Friday, September 27, 2013

Officers could stand to learn some things from Basic Training

Another in the "Things I Didn't Have Time to Teach My Captains" series.
The other night I was watching youtube videos of Basic Training with my kids.  They wanted to know what it was like, and I took the opportunity to revisit a part of my life that I have largely forgotten about.  And you know what?  I still apply a lot of the things I learned in Basic.  So I compiled a top ten list:

1. “Do what you’re told.  Do what you’re told.  Do what you’re G*****n told!” –DS Roman.  Good, effective leaders are also good, effective followers.  Everyone has a boss, and every boss has an intent that must be met.  Meet it.

2. Learn to get it done. One of the very first memories anyone has of Basic is being crammed into a “cattle car” with all of your newly issued gear, then being forcibly ejected and told to move with all your gear to a different location, at speed.  No one tells you how to carry your stuff, just to get it all over there, now.  Learn how to get it done despite not knowing exactly how.  Which leads into…

3. Do it right the first time.  There is nothing new in the Army.  Someone has done what you’re doing before you, and has probably written a manual about it.  At Basic, the Drill Sergeants show you a standard-- once .  After that, you are expected to perform to that standard, whether it’s making your bed, standing at attention, or performing a correct side-straddle hop.  Doing it right the first time not only saves you a lot of work, but it saves you a lot of pain as well.

4. Rangewalk!  Develop a sense of urgency.  If nothing else, you will at least look like you know what you’re doing and have someplace to be.  Moving with a sense of urgency and purpose goes a long way toward establishing your credibility, and also helps to ensure you are accomplishing your missions quickly.  (NOTE:  This is not to say that you should just be moving quickly randomly.  Know what you’re doing, and then move out).

5. Shine your boots.  Appearance and presentation matter.  No one likes you for you—at least not at first.  Make a good impression with your demeanor, bearing, fitness, and appearance.  Immediately following that, wow people with your competence and leadership.

6.  “You’ve got thirty seconds to get there, and ten of them are already gone!” –DS Garcias.  There is always going to be more to do than there are hours in a day.  Learn to prioritize time and effort.

7. “Lights out! Reveille! Chow!”  You must eat.  You must sleep.  You must do PT.  If you don’t, you will fail.  Make the time—no one expects you to be on all the time.

8.  Pay attention to detail, private!  Details are important.  One unbuttoned pocket on a uniform you’re not even wearing will cost you at least ten push-ups.  Hospital corners not at 45 degrees will get your rack flipped.  Big things are made up of little things, so make sure you get the little things right.  After that, the big ones will follow.

9. “What makes the green grass grow?  The blood!  The blood!  The bright red blood!”  This is the chant of the bayonet assault course, and I thought it was the stupidest thing I had ever had to say.  But the lesson here is that you need to be just a bit more aggressive than you’re comfortable with.  Don’t be a dick, but don’t get punked.  Our profession is full of type-A personalities.  Statistically, not all of us are type-A, but if you don’t at least pretend to be, life will be needlessly difficult for you.

10. “Where is your battle buddy?!”  Despite what Paul Simon says, no one is an island.  You can’t do it alone—remember the team.

11. (I’m not good at math).  Learn the difference between hurt and injured.  Hurt is ok, but injured isn’t. Hurt goes away, but injured has long-term effects.  If you need to go seek help, go.

12. When you screw up, the whole platoon suffers.  There’s a scene in Full Metal Jacket where Gunnery Sergeant Hartman discovers a jelly donut in Private Pyles’ foot locker, and the whole platoon is forced to do push-ups while Pyle eats the donut.  Understand that when you make decisions,   there are second- and third-order effects that reach out beyond you. 

13.  Don’t expect to like everyone, or that everyone will like you.  When I was in Basic, the guy in the rack across from me was a huge dick.  No one liked him, and he had a hard time relating to people.  But we all had to work with him, and we soon discovered that if we kept the relationship professional, he was really good at basic soldiering.  So even though no one liked him, we all worked well together because we expected professionalism.

Any I missed?

Thursday, September 12, 2013

New series, which I promise I will write.

