcoming to achieve success.
Each of these leaders inherited teams that were expected to fail. They were given missions that appeared impossible but success was necessary to achieve victory. Each leader found ways to put themselves in harm’s way and set a personal example of expected behaviors. Each lived up to the standards they set and expected their people to achieve. Each worked to develop relationships with followers in their organizations. Each personally developed other leaders that ensured subordinate level organizations had reliable leaders and that someone was prepared to replace the top leader. Each understood how to build their teams through hard work and shared challenges. While each had flaws, they did not allow those flaws to hold them or their teams back. Instead, they used their strengths to overcome their shortcomings and found processes and people to make up for those weaknesses.
The true measure of a leader is the legacy they leave behind. We can surmise that in the case of Gunnery Sergeant Highway he retired and CPL Jones went on to become a great leader. With SGT Kelly, he lost his gold and continued to fight the Germans. GEN Patton was killed in a post-war auto accident. His legacy lives on in the Third US Army. MAJ Whittlesey drowned while traveling to Cuba. The 77th Sustainment Brigade, the successor to the 77th Infantry Division still honors the accomplishments of Whittlesey and his Soldiers in 1918. You may not be perfect. Do not let that hold you back from accepting the challenges of leadership. Learn to lead from your strengths. Develop other leaders in your organization. Set and enforce high standards. Build your team through hard work. Find processes and people to fill the voids left by your weaknesses. Never quit. Following each of these principals will help you start on the path of becoming a great leader but it does require you to take that first step.
A red rectangle on a white background surrounding a blue star. The banner is displayed in the homes of the families who have members serving in the military. During the first and second world wars, it was a banner of honor. No so much during the conflicts in Korea and Vietnam. The banner is proudly displayed again in the windows of families who have members serving in the military. Because less than 1% of our nation’s population serve in the military it is rare to see such banners. Even more rare is the the banner with the gold star instead of blue. It is a banner no family wants. A banner with a gold star instead of blue means that family lost a loved one while serving the country in combat.
What is the story of the gold star? Where did it come from? It seems like the gold star has been a centuries old tradition. However, the tradition only began after the beginning of the Great War of 1914.
The story of the Gold Star begins in Ohio in 1917. CPT Robert Queisser patented a service flag with a red border and blue star to honor his sons serving on the front lines during WWI. Cleveland adopted the flag as a symbol for all families who had sons serving during the Great War. Before long, families who lost sons during the war replaced the blue stars with gold stars. President Wilson is credited with establishing a black armband with a gold star for the mothers who lost sons instead of wearing the tradition black dress during mourning. It does not take much imagination to understand how the gold star from the armband found its way on the service flag replacing the blue stars. Before long, being a gold star family was an unwanted honor.
Early historical records share rituals armies conducted after battles to celebrate victories and honor their dead. There is no time in battle to reflect upon or mourn those who die. The Soldier must continue to move to achieve the objective of the battle. Even though nations and armies develop formal ceremonies to honor those who die in war, small units also create their own rituals.
Often those rituals grow out of little habits warrior develop to prepare for battle. They have code words that have great meaning, certain ways of preparing equipment, and even mascots and good luck charms. Men and women who enter battle only have each other to rely on knowing that even if they do everything right it may not be enough to keep away the grim reaper.
Memorial Day grew out of a post American Civil War tradition of decorating the graves of Soldiers who died during the War between the States. Then it was called Decoration Day. Several states and cities lay claim to the title of being the first to start the practice in May. By the time the Great War started, it had become a spring-time tradition across the nation
The Great War changed America in many ways. We learned we could no longer remain an isolated nation. Many of the modern memorial traditions began as a result of the Great War. In addition to the blue and gold star service flags, congress established the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery. If you know the history of Arlington, you know the connection to the Civil War and therefore to Memorial Day.
For those who do not know, the property of Arlington National Cemetery was the homestead of GEN Robert E. Lee. While Lee is remembered for his actions leading the rebel army during the Civil War, his service in the United States Army is often forgotten. President Lincoln seized the property for unpaid taxes and began burying dead Union Soldiers there to insult Lee. The front porch of Lee’s former home is still one of the best views of the Washington Mall.
