The Power of Our Connections

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Recently on Business Insider’s website, writer Drake Baer posted an interesting article titled Who You Know is Even More Important than you Realize. He highlights that “research shows that success isn’t just a matter of hard work, talent, and success- it also depends on your relationships…In addition to helping you find jobs, a network shapes your happiness, health, and ideas.”

While many members of the military understand the importance of “who you know” in the context of career progression, I don’t think many think about it from a developmental standpoint. Our networks can have a significant influence on how we grow within the Self-Development Domain. They can challenge us intellectually. They can broaden our perspectives. They can keep our egos in check. They can also influence our professional reading habits. For example, the Squadron Executive Officer in a unit I once served in, taught me about assessing the professional value of a book based on the author, publishing company, as well as some other key indicators. To others, this may seem like a no-brainer, but at the time I didn’t know any better. This connection with my XO shaped how I’ve approached self-study ever since-and I’m better for it. Additionally, others in my network have had similar influences on my development, which is one of the reasons I’ve taken to writing articles for my blog, Small Wars Journal, Armor Magazine, and other professional journals.

These important relationships that I’ve formed over the course of my career are what make up my Personal Learning Network (PLN). In their 2011 book, Personal Learning Networks: Using the Power of Connections to Transform Education, Will Richardson and Rob Mancabelli define a PLN as “a set of connections to people and resources both offline and online who enrich our learning –at a moment’s notice.” PLNs are great for aiding us in the self-development domain, because they provide us with access to a networked group of people (some much more experienced than us) who supply us with information, offer discussion and feedback, and in some cases motivation, thus enhancing our own journey of professional growth.

Connecting with others in the same unit may be ideal for professional debate and discussion. The reality however, is that there are those who serve in units where leaders are either too busy or don’t see the benefits of personal study, thereby making self-learning an individual effort – and may even discourage those with the initial motivation. If you find yourself in a unit where self-study is neither encouraged or rewarded, you may find value in establishing an online personal learning network.

Many already do this by connecting with others via social media platforms like Twitter or Facebook. Social media offers numerous opportunities to connect with others and stay informed.  For example, many leaders follow Doctrine Man, and it is through this connection they receive a daily stream of links to articles of interest (always with Doctrine Man’s witty commentary). All of the professional journals have social media accounts they use to announce publication of new issues or highlight important articles. Users may also connect with numerous experts in fields such as leadership, ethics, strategy, foreign policy, history, etc. Additionally, it’s through Twitter that I’ve also connected with motivated and intelligent military professionals (from all the services) who continue to positively influence my development. For those interested in developing an online personal learning network, Jonathan Silk, a Major in the U.S. Army, provides us with a great tutorial on navigating Twitter and creating online networks in a blog post titled: Hashtag(#) Leader Development.

I encourage everyone to think about their Personal Learning Network, and how they can strengthen it. Whether it’s online or offline, it doesn’t matter. What matters is connecting with others and building networks of professionals who positively influence our growth as individual leaders.

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A Letter to Junior Officers

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This is post is also available at Small Wars Journal

Recently several lieutenants have written me to share their fears and anxieties about their own particular development as the tectonic plates of the Army and budgets continue to shift.  In their eyes, their experience as a junior officer will be characterized by garrison administration, episodic training events, and canceled rotations to the National Training Center.  Their fear is that by the time they make it to company command and beyond, they will not possess the necessary tools required of them to be effective commanders.  They won’t be ready.

I do my best in my correspondence to not only give them a space to vent, but to also offer them words of encouragement about the future.  I usually redirect the conversation towards the idea of being a military professional.  Without echoing the definitions of Huntington or Janowitz, I would like to take this opportunity to address some of the junior officers who might be feeling the same anxieties and fears as those with whom I’ve come into contact with lately.

Being a military professional does not mean waiting for the system to develop you.  It means taking charge of your own development and seeking out opportunities to make yourself a better leader.  It is our responsibility to those that we might lead in future assignments to be prepared when the time comes, regardless of the opportunities that are presented to us by the military.   In an ideal world, we would have unlimited training budgets, the perfect balance of field time and family time, and all officers would feel like they are fully prepared for the next level of leadership. We must come to terms with reality and although lacking hands-on practical experience, we must turn to history and other professional literature to develop and mature our own understanding of the profession of arms.

