By: Savoury Jacobson
Almost from the day someone decides to become a soldier, or at least try, leadership comes into play. It is taught, it is learned, it is cemented, and repeated throughout training. Over time, countless leadership books have been written. And during a soldier’s career, the opportunity to lead is guaranteed to happen. Yet it is an elusive concept, something that always seems a little bit out of reach.
Anybody can technically command people, given some power. The military is built on a principle that orders will be obeyed regardless of one’s personal feelings. However, true leadership means that orders are followed because a subordinate trusts his command, and that trust exists because it has been earned. For a long time, the military relied on micro-management and authority to sway the actions of troops. However, as history has evolved a new kind of method has been implanted and that is: trust is earned, obedience follows.
There is a fine line drawn in most military minds of which commanders were liked and which were disliked. Experience is what is remembered, and a bad experience can last a life time. Once one’s military service comes to an end, the power to command is gone. What you have left is memories: memories of those you affected, whether positively or negatively, for life. Several influential military leaders were interviewed on their thoughts on leadership, culminating in this article.
Major (MAJ) Robert Dean Carter possesses a ‘jack-of-all-trades’ track record, serving fourteen years as a non-commissioned officer and thirteen years as a commissioned one. Carter is also a graduate of Basic Combat Training, Primary Leadership Development Course, the Armor Basic Officer Leadership Course, the Maneuver Captains Career Course, Command and General Staff College. Major Carter’s awards and decorations include the Bronze Star Medal (1st Oak Leaf Cluster), Meritorious Service Medal (2nd Oak Leaf Cluster), Army Commendation Medal (4th Oak Leaf Cluster), Army Achievement Medal (4th Oak Leaf Cluster), Crewman Badge, and the Combat Action Badge. Carter’s personal leadership style is to let those under him do what they are good at while remaining available in case problems arise. He communicates that he trusts subordinates, and in turn gains trust because he holds himself to high standards.
When asked to comment on leadership, MAJ Carter said, “When soldiers see that you are trusting them to do their job, that you are treating them like the expert, like the professional that they are: you gain their respect, which eventually leads to trust. A large part of trust building is to show that you’re willing to get in the trenches with them and that you’re willing to fairly and equally enforce standards across the board. Everyone brings different experiences, different viewpoints…no matter what the mission is, you’ve got all these different [people] who all have [a] different experience. Somebody’s got the answer to most problems.”
There are many different roles and positions of leadership within the military. One of the most overlooked are those carried out by non-commissioned officers (NCOs). Command Sergeant Major (CSM) Randy R. Wright has been a non-commissioned officer for over thirty years. CSM Wright was born and raised in Newaygo, MI. He first entered the Army in 1991 as an Infantryman and attended OST at Fort Benning, GA. His military education includes Basic Leader Course, Advance Leader Course, Senior Leader Course, and the USASMA. His awards and decorations include the: Bronze Star Medal (3 OLC), Army Meritorious Service Medal (2 OLC), Army Commendation Medal (4 OLC), Army Achievement Medal (2 OLC), Combat Infantryman Badge, Expert Infantryman Badge, Drill Sergeant Badge, Parachutist Badge, Pathfinder Badge, Air Assault Badge, and Ranger Tab.
A huge part of the role NCO’s play is that of the ‘details man’. And Command Sergeant Major Wright doesn’t consider anything to be beneath him. His role, as he sees it, is being ready to listen to every problem and being more than ready to provide solutions. Wright is a man without egotistical impulses. When asked about leadership, CSM Wright commented,
“To gain trust…you need to recognize, from a private to a general, they all deserve respect. They all deserve dignity. So, if you’re trying to gain trust, I don’t waste your time and you don’t waste mine. You do little things to show them that you respect them. So, if they bring you a problem…you stop everything regardless of how busy you are…because they’re a human being. And you listen to their problem and then you try to help them fix their problem.”
Wright went on to say that another point of leadership, is “If you’re going into it just to give orders, you’re going into it for the wrong [reason]. Wright added that if you have a rank, people already know you’re in charge. They already know and there’s no point in having a power match to prove it. “The day you have to state you’re in charge or say you’re going to give orders, is the day you lost control.”
Colonel (COL) Sean Barnes initially entered the Army through the North Carolina Army National Guard in 1988 as an enlisted tank crewman. In 1992, he graduated as a Distinguished Military Graduate from Appalachian State University where he received a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and a United States Army Commission – Second Lieutenant, Armor. His military education includes the Armor Officer Basic and Advanced Courses, Combined Arms Service Staff School, Command and General Staff College, and the Joint Advance Warfighter School. Barnes holds two Masters, one in Public Policy and Administration from Mississippi State University and a second in Joint Campaign Planning and Strategy from the Joint Advance Warfighter School, Norfolk, Virginia. COL Barnes’s previously held assignments and positions within the military are varied, broad, and complex. In his opinion of leadership, “…It takes a life time of fine tuning.” He went on to say that what you wear on your chest is “provisional” until you can keep it or you lose it. If leaders want to be exceptional at an early age, then they need to not take their authority for granted. COL Barnes added that, “some of his best ideas came from somebody saying ‘sir, the way we’re doing this is stupid…”
According to U.S. Army Cadet Command, Brigadier General Robert W. Bennett has a prestigious career. Brigadier General Bennett is a graduate of the Adjutant General’s Basic and Advanced Courses; Air Assault School; Airborne School; Jumpmaster School; Ranger School; U.S. Army Combined Arms and Services Staff School; Marine Corps Command and Staff College; and the U.S Army War College. When asked about his thoughts on leadership, BG Bennett gave the insight, “You have to get after the bare essentials in order to gain trust in your soldiers…and that is, taking care of them. So if soldiers have issues, then you…provide them what they need to sustain and live day to day.”
In short, being a leader is an oxymoron. A leader is at the front, yet must constantly put all others first in his mind and actions. He or she must look at the big picture, at things as a whole. Ego must never be something that sways thoughts, or for that matter, actions. The military unit is powerful because of people. And people are unpredictable, emotional, surprising, and disparate at their core. A good leader will take all those various factors and lead people to higher ground, where they can see that their well-being is a priority.
Being in the military is being a part of something bigger than yourself. Suddenly, you are in a cohesive group (unit) who will look after you and you them. A good leader will play off of this and build this cohesion as the unit grows and learns together. The true leader will break down the human complex of feeling alone. He or she will take the time to know the strengths and fears of each individual and encourage each person to greatness.
No great leader can have a focus on himself or herself. It is not possible to put others first if you are putting yourself first. To be a good leader, one must truly die to self-interest. A leader at the core is about being last: the last one to sleep, the last one to stop worrying, the last one to relax. Cadet Summer Training embodies these ideas from the very start.
Cadet Summer Training will bring around 8,200 Cadets through Basic and Advanced Camp this summer on Fort Knox. These camps are designed to help challenge, grow and improve various skills and leadership qualities within the Cadets. If you think you have what it takes to be a Cadet or if you are interested in a job after college click the following link: https://my.goarmy.com/info/rotc1/index.jsp?iom=IP08-AUTO-R1NA-BR-XXX-XX-XXX-MO-XX-X-BRCMAC:IP08