As I began to prepare this piece on the symbol of the Gold Star I was surprised to learn how new the symbol was. As you can see from the references below, my research was all internet based and we all know how reliable the internet can sometimes be. I decided to do a little research on my own. It is common practice on war memorials in communities across our nation to mark the names of service members who died during the war with a star. My community has war memorials dating as far back as the French and Indian Wars in 1754. I ran down to the old monument that stands at the sight of first town meeting house. I noticed there was not a single star beside any names, not even beside Edward Cross who was the commander of the 1st Brigade, 1st Division, Second Army Corps during the Battle of Gettysburg where he was injured on July 2rd 1863 and died the following day. No star beside his name yet several monuments around town dedicated to him!
When I went to the war monument for WWI, I found the first instances of stars beside names on the honor roll. Clearly this was the time period that the nation began to distinguish those who died in armed conflict while on military service.
To circle back to the beginning of this post, it certanly seems that the story of the Gold Star Banner dates to World War I. CPT Queisser’s flag created to acknowledge the service of his son’s has become a tradition to honor families that have members serving in the military. The Gold Star is an important part of that tradition. As you attend a Memorial Day service this weekend, pay attention for those who wear a Gold Star. Remember to thank them for their sacrifice as you would any living veteran. You see, veterans may be the one who write the blank check up to and including their own life when they join the military but it is the families that have to cash that check. Remember every name on your town’s war monument with a star was the son or daughter of someone. Many had spouses and children. On this Memorial Day please remember not only those who gave all but also those they left behind.
In 2004, I was assigned to be a Platoon Sergeant for 2nd Platoon, Headquarters Battery (Forward) 2nd Battalion, 197th Field Artillery Regiment (In Lieu of Military Police). We were a bunch of highly skilled cannon cockers, fire direction specialists, wrench turners, and clerks. Some of us had experience in law enforcement but none of us ever trained to be MPs or Infantrymen. It did not matter. The Army needed MPs, not artillery, to fight the insurgents in Iraq so we received 10 or 14 days of training and became MPs. The training was squad-centric, nothing for platoon or company leaders. As a result, none of the Platoon Leaders, Platoon Sergeants, the First Sergeant, nor the Company Commander received any training to be or lead MPs. With our little training, we boarded planes and headed to staging areas in Kuwait determined to do our jobs to the best of our humble abilities.
we arrived in the Middle East, our company was split and served in
three locations, Mosul, Tikrit, and Baqubah. The Baqubah mission was
to provide 24/7 force protection to the provincial police
headquarters building downtown and train Iraqi Police. Everyone knew
Mosul and Tirkrit were dangerous. None of us had ever heard of
Baqubah. It had to be relatively safe, right? I had the opportunity
to visit the newly renovated police training facility in Mosul. It
was nice, rivaling the academy police officers in New Hampshire
attend. Given the quality of the Mosul police academy, the perceived
safety of Baqubah, and the opportunity to complete a mission that
would help the locals develop security forces to protect themselves,
I volunteered my platoon to execute the Baqubah mission. When we
arrived at the Diyala Police Provincial Police Headquarters we all
realized that not only were we not in New Hampshire anymore Dorthy,
this place looked nothing like the facility in Mosul!
One of the Soldiers in my platoon, Aaron Marshall, is writing a book, Baqubah; Bones and Blood, about his experiences during that deployment. He provided me an advanced copy of his manuscript. He expects it to be ready for publication in 2020. Marshall reminds me of Medal of Honor recipient Maynard Smith who demonstrated exceptional bravery under fire, but always found trouble when the bullets were not flying. Marshall is a very brave person but always had a knack for finding trouble. Still, he was someone I wanted by my side when the shooting started.
have published a veteran based post each Memorial and Veterans Day
since starting my blog. After reading Aaron’s manuscript, I thought
he did an excellent job of describing many parts of the experiences
of combat veterans. I asked permission to publish an excerpt of his
book here for Veterans Day. He granted me that permission. What
follows is a brief excerpt as written by him with a few edits for
clarification. His writing is graphic and may be offensive to some
readers. I decided to publish this post using his graphic words
because war is both graphic and offensive. I will post when the book
read and reflect on the words and experiences of PFC Aaron Marshall.
call sign in Iraq was “Spoonman”. We were told to come up with
our own call signs, and I loved the song by Soundgarden so I went
with that. At that point I had never tried heroin and wouldn’t
until my second divorce about 7 years later. But that’s a story for
another time. An even darker tale of the human experience; loss,
redemption. Now that I think about it, it
was sort of a self-induced experience very similar to Iraq; to
War. I relived the terror of death on a daily basis with that drug,
was one of the lucky few who was able to kick it before it took me
I had too many experiences with death. Too many. I’ve felt the breeze created by a snipers bullet gently flow by my face. I’ve been hit with anti-tank rockets so close it made me think the world had ended. I’ve had septic shock, pancreatitis, renal failure, and felt the peaceful calm that comes over you when you die. I’ve overdosed too many times and woken up to people standing over me crying.
