Sunday, November 16, 2008
I was en route to a meeting today with the Local National Air Force so we could do some planning for a major exercise we are going to do together (which I wish I could tell you about, because it's pretty cool. But you'll have to trust me). And it's me, my boss (a Major) and another American Captain in the car with a Local National First Lieutenant on the way from the Local National base to the Local National Air Force HQ. And my boss asks, "What kind of music do you have on your iPod, Lieutenant?"
And this leads to all four of us, three Americans and a Local National, riding in the Local National's SUV.
Singing Kenny Rogers' "The Gambler."
With backup vocals.
Thursday, November 06, 2008
If you are passionate about an issue because you've researched it and feel that your stance, your educated opinion is right, more power to you. If, however (and I think this is the case with the majority of the fwd emails I receive or nonsense I hear) you are passing on what basically amounts to hot, soupy garbage because someone you know got it from someone they know and it's all about how so and so is a terrorist because of what his parents named him or so and so is racist because he happened to be born white, then do us all a favor and SHUT UP. Because, either way (and this is important, so pay attention),
I am not interested in your nonsense. I will pay attention to well-thought-out arguments that are not sensationalist. I will not, however, listen to or entertain anything that I will find on snopes.com. Or on Fox News.
But that's beside the point, because now we're done. Do you hear me? DONE. Whether you won or lost, Obama is the President-elect. Whether you voted or not (and I did, by the way), it's OVER.
If you supported McCain, you get 48 hours to piss and moan. For 48 hours, I will read your emails or have the conversations with you. After that, I will get back to supporting and defending the Constitution of the United States, and supporting my Commander in Chief.
If you supported Obama, you get 48 hours to celebrate. I will also read your emails and have the conversations with you, too. And after that, I am going to get back to work (see above). And when he gets sworn in, I will continue.
Now that the dust has settled, I really hope that all the people out there on the interwebs who were so excited about forwarding messages for one side or the other will take all that energy and use it for something substantial. If you feel strongly enough about an issue to espouse someone else's poorly researched opinion on it, you should take the time to look it up yourself. And if you still agree with it after that, then do something other than forwarding that opinion on. Start a petition, lobby your local or state rep, something. You know, exercise your rights as a citizen. But for the love, let's move on with our lives now. I've got work to do.
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
I've been doing a lot of work with our host nation military. You know, coordinating, liaison, stuff like that. Part of that, of course, is spending a lot of time with these people, and eating in their dining facilities. And I've noticed something: their people eat a lot better than ours do.
Take today's lunch, for instance. Lamb, curried chicken, rice, and soup. Served to us with fresh fruit and a cute little can of Pepsi. Also a can of Mirinda Orange. What were the guys on Camp Slappy eating? Probably some kind of overcooked pork or chicken, or the standard strange-tasting cheeseburger, or something like that.
Now, this may have been because we were eating in the Officers and NCOs Mess. I can't say. All I can say is that the food was really good, the service was great, and the Soldiers I took in there with me really enjoyed it. And I'm wondering- with as much money as we pay the companies with whom we contract our support services (food, bathroom maintenance, etc), why is it that our food sucks (There are good meals, by the way, but by and large it's worse than the food at any given college dorm cafeteria)? Why are all the latrines filled with mold and falling apart?
I know it could be worse. I've done my share of "business" by digging a hole in the woods. I have also had to eat MREs three times a day for more days in a row than I care to count. But I'm just saying.
Friday, September 19, 2008
So why did my geeks look at me like I had another head growing out of my armpit? Am I that far removed from actual work?
As punishment for their insolence, I had them all placed in burlap bags and beaten with reeds.
Sunday, August 17, 2008
So first, we need to define terms here. What exactly do I mean when I say someone is a toxic leader? COL Denise Williams writes, "Toxic leaders can be characterized as leaders who take part in destructive behaviors and show signs of dysfunctional personal characteristics." She further goes on to say that a toxic leader is one who causes serious and enduring damage on their subordinates and organizations. I think this is a pretty good definition, so we'll go with this. Now the questions get a little harder. What makes a toxic leader? Why do we put up with them? And what do we do once we've found one?
Toxic leaders are an interesting breed. Sometimes you can tell right off, like when the officer in charge jumps up and down, smashing furniture while cussing like a pirate in front of everyone in the area about incompetent subordinates. But other times, you don't know until (tragically) much too late that your boss has been busily taking credit for your ideas, and blaming you for his failures. COL George E. Reed, in an article from the July-August 2004 Military Review magazine, says that the three key elements of the toxic leader are an apparent lack of concern for the well-being of subordinates, a personality or interpersonal technique that negatively affects organizational climate (see above re: cussing like a pirate), and a conviction by their subordinates that the leader is motivated primarily by self-interest.
Sometimes, as stated earlier, you can't tell until it's almost too late. But you should start assessing your area, looking at the morale and general feeling among your seniors, peers, and subordinates, and see if any of the three elements above look familiar. PLEASE DON'T confuse Soldiers (employees) tired of hard work with Soldiers tired of abuse. We all get cranky when there's a lot going on and it's nonstop.