History is ripe with examples of military leaders who have faced similar difficulties, but they compensated for their lack of experience with a practice of self-study.  Generals George Patton and Dwight Eisenhower as well as the majority of the leaders in the Second World War spent their formative years developing in an environment characterized by the following passage:

“It is terribly difficult for military men to keep their methods adapted to rapidly changing times. Between wars the military business slumps. Our people lose interest. Congress concerns itself with cutting the Army than with building it up. And the troops…find a large part of their time and energy taken up with caring for buildings, grounds, and other impedimenta. In view of all the inertias to be overcome, and in view of the fact that our lives and honor are not in peril from outside aggression, it is not likely that our Army is going to be kept to an up-to-the-minute state of preparedness.” -William E. Lassiter, 1929

I encourage young officers to read Roger H. Nye’s book, The Patton Mind: The Professional Development of an Extraordinary Leader, (a very quick read) to see how George Patton approached his personal growth as an officer.  Also, read Robert Carroll’s The Making of a Leader: Dwight D. Eisenhower, an article in Military Review, which describes the career path of a young officer who missed out on combat experience in World War I.  Both of these pieces may provide inspiration to those struggling right now as many units adjust to garrison life.  They also give us insight as to how these leaders prepared themselves for their future roles in combat.

More recently, General (ret) Paul K. Van Riper’s essay, The Relevance of History to the Military Profession: An American Marine’s View, describes how reading prepared him for leadership roles in combat and in garrison, and how returning to previously read material at different stages in his career helped him in making sense of his experiences.

In addition to the works mentioned above, The Maneuver Leader Self-Study Program is an excellent starting point for younger members of the profession.  There you can find books, articles, podcasts, videos, and discussion threads that serve as a guide to navigating the wealth of material available in bookstores and on the internet.  It was developed by LTG(sel) H.R. McMaster, who has used his knowledge of the past to not only prepare himself for combat, but also to prepare the Army for its future challenges.

Globalization, rapid-advances in information and communication technology, the rise of ethnic nationalism, the diffusion of military technologies to non-state actors, and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction has complicated the current landscape.  The future is uncertain.  None of us know, much like the young lieutenants and captains during the interwar period, when we might be called upon to lead our nation’s men and women in conflict.  We owe it to our Soldiers and our nation to begin preparing our minds now, so that when the day comes we are ready.

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Anti-Intellectualism and the Army: The Sky isn’t Falling……Yet

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This post originally appeared @ The Bridge on 1/21/2014

The evidence would indicate that a serious intellectual effort during peacetime in thinking through what the past suggest about the future plays an important role in how well military organizations are able to adapt in conflict. -Williamson Murray

Over the last couple of weeks, Matthew Cavanaugh, Andrew Rohrer, and Mikhail Grinberg have written essays addressing the Army’s slant towards anti-intellectualism. While all of them are very good essays about problems affecting the Army, I think they are focusing on the wrong issue. Anti-intellectualism exists, as it always has in militaries since the rise of standing armies; so instead of focusing on the bureaucratic nature of military culture, we should be determining how to refocus seasoned troops on education so that we may hone our judgment in garrison as we prepare to meet the challenges of future battlefields. The issue is not one of merely having an intellect, but how an intellect is both grown and employed.

In August of 1802, Gerhard Scharnorst, a Prussian officer, posed the following question to a young lieutenant, “What will happen when the men Frederick II trained during the Seven Years War are no longer with us?” A similar question should be asked today as the Army downsizes and veterans baptized in the complexities, ambiguities, and nature of combat, leave the service. While these characteristics of conflict may be fresh to many of us, institutional memory has the tendency to dissipate quickly. Very soon, the realities of war will become a foreign concept to not only our company grade officers and NCOs, but also our cadre of instructors in our professional military education courses. If we are not careful, the bureaucratic nature of military service may overtake those very things that allow us to call ourselves a profession. Therefore, Scharnhorst’s answer to his question is still relevant today: “The crisis can only be met by educating our [soldiers].”