I’m still here. I’m still trudging forward, marching
on. To what I haven’t the slightest idea. I have no idea why I’m
still here. Dumb luck maybe? A purpose I don’t yet know? I would go
with dumb luck over fate. Regardless, I give thanks to the people
around me. If I gave thanks to a supposed god, I would be squandering
an opportunity to make an actual difference in the world. That was
one of the original ideas behind me joining the military
in the first place. After September 11th 2001, most young men my age
were jolted by a sense of
to do something, anything.
But still only a few signed up to voluntarily fight in a War that we
all knew was coming. We
all wanted it. There was that part of the collective unconscious of
the country that needed war; vengeance,
The same type of situation occurred in Iraq in 2004 when a Sergeant
From the 3rd ID and a Lieutenant
ended up both losing one of their arms during an RPG attack on a
patrol. We all felt completely helpless immediately after.
within ourselves for the answer to the question why? Why did it
happen? Why did the RPG enter the front of the Humvee like it did?
Why that road? Why them? Why not me? And every single man and woman
at the Police Station wanted vengeance,
We knew we would get it but we just didn’t know when. It was part
of all our collective unconscious at the station. We
would get it. At least that’s how I felt about it.
one of our QRF (Quick
Reaction Force) missions
shortly after the SGT
severely wounded, we would get our revenge. We needed to kill one of
the enemy, a hundred if we could, to make us all feel like we were
doing something good for our wounded family. My team got called out
to pick up a soldier that had been wounded by an IED (Improvised
Explosive Device, commonly called a roadside bomb) just
down the road from us on what was called “RPG Alley”. When we
went to pick him up, it was a dangerous feeling, a feeling like
something bad was going to happen. I’d get that feeling from time
to time, and I learned to trust it. Over time that feeling was
correct more often than not, and at the very least that feeling would
heighten your senses so you’d be even more ready for an ambush.
never knew when and if another IED was going to be set off after the
first one. But we had to get the wounded out. The soldier was in good
spirits. Pretty bloodied but happy to be getting the hell out of
there and onto a base with medical care.
to F.O.B. Warhorse we were ambushed by some AK-47 fire that pinged
off the vehicle in front of me then skipped just over our vehicle. I
got out of the kill zone by ducking down into the vehicle. When the
gunfire stopped hitting our vehicle my SGT
yelled, “shoot!” I popped up, unlatched the turret, swung it
counterclockwise, locked the turret back in, and looked down the
barrel of my M249 SAW. I didn’t even have to aim. I was looking
directly at a man slightly crouched beside a wall, exactly where the
gunfire was coming from, holding a weapon. I didn’t even think
about it. I let loose as many rounds as I could and I’ll never
forget how he instantly slumped to the ground when my first bullet
hit, and stayed motionless (Marshall
said that the gunner in the next Humvee behind him also engaged the
insurgent. Karl rarely received credit for his role in that fight.
Marshall remembers hearing the gun firing).
I ducked back into the Humvee and said the SGT,
“Holy shit I got him!”, and
we called in the confirmed kill.
I got back to the Police
you could see the look of everyone had changed from a somber mood to
a look of vindication. None of us ever had a conversation about these
feelings. In fact, at least with those I associated with, we didn’t
really talk about feelings at all, ever.
way I perceived, it was that we got our revenge for what happened to
I think that helped us move past the incredible horror of being
It helped me move past it and not dwell on the event so much. Of
course there was nothing we could have done. But you still feel like,
and always feel like, there is something you could have done to
still hard to piece everything together; the
entire year. Where to start; how
to finish telling it. It doesn’t help that I had multiple head
traumas while I was there and
multiple head traumas when I returned home. But I’m determined to
tell my story, our
story of the 2/197th FA unit that went to Baqubahh, Iraq in 2004 as
hastily trained MP’s. The Army owned us and
we would all do our part to make sure every last one of us got home.