So say you find that someone in your chain of command is, in fact, a toxic leader. Why and how did they get to where they are? Well, the first sad fact is that while leaders are born, leadership styles are made. So someone taught your T.L. everything they know. Frightening, eh? Hints toward vicous circles and futility and all that. The second sad fact, and this particularly applies to the military, is that most of the time we are so mission-focused that we don't particularly care how something gets done, as long as it gets done. It's as if Pharoah told us, "Build me some pyramids out there in the desert" and came back later to say, "Wow, those are neat!" without thinking about the millions of man-hours, the whips, the dead slaves, etc. And we're conditioned to "suck it up and drive on." No one wants a whiner, and we often forget as military leaders that there is a difference between whining and a legitimate gripe. So when your T.L. is screaming at you and threatening your career unless you get his mission accomplished, you will just take it and execute. And unless your T.L.'s boss is within earshot, all the big boss will see is that the mission got accomplished, and that T.L. got it done. So old T.L. gets rewarded, and the pyramid gets built on the backs of the slaves.
So what do we do? We all know T.L., I guarantee you can point to one in your organization without too much thought. How do we keep them from succeeding? How do we keep from perpetuating the vicous cycle? And how do we keep from becoming one?
The army uses various command climate assessment tools to measure these kinds of things, with varying degrees of efficacy. But the main thing is that we have to notice what's going on around us. We have to be aware that T.L. is getting up to his old tricks, and we have to make sure that our peers and subordinates are aware of them too. This way, we can mitigate the effects. As leaders, we have to be involved; we can't sit in our office (or ivory tower, or Fortress of Solitude) and ignore what's going on in our organization until it's too late. And the bottom line, after we've noticed the behavior and seen what's going on, is that we have to make a stand. If you're a leader, you must refuse to accept T.L.'s behavior in your organization. If you're a peer, you have to let T.L know. You may even have to go to the boss and let the Man know. And if you're a subordinate, you have to make sure that the Man knows. If you can't or won't go directly, use alternate means. Find a peer of T.L.'s, use your Chaplain, but you have to make sure the boss is aware.
If you think you might be a T.L., well, the first step is admitting you have a problem. There are a lot of books on leadership out there. But if you're in the Army, I will refer you to the seven Army Values and Field Manual 6-22 (Army Leadership). Both of those are good guides. But you have to make a change. Think of the slaves.
Sunday, July 20, 2008
Heard an interesting statement in a discussion with BG Robert Woods. He said that a successful command climate is the difference between a Soldier having to say hello to you and a Soldier wanting to say hello to you.
I thought that was fairly profound. We all know that military customs and courtesies require rendering the greeting of the day. But how many times have you crossed the street or stayed in your office to avoid having to interact with someone you just don't respect as a person (regardless of their rank)? And how many times have you changed course to meet them?
The other question is, how many times have you been avoided or greeted deliberately by a peer or subordinate?
In the interests of full disclosure, I should mention that I am not in command right now, and have never been a company commander. I have been a section sergeant, a squad leader, a shop NCOIC, a platoon leader, Battery XO, and now the battalion S6. I've served in many units, though, and seen a lot of command climates. I fully understand that command climate isn't about being a nice guy, or being everyone's friend, or giving Soldiers time off. I try to live the "mission first" ethic. My Soldiers and I often work long hours- especially deployed, but 14 hour days are not rare in garrison.
I would submit to you that working long hours to get the mission accomplished is not an indication of a poor command climate. Rather, how your Soldiers feel about the work, their dedication and buy-in to the mission, and their knowledge of the importance of their role in it tell that story (this is assuming that you're managing your time and delegating effectively- which is a whole 'nother thang).
What are you doing to motivate your Soldiers? Do they work for you out of a fear of repercussion or out of respect for you? Do they trust that you are tactically and technically proficient, that you know the mission and your unit's role in it? Do they feel that you are actively protecting their interests and placing their needs above your own? Do you praise in public and punish in private? Do you conduct frequent counselings, either formal or informal, to let those around you know where they stand?
Or are you working for that coveted "top block" OER? Are you surrounded by things of which you have a limited or no understanding and taking the nervousness that inspires out on your subordinates? Is your counseling method "louder is better?" Do your subordinates live in fear? Are your peers and subordinates embarrassed of you and embarrassed to be seen or associated with you?
The leaders I've had (at multiple levels- company, battalion, and brigade) that have fostered what I feel are good command climates have asked those questions. They have had the ability to self-assess, and do it frequently. They seek after and value input, whether complimentary or critical.
I believe in Army leadership doctrine. I think it's effective when applied correctly by someone who is living the Army values. And call me naive, but I think the majority of Army leaders are doing just that. But the significant minority who aren't are poisoning units and teaching Soldiers (read: future leaders) destructive habits. So take a minute to reflect, and ask yourself those questions. Hopefully you answer honestly, and you're not surprised at the answers.
That's all for today. We'll get into what you can do to foster good command climates (whether you're in command or not) and how you can fight against a bad one later on.
Saturday, July 19, 2008
Yes, it's true. I have decided that this blog will be about all things military in my life- leadership, the Army, this deployment, etc. My other blog will be about my family, and other random things.
Find it here http://silly-buggers.blogspot.com
I will keep it as updated as I can.
Tuesday, July 08, 2008
Including in my eye.
Friday, July 04, 2008
Yeah, that's the sun. That's a morning shot, so as you can see, kinda dusty. And I'm a little tired.
If you're planning to take a trip, check out www.zonder.com We got a great condo for cheap. The only way to travel.