Growing a military intellect through education should not be for the sake of accumulating knowledge; it should serve the purpose of informing judgment that may be called upon to make critical decisions during a time of war. Clausewitz once wrote that “the whole military activity must therefore relate to the engagement. The end for which a soldier is recruited, clothed, armed, and trained, the whole object of his sleeping, eating, drinking, and marching is simply that he should fight at the right place at the right time.” Thus, an education that contributes to preparing for or the execution of war should be valued and encouraged at the tactical through strategic levels. Studying war and warfare helps us understand the continuities of war (those things that have not changed much in 5,000 years), thus guarding against unrealistic silver-bullet solutions to complex problems. In the 1990s, proponents of the “Revolution in Military Affairs,” “Military Transformation” and a “New American Way of War” argued that technology would lift the fog of war. Near-certainty in war, combined with precision strike capabilities, would make wars fast, cheap, efficient and decisive. Experience in Iraq and Afghanistan exposed flaws in these concepts. They neglected the interaction with enemies and adversaries who adopted traditional countermeasures like dispersion, concealment, and decentralized command and control, requiring us to fight in close combat with for periods that might outlast popular perceptions. By studying war and warfare, the complexities, ambiguities, and nature of war remain at the forefront of the minds of those who may never wear a combat patch.

Because we’ve been an Army strained over the last decade by two wars, the priority has been quickly getting leaders back out to the force so they could contribute to the efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq. Out of necessity, professional military education and assignments that provided an opportunity for reflection were secondary priorities to the war efforts. Thus, the professional horizon for those entering service after 2001 consisted of preparing for deployments, deploying, and resetting units following deployments. It is for this reason that we’ve placed a higher value on operational experience than education because it is what was required of us, not because we are an anti-intellectual culture. We must now focus on how we will move forward, further developing the experiences of the past decade through education and reflection. As leaders, it is imperative that we do our best to refocus the force on the importance of education to the profession of arms. We must help develop an intellectual curiosity among those men and women in our formations, so that they may balance their experiences with education and intellectual curiosity.

One such approach to furthering intellectual curiosity might be the creation of a General Officer Scholar Program to support the Operational and Self-Development Domains of leader development. Division Commanders and other flag officers in charge of our formations across the Army could use a voluntary program outside of the institution that promotes reading, study, and reflection. For example, a program might require a 4 month commitment, read 2 books as part of the General Officer’s reading list (or other curriculum), participate in online and face to face professional discussions with other leaders in the program, and submit an article for publication. These actions could be rewarded by the general officer offering recognition in the form of an award or letter of commendation, thereby appealing to both the intrinsic and extrinsic motivation of younger leaders. Not only would this allow leaders within the organization to hone their judgment through study and reflection, but they may begin to value the importance of education as a member of the military profession. This is only one example of initiatives that could be implemented that doesn’t require extensive budgets or training resources, yet has the potential to make a tremendous impact.

I do not believe the situation is as dire as Cavanaugh describes in The Decay of the Profession of Arms, the sky is not falling; however if we, as an Army, do not focus our efforts on helping our soldiers and junior leaders make the linkage between education and military effectiveness, we will find ourselves unprepared for the next conflict. A failure to hone our intellect with the study of war and warfare will lead to training that no longer reflects the realities of combat and a misguided faith in our technology. The tuition of experience in war is extremely expensive, and its benefits will be lost as time passes as those who’ve earned it move on. So, to paraphrase Scharnhorst’s sage advice, the dangers of becoming an anti-intellectual Army and allowing those bureaucratic characteristics to overtake our professionalism can only be checked by the education our soldiers.

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How to Lead with the Strength of Nelson

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This post is also available at the U.S. Naval Institute Blog

and at Small Wars Journal

Typically the Services study historic leaders from their own particular domain of expertise (air, sea, land), and rarely do they venture beyond this.  The Navy has figures like Mahan and Halsey. The Army: Grant and Patton. The Marine Corps: Lejeune and Puller. The Air Force: Mitchell and Boyd. This past year I came across a hero worthy of study by all the services.

A few months ago I read 21st Century Mahan: Sound Military Conclusions for the Modern Era by Benjamin Armstrong, a collection of Alfred Thayer Mahan’s essays, and became particularly intrigued by one of the essays entitled Strength of Nelson.  The short chapter introduced me to a military figure whom, in my opinion, exemplified the leadership traits and characteristics required to successfully implement the philosophy of mission command today: Admiral Lord Viscount Horatio Nelson.

Immediately after finishing Armstrong’s book I wanted to know more, so I read Nelson: Britannia’s God of War by Andrew Lambert.  From that wonderfully written biography and Mahan’s essay I observed five lessons that every military leader should consider in order to excel at mission command.