We would do our best, and
that’s exactly what we did, our
best. I wasn’t trained to be a machine gunner in the turret of a
by the end of the tour, I guarantee I was one of the best. That’s
not cockiness in the sense that I thought I was better than anyone
else, but a sense of confidence in my abilities. A turret gunner
needs that confidence to do his or her job. Without it, fear can
creep in and take over, rendering you useless. No, I wasn’t better
than any other gunner in the war,
I was simply one of the best. I hope that now makes sense.
To paraphrase one of my favorite schools of Philosophy, the Stoics, and more specifically, Epictetus; there are things in our control like our opinions, desires, and inclinations. There are also things which are not in our control like our body, possessions, honor, and reputation. So why worry about the things that are not in our control? Well, that turret and anyone around it that wanted to do us harm was in my control for that year. I made it my mission to be the baddest motherfucker I could possibly be. It was out of my character. But like an actor that gets stuck in role after making a movie, I became a machine gunner. I became the turret. It was my home. That 2 inch wide strap for a seat was my bed, my home, my church, my religion, and baptism by fire is not an understatement. Some jobs you ask for in the Army, but for the most part you just do what you are told as an enlisted man. And I was told to get in the turret. I did my job and I did it well.
Marshall’s book is now available. You may purchase it at Barnes and Noble in paperback. Hard cover is not available for retail at this time.
In an earlier post http://bit.ly/2N0pCwi I proposed that the foundation of leadership was character. I still believe that to be true. Character is the sum of your habits that tell others what you value. Leaders should adopt habits so others know they value their organization’s guiding principals. Organizations make a big deal out of their organizational values or guiding principals because those behavior are what they want the world to think the organization represents. Rarely do people talk about the corner stone of the foundation. However, if character is the foundation of leadership, trust is the cornerstone. If trust is so important, you have to wonder how do you develop and maintain trust. Like being a good leader, developing and maintaining trust takes effort.
Trust often exists
in new organizations whether a company, team, or partnership. The
same principal applies when new people join an organization; for the
most part they are trusted. People generally trust each other. In
spite of the warnings our parents gave us as children, and we as
parents admonish our children, people trust strangers. That is one
reason scammers are successful. Even scammers are trusting of others.
Just watch any of James Veitch’s Scamalot videos on YouTube or
Mashable to see him scam the scammers. The scammers trust him to do
what he says he will do, well, until they realize he is jerking them
Trusting one another, family, friend, or co-worker is an important human quality. Early humans had to rely on each other to survive. As a result our brains developed to release certain hormones when we trust and cooperate with other people (Sinek, 2014, pp 33-38). Someone had to guard the existing provisions while another group went to hunt. The guards had to trust the hunters to hunt. Hunters had to trust the guards to protect what little they already gathered.
Today we have the
same need to rely on others to survive and thrive. Military
commanders rely on their higher headquarters to coordinate resources
they require to accomplish missions. They also rely on subordinate
commanders to execute tasks without direct supervision as well as
their peers to their left, right, and above (l mean in the air over
the battlefield) them. Each risks potentially life threatening tasks
with little but a promise that those around him or her will complete
their tasks and the others rely on that commander complete his or
During World War I
Major Charles Whittlesey found himself in command of his 1st
Battalion of the 308th Infantry Regiment along with
attachments from other 77th Division units in a pocket
behind enemy lines. The plan was that the division would attack to a
phase line with several units on line and in mass to overrun the
German trenches. As the attack progressed the units on Whittlesey’s
flanks began to break and retreat. Commanders on his flanks warned
him they had lost contact with units to the regiment’s left and
right. Division headquarters assured Whittlesey several times during
the attack his flanks were covered. He reached his objective that
day, but was the only American unit to do so. The Germans restored
their lines by the end of the next day and surrounded the 1-308th(+).
Whittlesey trusted Maj. Gen. Alexander when he continued to press the
attack. In spite of that let down, he continued to trust that the
General would find a way to relieve them. Alexander had sent for
reinforcements, but only a small number reached Whittlesey’s
position before they were cut off from the Allied lines.
Whittlesey established a strong defensive position and encouraged his men to fight well and have faith they would be relieved. His phone lines had been cut off by the Germans requiring him to rely on carrier pigeons to communicate with his regiment and division. The Soldiers of the 308th fought through six days of repeated German attacks rather than surrendering. They trusted their fellow Soldiers would fight their way forward to relieve them. In the movie version of this story, Major Whittlesey tells his junior leaders that they will win the battle. He trusted MG Alexander would be determined to relieve them. Whittlesey was right. Alexander trusted that Whittlesey would hold out as long as he could. Alexander used the Lost Battalion to motivate other units to fight hard. He continued to pressure the German lines to reestablish contact with Whittlesey and his men. The Germans could not continue to stand against the pressure on the lines while also trying to dislodge the 308th. The 77th Division broke through and finally relieved Whittlesey and the men of the 308th Infantry (Durr, 2018 & Carabatsos, 2001).