More updates later (after I get some rest!)
And Happy Birthday, America!
Friday, May 23, 2008
The quote is by a first-century Jewish scholar named Hillel, and it's equally applicable now as then. I love it, because it sums up how I have tried to look at my life, and it has served me very well. Let's break it down, shall we?
"If not you, then who?" Let's face it, someone has to step up. We're often faced with incompetent peers, unmotivated, unknowledgeable leaders, and subordinates who are a result of that environment (they are incompetent and unmotivated, primarily through lack of training and emphasis). And we also meet the "seagull leaders." You know, the ones who fly in, make a lot of noise, crap all over everything, and fly out again with no contribution (other than a pile of crap). Someone has to fill that leadership void. Let that someone be you. Like Patton said, "A good plan, violently executed now, is better than a perfect plan next week." A good leader, willing to take charge and make progress now, is better than a great leader further on down the road. And who knows? You might just be that great leader.
I've often found that, even if you're faced with a situation you aren't all that familiar with, someone in your organization knows the process and the techniques, and is just waiting for a leader to get them going. To provide them with the three hallmarks of good leadership: Purpose, Direction, and Motivation.
So step up. Get in there and take charge. Yeah, it's probably more work for you, and if you're like me, then you're a lazy sack. But waiting won't help, and will probably make things worse. Which leads me to my next point....
"If not now, then when?" Problems, like fish, do not smell better with age. Waiting will not make it go away, and will not improve your lot. So if you're going to be that guy (or girl), then you need to be that guy right now or risk having things spiral completely out of control and be unrecoverable.
The cool thing is that this part of the quotation is completely dependent upon the first half. You have to be willing to step up, to assume the difficult role of the leader, and to take responsibility for successes and failures. And you have to do it NOW, on the spot, because waiting for conditions to improve isn't going to help anything. Systems tend towards entropy, whether we're talking about collections of atoms or people. And unless you are willing to impose order on the chaos, right now, you're not a useful leader.
Men's Health magazine did an article on heroes. I don't have time to find the link right now, but you should look it up, because it's really good. And the bottom line for these guys (the heroes) is that they're "ordinary" people in their own minds, who saw a problem and figured something had to be done now, so why not just do it?
OK, so on to practial applications. For me, (duh) it comes down to the Army again. They tell us as privates not to volunteer for anything. To be middle-of-the-road, and to avoid notice. If we do that, we hear, we'll be successful. Hooey, I say. If everyone's middle-of-the-road, then who's in charge? Who do we follow? I have volunteered for a lot of stuff in my Army career (I'm sure Jen can give you a rundown, and then she'll kill me for reminding her), and every time, I come out ahead. Yeah, it means more work. Yeah, it's long hours and not a lot of reward (other than more work). But the mission gets accomplished and the Soldiers get taken care of, and I end up a better Soldier, more knowledgeable, and more able to handle situations in the future. In short, I become a better leader.
It works in non-Army situations, too. Who is going to mow my lawn? Is someone going to come around and do it for me? What about paying my bills? Unless I win the McDonald's Monopoly game, no one is going to hand me money.
What about helping out the lady in the ward who can't switch over her swamp cooler by herself? Or landscaping the yard of the woman whose husband is deployed and needs it done so she can take in some foster kids?
We, the leaders, have to step up. We have to step up now, and get these things done. Because no one else will, and no one can do it as well as we can.
Monday, May 12, 2008
Saturday, May 10, 2008
Actually, these are only half of my peeps. The other half are in another country, working for me down there. I will give them credits at the end of the post.
What a bunch of clowns.
There's one missing, who was on night shift. He's SPC Gonzalez.
I can definitively say, these guys are the hardest working Soldiers in the battalion. Mostly because I'm mean and give them a lot of work to do. But also because they manage the day-to-day functions of my network. These guys can do it all- radios, computers, satellite communications, and still do PT in the morning, go to the gym at night, and clown around the rest of the time.
And here's why I love the Army- I have a huge mix of people. I have Soldiers from the east coast, the South, and Texas. Suburbs, country, and city folk. Folks on their first deployment, and folks on their fourth. And all of them are committed to being successful, to bettering themselves, and to accomplishing the mission. I don't have a single discipline problem, because they take care of each other. My NCOs (Staff Sergeant Etienne, Sergeant Severson) are committed to taking care of the Soldiers, to looking out for each other, and taking care of me.
And my guys down south are no different. I have a Lieutenant, a Sergeant First Class, two Sergeants, and two Soldiers (LT Gonzalez - another one, SFC Morton, SGT Ohlson, SGT Williams, SPC Stevenson, and SPC Hornschuch). They are all making great things happen, and taking care of each other.
And the coolest thing is that these guys don't think of themselves as extraordinary. No, according to them they're just doing their jobs, doing what leaders do. And that's the beauty of the Army. People say it's changing, and they're probably right, but what I see is that leaders who are empowered will take care of their troops, make great things happen for the Soldiers, themselves, and the mission, and when they eventually get out, they're going to be successful.
Those are my peeps, and the reason I'm staying in the Army. Wherever I go, I'm going to meet people like this.