1)      Reward success and take the blame for failure.  Nelson’s subordinates enjoyed working for him because they knew they would be able to contribute to the plan, as well as exercise initiative, aggression, and personal skill.  They also found comfort in knowing that if things went wrong, Nelson would take the blame.  However, if the mission was a success, Nelson ensured that his leaders received their proper reward and acknowledgment. Lambert wrote that “[Nelson] never overrode the judgment of those whom he had ordered to execute well-defined tasks. He always worked through the proper chain of command to avoid giving offense, or undermine the confidence of promising officers.  If things went wrong, he was the first to leap to the defense of a bold and decisive subordinate.”

2)      Remember that political courage is as important as battle courage.  Throughout his career he witnessed several of his commanders get bogged down in orders and rules, resulting in the loss of initiative or sailors in battle.  He felt that leaders needed the “political courage” to sometimes disobey superiors to accomplish what was in the general interest of the cause. He once said to the Duke of Clarence: “To serve my king, and to destroy the French, I consider as the great order of all, from which little ones[subsequent orders] spring; and if one of these little ones militate against it…I go back and obey the great order and the object.”  His disobedience, or putting the mission before his career, avoided disaster or accomplished the overall intent on more than one occasion.

3)      Communicate clear and simple concepts. Reinforce with discussion.  In addition to producing memorandums that explained what his subordinates should do, he also brought them in for dinners and councils to discuss the greater picture and his intent so they could exercise proper judgment when required.  On the eve of battle, Nelson penned his famous Trafalgar Memorandum, and wrote “something must be left to chance…in case signals can neither be seen nor perfectly understood, no Captain can do very wrong if he places his ship alongside that of the enemy.”

4)      Lead by example.  Nelson understood the realities of combat, and he understood that when leaders set the example, their subordinates are more likely to rise to the challenge.  Nelson’s sailors loved him, because he shared the dangers alongside them.  In his final battle, The Battle of Trafalgar, Nelson put himself at the deadliest spot of the battle, the flagship Victory.  This location allowed him to quickly modify battle plans as well as be with the ship that would take aim to destroy the enemy’s command and control ship.  Even though his personal example on Victory ultimately cost him his life, it provided the fuel for those whom he commanded to eventually overcome the French and win one of the most famous battles in naval history.

5)      Trust is a powerful enabler. Mahan wrote that Nelson’s trust in subordinates rested, “upon the presumption in others of that same devotion to duty, that same zeal to perform it…which he found himself.”  Before the first shots of Trafalgar were fired, he sent a note to all his ships letting the men know, he trusted that they would do their duty.  Nelson had absolute faith in those who followed him.

The Army’s definition of mission command can be found within the pages of ADRP 6-0, Mission Command; it is the exercise of authority and direction by the commander using mission orders to enable disciplined initiative within the commander’s intent to empower agile and adaptive leaders in the conduct of Unified Land Operations. The philosophy of Mission Command is guided by six principles: build cohesive teams through mutual trust, create shared understanding, provide a clear commander’s intent, exercise disciplined initiative, use mission orders, and accept prudent risk. Adopting a philosophy of mission command allows units to take advantage of fleeting opportunities to seize, retain, and exploit the initiative in combat.

Throughout his career, Nelson built cohesive teams based on trust.  He was able to develop a shared understanding and a clear commander’s intent through constant conversation and interaction with subordinate leaders, along with mission orders, like the Trafalgar Memorandum.  And it was through these mechanisms that he ensured his subordinates exercised prudent risk and disciplined initiative.

Napoleon Bonaparte once wrote, “Peruse again and again the campaigns of Alexander, Hannibal, Caesar, Gustavus Adolphus, Turenne, Eugene, and Frederick. Model yourself upon them. This is the only means of becoming a great captain, and of acquiring the secret of the art of war. Your own genius will be enlightened and improved by this study, and you will learn to reject all maxims foreign to the principles of the great commanders.” Today, as we operate with the leadership philosophy of mission command, Nelson should be one of those commanders.  As his second in command, Admiral Cuthbert Collingwood, wrote of Nelson, “We must endeavor to follow his example, but it is the lot of very few to attain his perfection”.

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2013: A Good Year for Reading

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This past year was filled with several work related trips, and because of the airports, airplanes, and hotel rooms, I was able to focus my efforts on professional study. This blog is an outgrowth of those efforts.