In this example
there was lot of reason not to trust, but leaders did trust each
other. The leaders passed along their trust to the Soldiers. The
result was an Allied victory in the Argonne Forrest that led to the
cease fire several weeks later on November 11, 1918.
Scamalot videos show, sometimes it is easier to trust strangers than
people we already know. Strangers have yet to do anything to cause us
not to trust them. We know the flaws of those around us which may
cause us to not trust them as much a those strangers. This is where
leadership happens. Establishing trust is easy. Maintaining trust
within existing organizations takes the most work. It would have been
easy for Major Whittlesey to surrender and stop trusting his
commanders. They had let him down by not telling him the truth about
the other units falling to the rear.
Trust erodes as
people are unwilling or unable to live up to expectations. Jim is
unable to complete a project on time because Pam did not budget
enough money to complete her assigned task. Pam did not know the task
would cost that much because she relied on a vendor’s quote. The
vendor was out of stock so Pam had to order from another supplier and
request additional funding. Both took more time than planned and
jammed up Jim. Now the manager does not trust either of them, and
neither Jim nor Pam trust each other. None of the people in this
story intended to behave unethically. The vendor did not predict
Pam’s order and ran out of stock. Pam trusted the vendor had a good
supply of what she needed. Jim trusted Pam had checked out the
vendor. Michael, the manager, trusted Jim could lead the project and
complete it on time and within budget.
On the surface keeping trust is simple. As the above example shows it only takes a small mistake to lose trust. However if people live by the organizational principals, difficult situations can be navigated so lessons learned are applied in the future. People have to take responsibility for their mistakes. Leaders have to forgive those mistakes and reestablish trust.
responsible for building and maintaining trust. They do this in
several ways. Leaders define their organization’s guiding
principals through regular communication, education, and setting the
example. Leaders allow others to make mistakes, analyze what went
wrong, and learn how to avoid those mistakes in the future. The final
step for leaders is to allow the employee to try again. Doing so
shows he still has trust in the employee and has faith he will
succeed. Leaders respectfully share employee mistakes so others learn
what not to do. You do this by setting them up as the new subject
matter expert. Employees rarely act to sabotage you and the
organization. If they do, you need to take appropriate disciplinary
steps which also establishes that you can be trusted to make hard
There are times when
bad things happen out of the leader’s control. When handled poorly,
those events destroy trust between key players. Rebuilding trust is
difficult. Leaders ensure trust is rebuilt after a crisis. There are
several ways to reestablish trust such as using some sort of
mediation process to settle disputes between aggrieved parties;
reassigning people to new positions to reduce friction; terminating
those who willfully violated the organization’s guiding principals;
training about roles, responsibilities and shared values; or
celebrating victories through teamwork over extreme challenges.
Regardless of the reason trust has
been lost, it is the leader’s responsibility to regain trust within
the organization. The leader takes action allowing
others to regain trust.
Trust is the
cornerstone of character, the foundation of leadership. Leaders are
responsible to establish and maintain trust in their teams and
organizations. Often it is easier to trust a stranger than the person
you worked with for years because of many large and small
transgressions violating trust. Trust however is the force that
inspires others to do more than they thought they could do. Leaders
consistently communicate organizational guiding principals and live
those principals as a model for others to follow. Leaders keep open
lines of communication to detect the earliest signs of mistrust to do
what is necessary to repair transgressions. Sometimes leaders have to
face the fact that someone deliberately did something wrong for
selfish reasons and needs to be separated from the organization.
While rare, failing to take such action causes increased distrust.
