Friday, March 28, 2008

Leaders and Managers

Today we’re talking about leaders, managers, and why a good Leader needs to be both.

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

We, the led

Today's post is about the other half of the leadership equation, the Led. What are our responsibilities as subordinates? How do we become effective subordinate leaders? I may even talk about developing our own subordinates, who knows? You just might get lucky. (CAVEAT: I am not going to talk too much about not whining, or having a good attitude, or anything like that. I am going to assume that someone who wants to be a leader already knows this stuff. If you're a whiner, go away).

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.

Your thoughts?

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Save the drama for your momma

OK, as promised, another post on leadership. This will apply specifically to the Army, but I have found that the military leadership model works in almost every situation.

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]" that they basically disintegrate. They may have had something interesting and relevant to say- who knows? Not you, and not me. And this is a serious problem in military leadership. You can be the meanest, nastiest, foulest talking NCO or officer, but if you let that get in the way of communicating your plan or intent to your subordinates, well, you're screwed. They won't understand, they won't listen (after all, you're just yelling, and we learn in basic training how to tune that out), and your mission (which is derived from a higher headquarters mission) won't get done.

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

Just some stuff

This is pretty much going to be stream of conciousness (only with better grammar and spelling... I am not that pretentious) so if you have, I don't know, standards, and only want to read something with a central theme and structure, you should probably navigate away now.

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


If given the choice between a two-hour block of sleep or a shower and then one and a half hours of sleep, which would you choose?

I choose sleep.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Why I hate computers

OK, so as many of you know, I work with communications equipment. And I love my job. Most days.

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....


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.