Even though I’ve created a “best of” list, I honestly enjoyed reading most of the books listed below.  The titles listed in my top 5 are there because they had the greatest impact on my outlook on war, leadership, and professional development.

My Top 5 Books of 2013:

1.) War From the Ground Up: Twenty First Century Combat as Politics by Emile Simpson

2.) The Enlightened Soldier: Scharnhorst and the Militarische Gesellschaft in Berlin, 1801-1805 by Charles Edward White

3.) The Last Place on Earth: Scott and Amundsen’s Race to the South Pole by Roland Huntford

4.) Military Adaptation in War: With Fear of Change by Williamson Murray

5.) On War by Carl von Clausewitz

The remaining titles are broken down into topic areas:

Leader Development

Lessons of Experience: How Successful Executives Develop on the Job by Morgan McCall Jr.

Churchill: A Study in Failure, 1900-1939 by Robert Rhodes James

Learning Adaptation and Innovation

Brick by Brick: How LEGO Rewrote the Rules of Innovation and Conquered the Global Toy Industry by David Robinson and Bill Breen

Leadership

Challenge of Command by Roger H. Nye

Defense of Hill 781: An Allegory of Modern Mechanized Combat by James R. McDonough

On the Psychology of Military Incompetence by Norman F. Dixon

Battalion Commanders at War: U.S. Army Tactical Leadership in the Mediterranean Theater, 1942-1943 by Steven Thomas Barry

The Patton Mind by Roger H. Nye

21st Century Mahan: Sound Military Conclusions for the Modern Era by Benjamin Armstrong

The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg

Achieving Society by David C. McClelland

The Peter Principle by Laurence J. Peter

The Generals: American Military Command from World War II to Today by Thomas E. Ricks

The Leadership Challenge by James M. Kouzes and Barry Posner

Mission Command

Command Culture: Officer Education in the U.S. Army and the German Armed Forces, 1901-1940, and the Consequences for World War II by Jorg Muth

The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business by Patrick Lencioni

The Art of Action: How Leaders Close the Gaps between Plans, Actions, and Results by Stephen Bungay

Profession of Arms

The Culture of War by Martin van Crevald

George Washington and the American Military Tradition by Don Higginbotham

The Soldier and the State: The Theory of Politics of Civil-Military Relations by Samuel P. Huntington

Strategy and the Political Dimensions of War

On the Origins of War and the Preservation of Peace by Donald Kagan

Supreme Command: Soldiers, Statesman, and Leadership in Wartime by Eliot A. Cohen

Lessons for a Long War: How America Can Win on New Battlefields edited by Thomas Donnelly

Military History

Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era by James M. McPherson

Technology, Doctrine, and Combat Development

On Flexibility: Recovery from Technological and Doctrinal Surprise on the Battlefield by Meir Finkel

Men, Machines, and Modern Times by Elting E. Morison

The Echo of Battle: The Army’s Way of War by Brian McAllister Linn

Combined Arms Warfare in the 20th Century by Jonathan M. House

Miscellaneous

David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell

Inferno by Dan Brown

World War Z: An Oral History by Max Brooks

Damascus Countdown by Joel C. Rosenberg

Still in progress…

Nelson: Britannia’s God of War by Andrew Lambert

Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant by Ulysses S. Grant

Makers of Modern Strategy from Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age by Peter Paret

The Future of the Army Profession by Lloyd Matthews and Don Snider

War, Strategy, and Military Effectiveness by Williamson Murray

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Wives and the Military Profession

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As Thanksgiving nears, I would like to take this opportunity to reflect on one of the many things I’m thankful for: my wife.  She, like many other military wives, has shared in the hardship of deployments, the joys of homecomings, and the many highs and lows that come with this profession of ours.   She is part of a special group of women that have kept warriors in check since the first man decided to pick up a stick to defend his homeland.  Thucydides once wrote that we go to war out of fear, honor, or interest, and I would like to add that back home there is a wife that supports her soldier out of love, courage, and sacrifice.  And it is their love, courage, and sacrifice that are so critical to our military profession.