Leaders allow honest mistakes by reviewing causes and effects with
employees and developing means to correct those mistakes. They treat
the mistakes as a learning opportunity for everyone which shows
respect and builds trust. Like Soldiers on a battlefield surrounded,
without food, water or ammunition, organizations with strong ties
developed by trusting relationships can accomplish deeds that seem
impossible. Trust is the strong cornerstone of every leadership
Carabatsos , Jim, 2001, The lost battalion, Directed by Mulcahy, A&E Network
“Contact right!”, shouted the point man at the sound of
small arms fire. The team reacted instinctively. Every member of the team came on
line and returned fire from covered positions. The team leader assessed the
situation and reported back to the squad leader. The squad leader directed his second team to
flank the enemy position. When ready they laid down suppressing fire drawing
the attention away from the first team. The second team leader came up on the
radio, “Shift left!” The first team adjusted their aim to the left as the
second team began to move across the enemy position. As the second team neared
the middle of the enemy position he called for the first team to cease firing
and they did. Once across the position, the second team leader advised the
first team leader. The first team leader led his Soldiers across the position
90 degrees from the second team’s assault. Within a few minutes the shooting
stopped. The enemy was suppressed and withdrew. The squad was victorious.
React to Contact is a critical Infantry battle drill. It is
the foundation of ground combat tactics used by Hannibal during the Second
Punic War. A well drilled squad or
platoon can execute the drill with the few words shared in the above story
because every squad and platoon in the Army does it the same way, well at least
the successful squads and platoons. When executed well, a smaller force has the
ability to defeat larger forces. This basic principal of movement is a
procedure known to all Infantrymen because it works. This drill allows leaders
to initiate action with few words and little direction. In this example the
squad leader was the senior leader yet the only decision he made and direction
he provided was to a single team leader to flank the enemy. In this battle
drill there are only three decisions for the squad leader to make; commit your
second team to suppressive fire and allow the platoon to flank, execute the
flank with your second team, or break contact. Infantry squad leaders and team
leaders rehearse this drills hundreds of times so they know when to suppress, when
to attack, and when to withdraw.
Leading an organization of any size becomes easier with
formal, practiced procedures. Formal procedures appear to remove a leader’s freedom
to make decisions. The opposite is true. Well thought procedures allow leaders
to detach from the current crisis and plan for what comes next. Benefits
include increased speed by reducing the number of decisions required of a
leader, specified lateral lines of communication increase responses, and
required actions for teams and individuals without additional instruction.
Reducing Decision Options
Freedom is defined by dictionary.com as the state of being
free or at liberty rather than in confinement or under physical restraint; or
the power to determine action without restraint. Formal procedures may confine
some leaders because they have limited choices. However, well thought out
procedures identify best practices and offer a short menu of options proven to
work reliably. Formal procedures allow leaders to stick their heads above the
weeds and make big picture decisions
At the front-line level of the React to Contact Drill, the
squad leader has a variety of choices. He can direct the supporting team to
provide additional fire power to suppress the enemy and ask the platoon to
flank. The squad leader can establish a base of fire from the flanking element
and have the element who established contact to maneuver across the enemy’s
front. He can call for artillery or air support. He can withdraw. However, it
is only through the actions of the team in contact, executing without direction,
that he as the freedom to evaluate the situation and determine which course of
action is best. Without this drill, the
squad and team leaders would have to solve each problem as it occurs.
In organizations outside the military the same principals
are true. The front line leader has a
process to execute. For example, a new employee is assigned to work in the
leader’s team. If the organization has a process to orient new employees, none
of the leaders need to spend much time figuring out what the new person needs
to learn. The leaders follow the check list, tailor the learning to the new
person’s position, and the new person quickly becomes a functioning member of
the team. Without a procedure to welcome new team members, leaders loose time
figuring out what the new person needs to know. They make lots of decisions
about what parts of what organizational documents new team members need to
read. The leaders need to figure out what administrative processes must be
completed to ensure the employee is paid, receives benefits, and knows what is
expected of him or her.
A new employee orientation procedure takes away some
decision making from leaders but only because the leaders decided earlier what
new team members needed to do. Now instead of spending a few days figuring out
what to teach the new guy, who should teach it, and where the information is
stored, the leader turns to the procedure and execute. The procedure frees his
time to decide on other matters.
Lateral Lines of Communication
Establishing internal lines of communication allow lower
level leaders to coordinate actions and support without having to always run to
the boss. The boss does need to know what is going on, but does not need to
make or approve every decision. Establishing peer-to-peer communication
channels frees up senior leaders to look farther ahead. Procedures specify what
types of decisions senior leaders make and what types of decisions leaders
lower on the org chart may make.
In the infantry squad example, peer leaders, the team
leaders, directly communicated their intentions and directions to move and
shift fires. This communication allowed the squad leader monitor the situation.
