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?


Grampa Jody said...

I'd like to use a bit of both posts at the next meeting I have to go to...let me know if its a problem. Great work.

Keep could be at Ft. Benning eating snakes instead...

Grampa Jody

Waldo said...

Well, since I'm plagiarizing from a couple of the really effective leaders I know and from some Army manuals, you should feel free to use whatever you want out of it.

And I would almost rather be eating snakes than wearing enough dust to make me look like a sugar cookie.


dastew said...

So our owner hired this guy from GE a few years ago to be his heir apparent. The guy came in with all the GE arrogance that small companies despise. He started moving people around, he openly questioned if I did anything for the company, and he often would chew people out. This without ever having taken the time to work with any of us. For example we had to rework some product we supplied for a pharmeceutical company, we had this big meeting where he called for "all hands on deck". I worked 10 hour days for the next three days and came in on the weekend. He on the other didn't even come in that Friday and never once even came back to look at what was going on. Fastforward three years, he no longer works for us and I have his office.

La Yen said...

I worry that you did not adequately express my love for milk. It is more of an obsession bordering on stalking.