PS -I will post pics of my other guys as soon as I get some. I am an equal opportunity employer
Saturday, April 26, 2008
Hi. My name is Waldo, and I'm a frequent user of your products. I know sometimes you get a bad rap, what with your domination of the marketplace and vastly over-hyped and underperforming OS. But I'm not here to talk about that. I'm here to talk about your Office Suite 2003, and particularly, Powerpoint.
Let me tell you, I know something about Powerpoint. I have spent the last 10 days creating, collating, formatting, animating, and in general, owning slides. I've edited, re-edited, and then changed the edits, causing the whole process to start over again. And I've come to this conclusion:
Powerpoint will eat your soul.
Powerpoint is like some giant black hole of happiness and job satisfaction. I don't know why you would make something like that, unless it's that you need souls to power your MSN stuff because Google is "pwning" you left and right. That seems to be the only explanation, because I can say without a doubt, I have less soul now than I did when I started using Powerpoint. And although I wholeheartedly support our capitalist system, I don't think that having your applications suck up souls to feed Bill Gates' Nosferatu-esque appetite is all that ethical.
Also, since we're here, why would you make another edition, and then force me to get a text converter, and then not allow me to edit effectively? Office 2007 looks flashy and great, but if I'm using 2003, I can't really do anything with the 2007 stuff, now, can I? And why in the name of all that's holy would you comPLETEly change the menus? Why?
Maybe it's a way to make me lose my soul faster. I don't know. But I do know this-- my soul isn't doing you much good. You can't be getting quality souls out of people using your product, because they're all so bitter and angry.
A great thing to do, if you want my opinion, would be to give all the souls back, and instead suck up every slideshow with fancy graphics and animation, and make everything else look like butcher-board or overhead projector slides. You know, black and white, pen or marker, and NO ANIMATION.
That's just me, though.
Tuesday, April 01, 2008
"But Waldo," you say, "the title references wishes."
"Shut up and let me finish," I say.
Wishes are great. Wishes are what we think about doing or becoming, or sometimes they're little vindictive thoughts about how we want to stab someone in the eye with a pen...... but I digress.
The problem with wishes is that, by their nature, they are unattainable. "I wish I was better at playing basketball" is as imaginary as "I wish fairies would come and sprinkle pixie dust on my car to make it run better." What we need are goals. (I told you to let me finish).
Goals, by their nature, are attainable. They are realistic, and they are quantifiable. There's a very definite flow, from wishes to goals to plans. Let's look at how that works. I will give you an example:
One of the things I struggle with is PT (physical training). Not, let me add, that I'm way out of shape or anything, but I'm not one of these guys who could model for Men's Health. I wish I were better at PT, and I wish I could model for Men's Health.
My problem now is that me saying I wish I were better at PT is doing nothing for me. There's no plan there, and I can just as easily say it sitting in my chair watching TV and eating Girl Scout cookies as I can running around the track. So where do I go from here? I have to assign meaning and numbers to my wish.
My goal is to score a 300 on the Army Physical Fitness Test. That's 75 push ups in 2 mins, 80 situps in 2 mins, and 2 miles in 13:09. That's what the Army tells me is being good at PT.
My other goal is to weigh 195 lbs.
OK, so now I've got numbers. Now, given those numbers, I can make plans. So, one plan is to do PT every night after work, focusing on push ups and situps for 15 minutes, followed by a three mile run. Or I can do gym workouts followed by treadmill runs of 30 minutes. Or any number of other plans. For the weight loss, I can monitor my caloric intake, limiting myself to 1800 calories a day, until I hit my target weight.
You see where I'm going with this, right? Wishes need numbers to make them attainable. Once you assign them numbers they become goals. Goals drive plans. Periodically, by the way, you should stop and reassess your goals. Maybe you will need to make a change to your plan, or you might need to (much less frequently) make a change to your goal.
It's a great system, but it only works if you've got self-discipline and motivation. So, I am going to provide myself with some motivation here by listing my goals for this deployment. Here you go, in no particular order:
- Score a 300 on the APFT
- Weigh 195 lbs
- Get a COMPTIA Security + certification
- Complete the Rosetta Stone Intermediate Arabic program
- Be rated as one of the top three Captains in the battalion
- Attend the ARCENT Signal University Microsoft System Admin class, the Cisco series of classes (three of them) and the Promina/REDCOM classes
- Write and publish an article for the Army Communicator (the Signal Corps professional journal)
- Maintain a network operational readiness rate of 95% or better
And the coolest thing about this is, if you can make a wish, turn it into a goal by assigning it a quantity, make your goal attainable by designing a plan, and then work your plan, your wishes do come true (except for that fairy dust thing... you're on your own there).
Friday, March 28, 2008
Leaders deal with people and the systems (physical, logical, administrative, it doesn’t matter) those people maintain
Managers deal with systems (again, physical, logical, administrative, it doesn’t matter) and the people who maintain them
There is a lot of overlap- the boundaries are blurred and many situations call for both.
Establishing systems and motivating personnel to implement and enforce them initially requires active leadership. You have to know the mission and understand the endstate, and then develop a system to get there. Then you have to ensure your Soldiers know the mission and endstate, are involved in developing the system, and since they’re the ones who actually implement them, you have to ensure they are bought in to the mission.
