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.