One of our greatest military treatises would have never seen the light of day if it wasn’t for the love and courage of a fallen Soldier’s spouse.  We know who Carl von Clausewitz is today because of his wife, Marie, who led the efforts to see On War published following his premature death.  I encourage everyone to at least read the preface written by this remarkable woman.  It stands as a testament to their relationship and one can’t help but admire her as you read her words, “Those who knew of our happy marriage and knew that we shared everything, not only joy and pain but also every occupation, every concern of daily life, will realize that a task of this kind could not occupy my beloved husband without at the same time becoming thoroughly familiar to me.”[i] She goes on to write that it was this love, together with a desire to see the efforts of her husband not wasted, which led her to step out of her expected role as a woman in the 19th century and work towards the publication of On War. “For twenty-one years I was profoundly happy at the side of such a man.  Treasured memories, hopes, the rich inheritance of sympathy and friendship that I owe to the beloved departed, and the elevating sense that his rare distinction is so generally and nobly recognized sustain this happiness despite my irreplaceable loss.”[ii]

Marie von Clausewitz’s love and courage are only one example of the countless stories told throughout history.  Historian Tacitus provided the story of Agripinna, wife of Germanicus, as another great historic illustration of how critically important military wives are to our profession.

In the first century A.D. the Romans marched into Germania to quell an increase of violence from the tribes.  The general in charge, Germanicus, brought his wife Agripinna with him on this deployment. While he led invasions deep into Germany, she remained back in the garrison near the Rhine.  As described by Tacitus, she took responsibility for many of the garrison activities, to include ensuring that the destitute and wounded had both food and medicine.  When a false rumor spread that her husband’s elements had been defeated and that the Germanic tribes were marching in their direction, it was Agripinna who stood up to the cowardly soldiers and prevented the bridge over the Rhine from being destroyed, thus stranding Legions of Romans, including her husband[iii].  Her courage saved an army.

Finally, while this last example is pure fiction, I think it does an excellent job of capturing the sacrifice, of our wives.  In Steven Pressfield’s Gates of Fire, there is a scene where King Leonidas explains why he chose the specific 300 Spartans to defend the pass at Thermopylae. He chose them not because of their leadership, strength, or combat ability; he chose them because of their wives and mothers.  King Leonidas knew these soldiers would not return from the battlefield, and a Greek victory over the invading Persians would only be achieved if the citizens of Sparta maintained their will to fight, despite their loss.  This inspiration wouldn’t come from the front lines, it would come from the example set by the wives and mothers of the fallen. If these women lost their resolve, the Greek states would fall.  Clearly King Leonidas chose the correct 300 families, because a year after the Battle of Thermopylae, the Greek forces defeated the Persians at Salamis and Plataea.  As Pressfield later wrote, “The West survived then, in no small measure because of her women.”[iv]

I continue to witness love, courage, and sacrifice interwoven into my family’s story, as well as the stories of those who’ve had loved ones serving overseas.  From the young new wife who steps up to lead the Family Readiness Group to the actions of wives who have received that dreadful knock at the door, it is in their love, courage, and sacrifice that we find our strength to do our professional duty. Words can’t express my gratitude for our heroic women.


[i] Clausewitz, On War pg. 65

[ii] Clausewitz, pg. 67

[iii] Tacticus, Annals 1.51.3

[iv] Pressfield, The Warrior Ethos pg. 6

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Think, Write, and Publish: An Army Captain’s Perspective

This post is also available on the Small Wars Journal

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“Nail your whispers to the wall.  Conclude the trilogy of read..think..and write.  Is there ‘career risk’ in publishing? I suppose.  Hasn’t hurt me too badly over the years, I’d say.  But what matters is testing your ideas on the field of intellectual battle so to speak.”

-Admiral (ret) James Stravridis

      Junior to mid-grade leaders, both officers and NCOs, do a lot of thinking!  These leaders constantly develop innovative solutions for problems, ranging from the simple to extremely complex, during combat deployments, training exercises, and garrison activities.  These solutions or ideas are worth hearing about, however many of these young leaders remain professionally silent.  Published articles by this demographic of Army leaders are extremely important to their personal development and to our profession, but are also extremely rare.  It’s not that these leaders necessarily have better ideas than the Command Sergeants Major, Colonels, or General Officers, it’s simply that they bring a fresh outlook to the professional discourse that takes place in our military journals and other outlets.  To further illustrate this point, think about when you PCS.  If you’re anything like me, after living in a new house for only a month, I no longer notice those things that bothered me when I first moved in.  It usually takes someone who doesn’t live with me, to bring them back to my attention.  Similarly, NCOs and officers that have been in the service for a decade or more may have become blind to those blemishes and annoyances that still are fresh in the eyes of younger leaders.  It is this voice we need to continue to hear through publication in printed journals and online blogs.

