Sunday, July 20, 2008

Command Climate

This is another installment in a multiple-part series on leadership and command climate. I am still putting together notes for future posts, so be patient.


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.


Nigel said...

I was directed to your blog by another blog quoting this command climate post as it applies to parenting. It makes sense, because I often find myself relating military experience to things like employee relations and dealing with my cub scouts.

Anyway, I was a soldier in Germany during the cold war (1983-85). I remember a lot of discussions That went something like "I damn sure don't wanna go to war with that (insert obscene name here)." There was a fair amount of fear-based command climate.

But I would've done anything for my LT, section chief, and most of the squad. In our neck of the woods, it was a respect-based command climate. I didn't realize how good I had it until I PCSed to a new unit where things were very different.

All the best officers (respect-based command climate advocates)I dealt with in my time had been to the Citadel. And some of the worst, the hardcore fear-based command climate guys? From West Point, of all places. You gotta wonder what these guys were being taught in leadership classes.

Waldo said...

BTW, nigel, goodmommy-badmommy is my wife's blog :)