You have to define roles for your subordinates, develop a chain of command (either formal or informal) and enforce both of these. Formal chains of command are great- the highest ranking is in charge, then the next, and so on. Sometimes, though, you have to weigh the rank structure against what I like to call the “aristocracy of talent.” I (as a Captain) don’t know routers as well as my Soldiers, particularly SPC Gonzalez. So when I have a router issue, I get SPC Gonzalez. There are two NCOs who outrank him, but they also understand that he is the guy for the job. They’re bought in to the mission (keeping the network up) and the endstate (95% operational readiness rate) so they will use the informal chain of command and not be pissed at me when I put SCP Gonzalez in charge of networking, despite their higher rank.
Once the system is established, you settle down into the managerial role. You’ve defined roles, you’ve established a chain of command, you’ve implemented and enforced your systems and trackers and charts and what have you, and you sit back and watch it all work. Your subordinates each manage their piece of the puzzle, and they tweak as necessary to ensure the system does what it’s designed to do: achieve the endstate.
Sometimes, however, things go drastically wrong. Then the leader jumps back in, actively directing people, making decisions, and pushing forward towards your endstate. Once the crisis has passed, though, you’re back to management.
This works very well, I have found. The problem is when you get people who are leaders but not managers, or managers but not leaders.
Leaders but not managers are kind of like seagulls- they fly in, make a lot of noise, crap all over everything, and fly back out. It looks like progress initially, but there’s no forward movement. Whatever system they implement will fall apart in short order because they’re not capable of managing.
Managers but not leaders are also bad- they can’t get anything established. They’re great at coming into an established system and keeping it functioning, but they can’t set it up and they can’t deal with crises when they inevitably crop up.
Good Leaders (note the capital) can do both. They’re good at both, and their subordinates know it. Good Leaders also foster this in their subordinates.
A gripe here: if you’re the kind of person who hoards information because you have to be indispensible to the organization, or because you’re scared to let people know what you know, then I hate you. You’re bad for business. Here’s why: what happens when you get sick? Or in my line of work, when your vehicle gets hit by an IED and you die? You should be able to leave at any time and not suffer a degrade in your area. Take care of the mission, and your evaluation takes care of itself.
And now for something completely different:
Authority vs Responsibility
Leaders can delegate authority, but not responsibility. I can put someone in charge of an area within my purview, but I have to remember that I am responsible for his/her success or failure. So when I implement a system and enforce my chain of command, whether by rank or the aristocracy of talent, I will eventually end up holding the bag for the success or failure of my team AS A WHOLE. Good Leaders will back up their subordinates’ decisions, because they’re your decisions by proxy. If you’ve done your job right, you have nothing to worry about. You can go home at night knowing that your night shift is making independent decisions that are in line with your mission and endstate. If you haven’t done your job right, you should expect angry phone calls at all hours (particularly if you work for me).
And remember: “If it’s bad, it’s me. If it’s good, it’s us. And if it’s really good, it’s you.” Praise in public, punish in private. And other little sayings.
Wednesday, March 26, 2008
First off, let me just say this (and you'd be surprised at how few people understand this): everyone has a boss. EVERYONE. Privates are led by corporals, corporals are led by sergeants, sergeants are led by other sergeants who are led in turn by lieutenants. Officers also have bosses- LT's are led by captains, who are led by majors, lieutenant colonels, colonels, generals, up to the Chief of Staff of the Army. That guy, the highest ranking officer in the Army, is led by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The CJCS is led by the President. And he is even led by a mandate from the people. Everyone has a boss.
Also, everyone has subordinates. Even if you're the lowest ranking private in the Army today, you are still responsible to lead yourself (sounds stupid, but you can develop as a leader with just yourself. It's true).
So what are our responsibilities as the Led? First of all, let's talk about the enlistment oath: "I, (NAME), do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God."
Then there's the oath of office (for officers): ""I, (NAME), having been appointed an officer in the Army of the United States, as indicated above in the grade of _____ do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign or domestic, that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservations or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office upon which I am about to enter; So help me God."
Pretty serious stuff there. Let's talk about the oath of enlistment first. We swear as enlisted members to support and defend the Constitution, and to bear true faith and allegiance to it (this applies to officers as well). We also swear, as enlisted folks, to obey the orders of the President of the United States and the officers appointed over us. Here's the kicker- according to regulation and the UCMJ. As I posted earlier, effective leaders have to know doctrine. Regulation and the UCMJ are doctrine. And if we were going to stay enlisted, we would be successful if that's all we did: obey orders.
For officers it’s a little bit different. We are solemnly swearing the same things about the Constitution, but in there as well, we are saying we volunteered for this job and that we are going to well and faithfully discharge our duties. We swear to be good at our jobs. Our primary function as officers (and some will disagree, but they’re not writing this post, so bleh) is to lead Soldiers. To be good at that, we have to take orders, and then we translate those into more orders, all of which lead to accomplishing the mission, whatever it is.
But what does that mean? Here's where it gets hairy. Orders are what we call specified tasks. They are tasks that we are specifically told to accomplish. But specified tasks breed implied tasks-- tasks we know we have to do in order to get the mission accomplished, but are not spelled out. Let's look at an example from everyday life. La Yen loves milk. She drinks a lot of milk. She knows that she has to buy milk fairly frequently. One of the "orders" she gives herself is to keep milk in the house at all times. That's a specified task. Implied in there is the obligation to either arrange delivery of milk or go to the grocery store to get it. In order to go get it, she has more implied tasks- get gas in the car, arrange for care for the Jooj, get money, etc.
