Leadership starts with you!

My platoon and I on a DMZ tour in Korea. Dorasan station is the northernmost station in South Korea which one day will hopefully run between North and South Korea.

“Emotional what?…oh my God…seriously?” one of my squad leaders exasperatingly muttered under his breath as I pulled up the power point I created for my second Leader Professional Development (LPD).

My easy to anger mind wanted to throw the laptop and stomp out of the office, but thankfully self-regulation kicked in and I patiently announced to my group of Specialists and Sergeants, “Good afternoon everyone. Today we’re meeting during lunch to have our LPD on emotional intelligence, or EQ. I know that some of you might think this is dumb,”

I shot a glance at my squad leader.

“but when I first learned about this, it changed my perspective on my personal interactions. My hope is that you can glean something out of this lesson too.”

What soon followed was a synergistic conversation full of personal reflection and renewed motivation to make the platoon better. In 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Steven Covey describes “Simply defined [synergy] means that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. It means that the relationship which the parts have to each other is a part in and of itself. It is not only a part, but the most catalytic, the most empowering, the most unifying, and the most exciting part.”

As a new platoon leader one of the greatest challenges you will undergo includes building synergistic relationships with the leaders in your platoon. The Army may promote values that each Soldier must follow such as duty, integrity, loyalty, and a myriad of other mottos wrapped up in the bow of selfless service, but in reality, Army culture is diverse. You will encounter Soldiers from varied backgrounds who react differently to situations and may possess difficult personalities. Some Soldiers may never have experienced responsibility in the scope of hierarchical leadership, or perhaps even more difficult, peer leadership. Yes, basic training bears the burden of transitioning civilians into trained Soldiers, but the privilege of transforming Soldiers into leaders belongs to the NCO Corps…and you.

Accordingly, you, your platoon sergeant and squad leaders are responsible for the synergy that occurs in your platoon. You must not only enact the espoused values of the Army, but you must also aid in the creation of unifying parts that make your platoon a team not just in name, but in spirit.

Leadership development…everyone needs it, but not everyone gets it.

Wake up new Lieutenant! 

Recently, the Office of the Chief of Air Defense Artillery (OCADA) held a brief with our Battery proclaiming a new program that will push any promotable E-4 to the NCO board regardless of disapproval from higher leadership. Currently, the platoon sergeant with approval from the 1SG, could deny an E-4 from attending the promotion board if they felt that individual did not demonstrate the qualities of an NCO, or needed further development. Regardless of the pros and cons of this new program, the message from OCADA is clear: start developing your future leaders.

Although this program is not currently in place, you will encounter an individual with four chevrons on their chest and wonder, “Eh…How did that happen?”

Watch your judgements. A majority of the time leaders are a reflection of their past leadership. Very few break out of the chains of learned behavior. During West Point’s version of Basic Training, Beast Barracks, cadet squad leaders would wake us up by loudly banging on our doors. The worst part, however, was the obnoxious way each and every Cadet Sergeant bellowed, “Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaake UUUUUUUUUUUUUUpppp, New Cadet.” They would perform this deep, sing-song condescending ritual every morning with variations throughout the day. “Huuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuurry UUUUUUUUppp New Cadet. Weeeeeeeeee’re waiting on yoooooouuu.” “Quuuuuuuuuuuuuiiicklier New Cadet. IIII’mm catching up to yoooouu.” After my nine weeks of training, West Point freed me from their voices…until I became a squad leader. The echoes of past Cadet Sergeants haunted me. This time, however, the voices belted from my peers’ patronizing lungs. We exemplified the reflection of our past leadership.

After this experience, I became keener on observing the leaders within my ranks at West Point and eventually, the ones in my platoon. I became acutely aware of the differences between my squad leaders, my platoon sergeant and myself. At times, the enacted values did not reflect the espoused values I wished for my platoon simply because we came from different backgrounds.

In the face of such great adversity, what’s a ma’am to do?

Don’t throw your hands in the air and give up! You and your PSG will intimately understand your subordinates’ personalities. Use this knowledge to your advantage, and host your own LPD. An LPD can range anything between a financial literacy course to creating a mission statement. You can discuss ADRP 6-22 on Army Leadership or task your squad leaders to create their own LPD to share with the platoon leadership. Regardless of how you want to run it, LPDs serve as a way to create the unity and free form thinking vital to a synergistic relationship between the senior leaders and junior leaders in your platoon.

And if you don’t want to, or don’t feel ready, that’s ok too.

I did not host my own LPDs until I became a First Lieutenant because quite frankly, I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. Honestly, I still feel that way, but with slightly more experience. If you do not feel comfortable with holding professional development discussions or classes, the best development you can give is to enact your espoused values. Actions speak louder than words.

Define your values and make sure they align with the Army’s values. Remain steadfast and flexible. Reflect and repeat.

Now, you can navigate your way through the haze of many situations…like this one.

My platoon sergeant was once again giving an inspiring speech to our platoon after PT.

“Hey guys, you need to give your best during PT. This is something you control.

Always a supporter of PT, I let my PSG do his thing. I nodded my head in agreement, You preach Platoon Sergeant. Hell Yeah.

If you want to give a little attitude or whine like a girl on her period, that’s on you, but you need to give your best effort.”

Wait. What? Whyyy did you say that?

I loved my platoon sergeant, but I knew what he said was wrong. After ruminating for a few minutes, I called him over after PT, and in my nervousness I accidently barked, “Sergeant!” He quickly turned around, mocking me with a smile on his face, “Ma’am!”

My heart started involuntary racing as I began. “So…when you gave that speech to the platoon about being a woman on her period and whining about PT…you can’t say that.”

He looked a little taken aback, but laughed a little bit. “But ma’am…it’s true!”

“No, Sergeant. When you say stuff like that, you’re teaching our guys to look at women differently. What if we had a female Soldier? She would feel separated from the group. And just in case you didn’t notice, I’m a woman and I get my period every month, and I still kill those guys in PT.”

My platoon sergeant peered at the ground for a second and replied, “You’re right ma’am. I’m sorry.”

And that was that. No hard feelings, no harsh words and no big arguments. But, you can bet that small talk caused a slight but noticeable cultural change in my platoon.

Yes, you can be a stud at your craft. You can talk the big talk about awards you received. The battalion commander can know about all of your achievements and all the LPDs you may or may not choose to hold. In the grand scheme of things, this means nothing. The culminating illustration of leadership comes in the form of your example and ability to confront certain issues, especially when they involve your Soldiers.

All that being said…

In my eyes, the most humbling and awe-inspiring attribute about the Army is that we truly are in the business of developing leaders. We are shaping leaders who will potentially lead Soldiers in combat. We are shaping leaders who will serve as representatives of the United States internationally and domestically. We are shaping leaders who may become parents. We are shaping leaders who may become spouses. We truly have a direct influence on a percentage of America’s citizens. These features of our occupation, however, only come to fruition when we take the extra step.

Alright, alright, I’m off my soap box! In the words of Ben Parker, “With great power, comes great responsibility.” And you, LT have some surprising power and huge responsibility…even if your squad leaders may roll their eyes at your cheesy LPD.

So, go out there, create some synergy, progress yourself and more importantly, progress your junior leaders.