The squad leader had the freedom to call for more resources and determine what
actions to take after the enemy attack was stopped.
A non-military example of this principal is a nonprofit
providing a service to their clients. A
new client is referred for service and appears at the office. The person
meeting with the client knows the organization has a procedure for new client
intakes and referrals. The employee welcomes the client and moves them through
the intake procedure and determines the client’s needs. The employee directly
contacts outside organizations necessary to provide resources and services for
the client without having to clear each referral through a manager.
Organizational leaders recognized the needs for those services and previously established
processes to refer clients. As a result, the clients receive services and
resources quickly because the number of people involved and the levels of
communication are reduced.
Action without Instructions
Formal procedures provide direction to employees about how
to perform their jobs. Procedures spell out what kinds of decisions employees
can make and what decisions and information require the boss’s attention. In
the infantry squad example, each team member knows when they received contact
to move on line to ensure they had clear lines of fire towards the enemy and to
find a place of cover to return fire. They did not have to wait for direction
from the team leader. They were expected to take those actions without directs
in order to free the team leader to report the situation to the squad leader.
In an example from the private sector, Tim Ferriss talks
about how he empowered his assistants to deal with customer services issues in
his book The Four Hour Work Week and several of his podcasts. He found his
assistant was reaching out to him several times every day for him to decide how
to deal with unhappy customers. Tim realized he was not able to focus on
growing his new business when he was dealing with those types of issues. He
developed a list of ways the customer service assistant could offer help
without consulting Tim and what types of customer issues he reserved to resolve
himself. As a result, Ferriss was able to return his attention to growing the
business and his customers received improved and faster resolutions to their
Procedures receive a bad rap because organizations implement
them poorly and never review them to determine their continued relevance. The purpose of procedures is to create
leadership freedom by providing a menu of choices for common events rather than
problem solving every time something similar happens. As a result, the leader
is free to focus on developing teams and improving the organization. If the decisions a procedure allows become
irrelevant, they need to be changed. Therefore, leaders must periodically
review all procedures for relevance. Failing to do so causes confinement rather
Quality procedures help leaders at all levels achieve
freedom, increase the speed or response, and improve the quality of service by
reducing the number of decisions leaders need to make. Communications improve
communications laterally and vertically because leaders only receive the
information they need to decide. Employees are more effective when addressing problems
Leaders and workers frequently view formal procedures as limiting their freedom, however, they provide a structured format for leaders to take action without additional control or restraint. Employees who are trained well know what is expected of them in many situations allowing them to make decisions without always running to the boss for guidance. Like the well run battle drill, formal procedures direct action without additional inputs and free leaders to lead.
“In any war story, but especially a true one, it’s difficult to
separate what happened from what seemed to happen. …there is
always that surreal seemingness, which makes the story seem untrue,
but which in fact represents the hard and exact truth as it seemed.”
― Tim O’Brien, The Things They Carried
A war story is just
a war story. There are no true war stories. There are some that are
blatantly false and made up, told by posers. Most are are
recollections. Sometimes they are embellished, minimized, mixed with
other memories, or just misremembered. Many people think veterans
tell stories to impart some sort of moral or lesson. However, a war
story is told to remember a loved comrade, relieve bothersome
anxiety, or to get a rise out of the listener. Sometimes the story
teller does not know why he tells the story. He just does.
I want to share two
war stories today to remember my comrades in arms who died defending
freedom. These stories are told from my perspective, what I
remember from the time I learned of each death, mixed with
conversations of those closer to the Soldier. Fairy tales begin,
“Once upon a time, in land far away…” War stories begin, …
(Once upon a time) I
remember watching CNN in the day room (in a land far away) at Diyala
Provincial Police Headquarter in Baqubah Iraq in late March. There
was a report about recent activity in the increasingly violent
insurgency. They were showing images of a bridge just outside Ramadi
where a truck from the 744th Transportation Company had
been blown up by an IED and tossed over the edge. This attack
resulted in the first war death of a New Hampshire National Guard
Soldier since Vietnam.
SPC Jeremiah Holmes
died in that attack. I did not know Holmes, but several Soldier from
my battery had been assigned to deploy with 744th. Holmes
worked with a Soldier who had been a section chief in my first
howitzer section for a couple years. Everyone I spoke with who knew
and remembered Holmes described him as a great guy. The 744th
held a farewell event for family and friends during Thanksgiving
weekend 2003. A picture of him kissing his 10 month old son on the
day 744th departed New Hampshire appeared in the paper.