Good subordinates obey orders, yes. But they also anticipate what the implied tasks of those orders are. Good subordinate leaders will take those specified and implied tasks and prioritize them into essential tasks-- those tasks which, if not accomplished, will cause the mission to fail. Then they parcel out those essential tasks to their own subordinates, ensuring they all get done.
In today’s Army, there’s very little time to be new. I tell that to my newest privates, fresh out of school. I generally give them about a week, and then I expect that they’re on their game. It’s not an unfair system, since that’s what I expect out of myself. We have a responsibility to learn enough about whatever job we’re in, whatever our mission is, to anticipate our tasks. We have to be able to know what to do, who to talk to, and where to find the information required to accomplish our missions.
Good subordinates are good, regardless of the quality of their leadership. It’s really easy to blame poor performance on your part on poor leadership, but I’m here to tell you, folks, it’s garbage. If we are well and faithfully executing our jobs, we aren’t going to depend on someone to tell us what to do. We’re going to listen to and understand the commander’s intent, anticipate our tasks, and execute them to the best of our ability.
So to sum up the rant, we are responsible to obey orders, well and faithfully execute our jobs, anticipate, and above all, know what we’re doing.
How do we make sure this happens with our subordinates? Why, we lead by example. My Soldiers know that I work longer hours than they do, that I know how to lay cable, fix a radio, and troubleshoot a computer. They know that when I give them missions, I give them context- I anticipate what my boss wants, tell them what I’m doing, and how they play into the grand plan. They know that I want to be the best, and I want them to be the best. They see me doing what I’m told, well and faithfully executing my job, and they work to become that way. I know of no other way to lead.
There are schools of thought out there that say leaders sit and parcel out work, never stirring. Those schools are the community colleges of thought. To be effective, you have to know your role as a subordinate, and you have to live that every day.
This is by no means exhaustive. I haven’t mentioned setting standards or goals, I haven’t mentioned leadership styles at all, and I haven’t mentioned empowering subordinates. Those topics will come later (unless I get tired). But this is something I’ve been thinking about for a while, and thought I’d get it down before I forgot it.
Tuesday, March 25, 2008
As the title suggests, we're talking about drama today. Specifically, how becoming (a little) emotionally involved is a good thing, but too much leads to lack of communication, unclear guidance, poor morale and no buy-in to the mission on the part of your subordinate leaders.
Let me first begin by saying that the army (and most other environments that require leadership) is a world of facts and truth. Facts and truth put limits on the fluid situations in which we find ourselves. For the army, these facts and truth take the form of doctrine, tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs), and a continuous flow of information.
Doctrine is made up of Field Manuals (FMs), Technical Manuals (TMs), Army Regulations (ARs) and other Department of Defense publications. TTPs are just that: tactics, techniques, and procedures that may not be written in the army's doctrinal publications but are nonetheless commonly used and are written down in the form of Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs). These run the gamut from "use of static IP addresses is mandatory for all computers on this network" to "the second man in the stack will be the breach man and will use a shotgun to shoot out the lock."
Information (as I will define it) is data that has been subjected to analysis. It contains what I like to call the "so-what factor." As in, "Sir, the garbage truck ran over a cable." "So what?" "So now no one has internet." Information is usable in making decisions, while data is not.
So now we've defined terms, and we've taken a fluid environment and limited it with doctrine, TTPs, and information. Note that there is no emotion associated with this process- it is what it is. And this applies to every situation we can imagine in the military, whether on an infantry patrol in Baghdad or (for example) sitting on a base camp in Kuwait to launching a space shuttle or even going on leave. When we can objectively look at the situation, apply our knowledge of doctrine and what we've determined to be effective TTPs, and augment that with information, we can decide what to do and communicate that plan to our subordinates.
Generally, that last step is where we get into trouble (emotionally). I am a communicator by trade, and one thing communicators despise is interference. And a lot of times, our emotions act as interference. Someone who is so angry they can't speak has already lost the ability to communicate. And you've all seen the people who get so choked up (with happiness, sadness, whatever), who've "promised themselves they wouldn't do this [sob]
You also won't be able to guide, teach, coach, or mentor effectively. Soldiers (a lot of the time) are like kids. You have to be consistent, you have to be calm, and you have to use short words that they understand. Just kidding on that last part. But you do have to be able to couch your thoughts in terms that someone without your experience or intimate knowledge of the systems involved will understand. And when you get mad or get abusive you can't do that.
I know of a situation where a leader got exceptionally cheesed off at a (very junior) subordinate leader. This junior leader, the LT, sent up a report with erroneous information in it. This made the senior leader, the Man, look foolish. The Man took this personally, and took it out on the LT. He spewed vitriol for a while, and then proceeded to hold a grudge. Now, any time the LT makes a tiny mistake, the Man gets angry and punishes the LT. Punishes, not disciplines. Not teaches, not coaches, not mentors, nothing like that. Just abuse. And it's not consistent- the other junior leaders make the same mistakes as the LT and the Man just blows them off. "No big deal, don't do it again." So now the LT has been ruined for military service. He won't listen, he refuses to believe that he's not being victimized, and frankly, he's right. He also won't work because he's scared to screw up, and so now the unit is down one Soldier. He's only taking up space.