A desire by younger men and women in the Army to improve themselves, and in the process their craft, is nothing new.  Take for example two innovative officers in the Interwar Period.  In the fall of 1919, Major Dwight Eisenhower and Lieutenant Colonel George Patton began spending a considerable amount of time training, experimenting, and discussing new methods of tank warfare at Camp Meade.  They saw the possibility of using tanks to achieve rapid breakthroughs vice just moving in support of the infantry.  Eisenhower captured these ideas in writing and published them in a 1920 Infantry Journal article, titled “A Tank Discussion”.   The article wasn’t well received because it ran counter to the accepted doctrine.  Eisenhower was reprimanded by the Chief of Infantry, MG Charles S. Farnsworth, who told him that his ideas were dangerous, and that if he tried to publish them again he would face a court-martial.

At the time of publication, Eisenhower had only five years of experience and the tank was still a nascent technology on the battlefield.  He wasn’t overly invested in the tactical doctrine, so his creativity wasn’t stifled.  He faced some pressure for publishing his thoughts, but in the end it contributed to a professional discussion that eventually led to better doctrine for the inclusion of armor in the fight.

Today’s younger officers and NCOs have more battlefield experience, and more practice at creating innovative solutions to combat situations, than most recent generations.  Unfortunately, their new perspectives and ways of doing business are largely kept at the unit level or shared among groups of friends.  They are thinking, and hopefully writing, but too few are publishing.  This is something that we must change.  In the words of Admiral (ret) Jim Stravridis, “publishing your thoughts for others to see…. extends the reach of your ideas and sparks a larger discussion, a larger professional conversation.”  Following a decade of lessons learned in and out of combat, we need this larger conversation to occur so that the profession may continue to evolve and adapt.

A few years ago, I decided to move beyond thinking into writing and publishing.  In 2011, I came out of my second command and, for the first time in eight years, had a considerable amount of time for reflection.  I whipped out a green notebook and began to write, and write, and write some more.  While this was great for me personally, it wasn’t that valuable to the profession.  After reading the blogs and articles from current leaders like Jonathan Silk, Nathan Finney, and Benjamin Kohlmann, I decided to compile my notebook scribbles into substance for publication.  One of the first articles I wrote took me 4 months, numerous drafts, and constant sharing with friends and mentors for comments.  I remember being excited and anxious as I finally submitted it for publication to Military Review.  It only took a few weeks to receive a rejection notice.  While I was disappointed, I had an idea that was no longer simply in my head, it had crystallized in written form.  I passed it around and a couple of things happened:  First, I was offered a temporary assignment to work on a project that was related to the article.  I got to see a concept that I wrote about come to life, thus giving me a chance to affect the greater profession.  Second, a higher-ranking officer reached out to me and combined pieces of my rejected article with his research to produce a piece that was published in the May-June 2013 issue of Military Review.

Those events validated for me the point that if junior leaders want to affect change, make the profession better, or just share experiences with others, we need to step onto the battlefield of ideas with our thoughts captured in writing.

In the process of publishing, and from lessons gleaned from the reading of history, here are some lessons I learned:

1.)    Multiple drafts/Multiple sets of eyes- None of my articles/posts have ever been ready for publication after the first, second, or even the third draft.  There are always grammatical errors or structural problems that I might miss, so I pass it along to a friend for review.  After finalizing the edits, I may pass it on to one more person for a final look.  One more set of eyes never hurts.

2.)    Seek out mentors to develop articles- In addition to potentially coauthoring articles, mentors can provide additional insight, offer a more seasoned perspective, and provide additional resources to bolster the article.

3.)    Be prepared for feedback- To paraphrase Stravridis, publishing articles is like nailing your whispers to the wall for everyone to see. Not everyone is going to agree with your viewpoints, but that is okay.  Negative feedback is nerve-racking and scary; however it lets you know that people are at least reading your efforts.  Hearing from or reading comments from others who disagree with your viewpoints offers you the opportunity to see differing outlooks on the subject, which may help to deepen your understanding of the subject you wrote about.