That young man never knew his father. Soon he will be learning to
drive for himself.
arrived a few weeks in Iraq before we did. At the time we felt a
little safer being in a fixed site rather than traveling the roads as
744th did. Our sense of safety quickly eroded over the
next few days. Attacks around Iraq resulted in injuries to other New
Hampshire National Guard members. Two Soldiers from our company were
wounded in Mosul, but that is a different story for another time.
Even though I never met SPC Holmes, his death changed the way I
looked at the war. A few days later the insurgents directed their
attention to our humble abode.
nor SPC Holmes had been in Iraq long enough to learn about IEDs. We
all grumbled during training about how sneaky the observer
controllers (OC) were about hiding those pesky bombs. On this first
attack, 744th learned just how easy the OCs were being on
us. The insurgents were experts at hiding roadside bombs. Homes
death taught us all an important lesson about situational awareness
and the danger we faced during our time in Iraq. This lesson was
learned well. The reality was even if we detected 99% of IEDs, it
only took 1 missed IED to kill us or a comrade in arms; and that is
the beginning of my next story.
I remember (once
upon another time…) walking into our Tactical Operations Center
(TOC) on 15 October 2004 to see if they knew why our internet
connections were not operating. We had been in Iraq for several
months and little phased us so the look on the faces of the TOC staff
however told me something really bad happened explaining the internet
interruption. Before I could ask, the senior NCO walked into the
room with the phone we used to call home and secured it in a wall
locker. We were in a communications blackout. That could only mean
someone died. I hoped it was not one of ours. “What’s going
on?” I asked. The answer dashed my hopes as I learned SPC Alan
Burgess from the platoon our company had in Mosul died.
The day started like
every other patrol in the city. The squad departed the forward
operating base and found activity on the streets was normal, always a
good sign. The squad and its leader always expected attacks and
hoped for uneventful trips. Most days they did find enemy and
engaged or were engaged. Today they expected no more, no less.
In fact this platoon
had several significant engagements with the enemy during their time
in Mosul. In fact one Soldier had been shot in the chest the week
SPC Holmes died. After being shot, the squad returned to base and
drew a new tactical vest for the gunner and returned to patrol the
streets of the city. The gunner and driver had changed places on the
second patrol Just before sun rise, the patrol located the insurgents
that shot the Soldier earlier and again engaged them in a fire fight.
The gunner turned driver dismounted from the armored vehicle, to
attack the disable vehicle containing the insurgents. He was shot
again but this time in the ankle!
Today was different.
The streets were busy. People were engaged in commerce. There was
nothing to indicate death awaited them. The squad was stuck in the
normal traffic of the city with no where to maneuver. This is
exactly what the enemy was waiting for, a sitting duck.
What happened next,
happened quickly. A vehicle in the opposite lane charged directly
toward the patrol. SPC Alan Burgess saw the danger and began to
engage the enemy. According to some witnesses time slowed down as
the car came to a stop. According to others time accelerated. Each
tells the war story the way they remember it. The driver of the
attacking vehicle was dressed all in white, a sign of one who is
about to be martyred. SPC Burgess recognized that danger, but a
moment too late. As he released his machine gun to seek the safety
inside the armored vehicle, the car bomb exploded. Burgess and
civilians in the area were killed. Dozens were injured. Alan left
behind his girlfriend and four year old son.
Alan was a loved and
respected member of the unit. His loss effected everyone in some
fashion. Like Holmes death, it served as a reminder about the
fragility of life.
Neither story has a
moral. The heroes do not live happily ever after. These are war
stories, not fairy tales. Sharing these stories however provided me
an opportunity to remind people that Memorial Day is not Veteran’s
Day. It is a day to remember those who gave all defending freedom.
These stories are reminders that real people died protecting freedom.
They were not statistics. As members of the National Guard, these
two Soldiers are part of a tradition older that the U.S. Army,
protecting family, friends, and neighbors from the evil in the world.
As Memorial Day approaches, take time to attend a memorial service. Instead of becoming angry about having to wait for a passing parade, give thanks to those whose sacrifices the parade honors. Ask a veteran to tell you about a lost war comrade. Memorial Day is not about the beginning of summer. It is not about fun and family picnics. It is not a paid, work-free day. It is about remembering those who died so we may live free and enjoy our lives in peace. Remember them.
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