Leaders in that kind of situation don't get any guidance. It's hard to teach or guide someone effectively if the only guidance or direction you give is "If you screw this up I will stab you in your ear." And then you've got someone who is not only scared to screw up, he doesn't even know how to avoid it. Your Soldiers see this, too. If you don't get clear guidance, you can't give clear guidance. Then you've got a unit full of Soldiers who don't know what they're doing, why they're doing it, what it means in the grand context of the overall mission, and they're scared to screw up, because they're scared of being punished severely as a knee-jerk emotional reaction.
Also, all the Soldiers around that LT have lost all their respect for the Man. His abuse, his uniformly negative emotional involvement, has crippled his ability to lead. And he's ruining the morale for the rest of the Soldiers. I have found (in eleven years of leading Soldiers) that happy Soldiers will do the most disgusting, miserable tasks they're told to do, and they won't hate you at the end of the day. It doesn't take too much to make Soldiers happy, either- just talk to them, ask them what's up, shake hands, and mean it. And show a willingness to work and learn from them- you don't have a monopoly on good ideas. That being said, even if you do all that, if you show yourself to be a person who is constantly reacting emotionally (and negatively) to changes in a situation which you already know is fluid, you will kill that morale. You will turn Soldiers who were happy and were willing to do terrible, arduous tasks for you into people who resent you, who are angry at you, and who have guns (think about that).
All of which brings us around to mission buy-in. This is where each Soldier understands his role in the mission, knows what his particular job brings to the table and is willing to contribute his skills to the unit in order to make the unit successful. When you as a leader are negatively emotionally involved, it stops being about the mission and starts being about you. You become the mission. Your Soldiers will spend their time wondering how to keep you away from them, out of the office, happy and calm, and they'll stop worrying about the mission and what they are actually deployed to do. No one will care that they have a particular needed skill-set, they will only care that it's time to get off shift and away from you.
So how do you keep all this from happening? Here are some tips.
- Remember, IT'S NOT ABOUT YOU! It's about the MISSION. Whatever you were hired to do, sent in to accomplish, whatever that is, that's the overriding factor. Your ego, your emotions, have nothing to do with it. If you want to get a good evaluation, you should worry about getting the mission accomplished. The rest takes care of itself.
- Likewise, when your subordinates screw up, they're not doing it TO you, they're just screwing up. Stop making it about punishment, and make it about consequences. "If you do this, then this happens." No emotion. It's just a fact.
- And if you don't want them to screw up, SHOW THEM WHAT RIGHT LOOKS LIKE. Don't just throw out random facts and null statements. Take the time to teach, coach, and mentor your subordinates. This way, when you have to yell, it's meaningful and effective.
- LEARN YOUR LIMITS- learn what defines and limits the fluidity of the situation. If you don't know what you're supposed to do, if you haven't studied the applicable FMs, TMs, ARs, if you haven't read up on the TTPs, and if you don't have information (versus data), you can't define your situation. You can't contain the chaos around you, and you are not going to be effective.
OK, that's all. More later, on another topic. I relish your feedback. Please write back
Thursday, March 20, 2008
So basically, here's the update. It's only about 95 degrees now, so still mild. I am not anxious for the next three weeks, since I predict the weather is going to get crappy. Camp Slappy is getting another 400-500 Soldiers, so now we all have to move around. I have now gone from two other roommates who I really get along with well, to four roommates who I don't know how I'm going to get along with. We'll see how this goes.
I did have to pull rank, though. I did some math- see if you can follow along: Two people per bunk bed X three bunk beds = six people. But I only have four roommates. Meaning that there is a bunk with only one person in it. And that one, friends, is MINE. I very seldom do things like that, because I very seldom need to. But I broke the news to the guys last night in anticipation of the move, and got pouty lips in return. Oh, well.
The pulling rank thing is interesting- generally when I say that something should happen, it happens. Which means I almost never tell people what to do. And I really enjoy the "participative" leadership style, where I get a lot of input and then make a decision. It works well in the communications field, where there are multiple right answers and a broad range of skills and experience to draw from. So I seldom if ever find myself in a position where I issue orders peremptorily. But I've had to do it now twice in the past two weeks, and I think that maybe I have gotten too nice with people, and they've forgotten that the Army has rank for a reason? I don't know. Your thoughts?
Back to the bunk thing. I've slept in 60-man bays, in the back, on the hood of, and under HMMWV's (hum-vees), on the ground, on a cot, in planes, standing up leaning on a machine gun, and once in a Bradley Fighting Vehicle. I have also gone for up to 50 hours at a time with no sleep. I've deployed, gone to college (the deployment was easier-I hate school) , gone through a lot of nonsense in ROTC, and worked my butt off to be a Captain in the Army. I feel that I have earned the right to sleep in my own bed.
Back to pulling rank- the other time I had to do it was with my direct subordinate, a Lieutenant, who did not see the need for something I wanted him to do and was also feeling lazy about doing it, as it was going to involve a lot of labor for him (he thought). So we talked about it, because I feel that I don't have a monopoly on smart ideas and a lot of times, my guys have better ways to do things. At the end of the discussion, we still disagreed, he wasn't happy, so I told him "Check this out- you will do this." And he shut up. I think he was surprised.