4.)    Writing closes doors- Many published leaders have had doors close on them throughout their careers when they brought ideas, especially those that ran counter to the collective thought, to the battlefield of ideas.  Something to keep in mind is that while writing can close doors, it can also…

5.)    Writing opens doors- Eisenhower’s article in Infantry Journal may have closed some doors within the Infantry Branch, but it also may have served as a building block in his relationship with Fox Conner.  One of Conner’s own articles, published 10 years earlier, “Field Artillery in Cooperation with Other Arms,” led to revisions in artillery doctrine.  Without Fox Connor’s mentorship of Eisenhower, much of the military history of the mid-twentieth century would be quite different.  As in the past, today there are senior leaders in the Army that will champion initiatives…but they need to read about them first.

6.)    There’s a venue for everyone – From online military blogs like Small Wars Journal and War on the Rocks, to branch magazines like Armor and Infantry Magazine, there is a venue for every leader at every level.  Chances are there is at least one that would be interested in your (well-written) idea.  

In less than a week, I will take the next step in my professional career, moving from company grade to field grade officer. While I hope that my views will always remain current and relevant, I know that over time I may become blind to those things that can and should be changed.  One way to avoid this blindness is to continue to read published articles of company grade officers and NCOs, as well as working with those interested in writing.  The next crop of Pattons and Eisenhowers are currently walking among us, and I would love to read their thoughts.

 


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Leaders are Readers

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From Washington to Mattis, our most successful leaders were life-long students of war.  In the July-September issue of Armor Magazine, I wrote a piece called Maneuver Leaders, Self-Study and War, where I discuss the importance of life-long learning and provide readers with a great resource to start their journey.  Please check it out!

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How to Host a Military Conference

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Tomorrow I head back home from the best professional event I’ve ever attended. Before leaving, I would like to briefly share what I learned from Defense Entrepreneurs Forum 2013 in Chicago. In addition to the workshops, connections made, and superb line-up of speakers, I got a glimpse of what a great military conference looks like.:

1.) Lose the Uniforms- I’m not sure of the science behind it, but the lack of uniforms and visible rank this weekend broke down barriers to discussion. Navy ensigns conversed with Army majors, and Air Force colonels spoke with Marine Corps sergeants. For 72 hours, rank and service took a backseat to professional discussion.

2.) Don’t Turn Off All Cell Phones- The backdrop for the event was a Tweetwall that gave all new meaning to “sidebar conversations”. Not only was Twitter allowed, it was encouraged. As speakers gave their presentations, the tweet wall served as a running discourse between the attendees and those following the conference from remote locations. Additional points, counterpoints, and random musings flowed throughout the weekend. To read these check out #DEF2013 on Twitter.

3.) Offer Variety- DEF also gave me options. I could choose whether I wanted to attend a Booth Business School Professor’s talk on fostering creative organizations or a DARPA representative’s take on building an organizational culture focused on innovation. Attendees could also select what working groups they wanted to attend. Some chose to work on the acquisitions process while others focused on military education. The atmosphere felt constructive, not constrictive.

4.) Require Deliverables- I’ve been to military conferences where working groups deliberated on some defense related issue, and when the dust settled there was nothing to show for it. At DEF, working groups were encouraged to produce a short white paper with actionable recommendations, and a brief presentation on the solution to their topic. These outcomes forced professionals to work in teams, under condensed timelines, with people they had never met before.  It was an awesome social experiment!

5.) Diversify- DEF was the first the time in my military career that I tackled a problem with a Marine sergeant, a Navy ensign, an Australian major, and a middle school teacher. While some might argue the benefit of this diverse group, the perspectives and experiences brought to table were much more valuable, producing fresh thoughts and insights that might not have otherwise been possible.

As we continue to reduce defense budgets, there may be fewer military conferences on the horizon. We must get the most out of these events, and I think by adopting some of the practices of DEF, organizations will be able to see a greater return on investment. I’m already looking forward to seeing what DEF 2014 has to offer!

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Reforming our Professional Military Education System

In lieu of a blog post this week, I’ve co-authored a piece with Nathan Finney on reforming our professional military education system.  As we reset many of our systems across the military, I believe that now is the time to review how we educate our leaders.  Feel free to respond on this blog or on the DEF blog.  The post can be found at :

http://def2013.com/my-def-idea-a-new-way-forward-professional-military-education/

I’m looking forward to meeting with leaders from across the services this weekend as we tackle this issue and several more!

Don’t forget that this weekend’s conference will be available simulcast at the link below:

http://def2013.com/livecast/

 

 

 

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