I’d like to tell you that I was one of those superstar officers who did everything right and everyone should strive to be like me. But that’s not the case. My career was pretty average, I suppose. It had its good points, its great points, and a few low points. So, as I write this, I do so in a very humble manner. My goal is not to shine light on the path to success. You have much better mentors who will do a much better job at that than I can. No, quite the opposite, my objective is to show you where danger exists and hopefully you can avoid it.
The good news is that there is not one path to success but many, maybe more than we can count. The bad news is that danger lurks on each of those paths. In my mind, I see these dangers as land mines that can disrupt and even derail a leader’s progress along his path. In my progress along my path, I became somewhat of a sapper. I discovered many of the landmines, most by accident, disrupting my progress, sometimes exploding and sending me off in odd directions. More good news is that the paths switch back and cross again. It is more like a trail network that a straight path.
I’ll start with a very common type of self-initiated mine: the ego mine. This is one I tripped very early. Beware of your own ego. It is not about you. It never has been and it never will be. It is about the mission. My first few years, my ego was too involved in my profession. It caused me to say and do stupid things. It diminished the respect my peers and soldiers had for me. It added an unnecessary layer of difficulty to leading and, therefore, accomplishing the MISSION. I was offered help and advice and often refused to accept it or even consider it because I was too proud to accept it.
Example: I had a great Company Commander when I was a platoon leader. He worked hard to mentor his LTs. It was his second command and he knew how to run a company. Best of all, he and I bonded well. One day, I was planning and preparing my platoon for the first live fire exercise.I was in my zone, I had it all figured out, this was exactly what I was trained to do. I was proud and all set to show everyone I was stud. My CO paid a visit during my planning process and asked me to brief him on my plan. I was proud to do it. I don’t remember exactly what set me off, other than the fact that he started inserting himself into MY planning process, changing MY plan, about MY mission. Simply put, I wasn’t thinking. Fresh out of Ranger School, where platoons appear to operate “independently”, I was trying to do it alone. Well, we had some words and I was out of line. Later, reality sunk in but not before my ego exacted additional costs. The bottom line was, my Commander wanted me to do well in front of the Battalion Commander. He cared enough about me to want me to be successful.
Two Company Commands and a Battalion Command later, I can tell you no Commander needs an argumentative subordinate. What he wants is one to can accomplish the mission assigned and make his job easier.
Advice from a good superior is like money in the bank. Squirrel it away until you need it.
Your troops can sense when it’s all about you. Make it about accomplishing the mission and keeping them safe. You will be a better leader and they will be better followers.
Our army operates as a team of teams. No Soldier, no unit should stand alone. We support one another. That’s what makes us strong. If you need help, get help. If you are offered help, accept help. If you see another who needs help, offer help. We all want to hump our own ruck and drink from our on canteen but each of us has a bad day.
Good luck with the mission (note I did not say “your”). If it goes well then most likely, so will your career.