OK, so I guess there was kind of a theme here. I think the next couple of blogs I do are going to be examinations of leadership styles. Unless I get bored or something else comes up. What are your thoughts on leadership? I am interested to hear about them.
Tuesday, March 11, 2008
Friday, March 07, 2008
Here's the real deal: Radios are easy. All radios (used in the military) have the following components: Transmitter, Receiver, Clock, Encryption. That's it. When it doesn't work, you have a problem with one of those things. That's all. Easy. And you can get really crazy and start talking about line-of-sight or omnidirectional antennas, but even that's pretty simple.
NOTE: If you are some kind of electrical/mechanical engineer or something, yes I am oversimplifying. You have a hard job, and the world respects what you do. Blow me.
And generally computers are pretty simple too. There are a finite number of commands with routing and networking, and once you understand those, pretty much the routing world is your binary oyster.
So now we get to why I hate computers... A while ago (like when DARPA invented the Internet) the Army decided it would start using computers. They determined that we need a standard software/hardware package, and so every computer in the Army basically has the same things on it. And most of the people that develop the command and control systems base them on Windows, because that's what the world uses. If you're a Mac user or some kind of penguin-loving douche, I hate it for you. So....
WHY IN THE WORLD WOULD SOMEONE INVENT A SYSTEM THAT USES LINUX/UNIX TO INTERFACE WITH WINDOWS SYSTEMS?!?!?!?!?!?
I spent two hours looking up routing commands and reading technical specs on the Solaris operating system (Damn you, Sun Microsystems. Damn you to hell), only to find that, in an attempt to retain some kind of superiority to the REST OF THE WORLD, they made all their networking and routing commands different. So I can't do the things that I need to, because some nerd who hasn't left his home office in eight years and has a three-inch crust of Cheeto dust on him wants to be one of five people in the world who can do what I'm trying to do.
Here's another reason I hate computers: They hate me. My boss is angry. It's not an emotion with him, it's a personality trait. And one of the things that makes him angriest is when he pushes a button and something doesn't do what he expects it to do. And wouldn't you know it, EVERY DAY something happens where he can't print or can't send an email or something. This is verifiable- I have my Soldiers keep a log of all the work they do.
His is the only computer that happens to. The ONLY ONE.
I hate computers.
Friday, February 29, 2008
Friday, February 08, 2008
We are certainly in an austere environment here. The wireless internet in the rooms is pretty slow, and the free cable reception is spotty. I have been reduced to renting movies and tv shows from the Red Cross facility here to pass the time in the evenings... when I'm not at the gym. The pillow and bedsheet selection at the PX is pretty limited, so I just have one set for now. I hope to change that in the near future.
We get our share of visiting dignitaries, which is always an ordeal. Scarlet Johanssen was recently here, and some of the Soldiers didn't even get an autograph!
Chow is ok, I guess. Sometimes I get tired of chicken or lasgna or cereal, so I have to settle on the salad bar. The only problem is, they have all the vegetables and dressings spread all over the dining facility, so I have to walk around a lot to get what I want. But I think the biggest disappointment is that they consistently overdo the prime rib on Wednesdays, so I have to eat two or three lobster tails just to get full. I'll make do, I guess.
I sure do miss the states, though. Oh, well. That's why they call it war.
Thursday, January 17, 2008
CPT Waldo Galan
HHB, 2-43 AMD BN
APO AE 09366
I also urge you to support this web page:
It is basically a distribution vehicle for care packages addressed to "Any Soldier." For those of you who've been deployed (or served missions) you know how important mail is. This web page was started by a Soldier in Iraq (and later Afghanistan) and it gives profiles for Soldiers who have signed up to serve as points of contact for their section/platoon/company. So if you surf to that page and look up my profile, for instance, you will see that I have seven Soldiers that I'm responsible for and what items we would like to receive. If you're feeling generous you can find Soldiers on there who really need stuff and send them something as well.
Just something to think about.
Sunday, January 13, 2008
Have a nice day.
Seriously, though, I have arrived at what I will be affectionately referring to as Camp Slappy, and am doing just fine. There is a nice gym here, a good dining facility where many Bangladeshi, Malaysian, and Filipino laborers cook day and night, and a fairly nice work environment (for a tent, that is). Things are very safe here, and there is not a lot going on. For obvious reasons, I won't be posting very much about my mission here, but you will get fairly frequent updates on life here at Camp Slappy.
The deployment started off fairly well, seeing as how the Army chartered a plane for us and I got to sit in First Class for the twenty-hour trip here. The only crappy part is that when we arrived here in the desert, it was raining and super cold. Then we had a bus ride from the airfield to Camp Slappy, and then had to stay up all day so we could avoid jet lag.
NOTE: The cure for Jet Lag has been discovered. Ready? DON"T EVER LEAVE YOUR HOUSE! This amount of travel blows.
I am sleeping in a nice, climate controlled tent with a plywood floor. I have a bed and a wall locker. I will post pics when I can. I am eating well and going to the gym daily, so that's nice.
For those of you who are wondering what I do, I manage communications. I maintain two computer networks, some satellite communications, and several tactical radio networks. I also interface with the Big Army communications folks, ensuring that we can tie into any of the joint and multinational networks we need to.
Anyway, I am here, and will be here for 15 months. If you want my address so you can send me gifts, please email me at wdgalan (at) gmail (dot) com. (thanks ricky)