I am working on a new series at the suggestion of my beautiful wife, the love of my life.  See, in my new job as an instructor of Captains, there are lots of things that I teach, but there are lots of things that I don't have time to cover.  So I'm writing a new series entitled

So here goes....
UPDATED AS OF 13 SEPTEMBER (thanks to one of my students). 
I’ve recently seen a lot of angst among some junior leaders in my organization (and elsewhere) about sexual assault/harassment and how to deal with it in the workplace.  (Frankly, the Army itself is worried about this and it has become a front-running issue among the DoD senior leadership.  See here and here and here.)
So because of this, I’ve had a lot of informal, off-line conversations with individuals and little groups, but I thought I’d put something out in the world for mass consumption.  This is what I have done, and may not work for everyone, but it has worked so far for everyone I’ve talked to, so there it is.
Some ground parameters here:  I am going to speak from my experiences as a heterosexual man married to a civilian woman.  This same advice will work for women or homosexuals too, so have at it.  Also, and this is key, THERE ARE ALWAYS GOING TO BE RUMORS.  Don’t forget that- you can’t control the rumors at all.  They are a constant.
In my 16 years of service, I have always worked in a co-ed army.  Most of that time, I’ve been in a leadership role, and have always had female subordinates, peers, and bosses.  The big question that gets asked is “How do I maintain a professional relationship with all these people while avoiding the sexual politics and rumor mill that are inevitable parts of the co-ed Army workplace?” (That’s loosely translated from “WTF, man?  Why is it like this?”)  And it’s a real issue, and requires some thought AHEAD OF TIME to avoid getting in trouble.
So… you’re a good-looking officer, you’re put in charge of an organization (a staff section, platoon, company, etc. etc).  Women are BOUND to throw themseleves at you, right?  After all, you’re in a position of power, and we all know that no one can resist a powerful person in a uniform, right?  And let’s be real here.   Some of your Soldiers are HAWT.  (They get hotter the longer you’re deployed, too).  And you’re married, and we all know that ring is a magnet for a certain “type” of woman, too, right?  It’s a fraught landscape… a veritable minefield of potential rapes or accusations of impropriety that are all career-killers, relationship-killers, and causes of long arguments with your wife.  (NOTE:  I AM JOKING.  I SOMETIMES EXAGGERATE TO COMIC EFFECT.)
Let’s add to this that you, as an Army leader, are going to HAVE to know a lot of intimate details about your subordinates.  I’m talking medical information (commanders are partially exempt from HIPAA), personal information about relationships, finances, fitness, everything.  That’s a lot of power and influence, and a lot of potentially intimate conversations with emotionally fragile female subordinates. 

Let's further add that, as an officer, you're automatically in an unequal position.  Any "relationship" anyone tries to establish with you is colored by the rank structure.  Whether the encounter is specifically restricted by Army and DoD regulation (like officer/enlisted relationships), or officer/officer where one is subordinate to the other, the higher-ranking person is ALWAYS in control and ALWAYS at fault.  Whether this reflects reality or not is immaterial-- but most of the time, it is the truth.
And oh, yeah.  Remember what I said about rumors?  Well, they’re going to start coming after your VERY FIRST private conversation or counseling session with a female subordinate.  It’s gonna happen- you can’t change it.  What you CAN do is mitigate your risk.  There are some very specific steps to take for this.

Keep in mind, this is baseline advice.  As you learn your organization, you will of course start to understand the personalities involved, the risks present (or not present) in your organization, and you will be able to adjust off of this template.  This, however, is a reflection of the advice I got as a new commander, and it's the advice I give to everyone going into command.  So here it is:
1.        Educate yourself.  You have to know all of the Army policies on sexual assault/harassment, equal opportunity, and courses of redress for Soldiers.  You have to know all of the available resources that a Soldier can take advantage of.  You have to understand the various roles and levels of confidentiality and support that each organization provide.  YOU HAVE TO KNOW THIS COLD.  And you have to be absolutely willing and ready to pass the buck to one of these organizations.  You’re not an expert- they are.  Let them be the experts.
2.        Avoid being alone with a female when there could be even a HINT of impropriety.  I’m talking about counselings, advice, reprimands, everything.  Someone else should know about this, or you should have another female present (preferably higher ranking than the person with whom you’re having the conversation), but don’t be alone.  Or at least leave the door open.
3.       Never be the highest ranking person to know about something.  Your boss should be able to underwrite your decisions, but he/she can’t if they don’t know about them.
4.       Have a plan to control the conversation and the environment.  This needs to be thought of in advance, and war-gamed out so that even if you’re taken by surprise by a Soldier with an immediate problem, you can still work through your plan.  When things spiral out of control is when you allow the Soldier to control the conversation and environment.  The terrain always has to be either neutral or advantageous to YOU, not them.  So your office or the hood of your HMMWV is good, but not her quarters or yours.  Under a tree outside is good, but alone inside an empty office is not.  Figure this out ahead of time, though, so you don’t have to stress about it.

      (A quick example on this one:  I had the wife of one of my Soldiers drop by my office to air some grievances, and during the conversation, she felt the need to expound to me the various deficiencies in her sex life, her rocky relationship with her husband, her childhood, and basically everything that was bothering her right then.  She ended up in tears and holding on to me -- spiraled out of control -- and I had to have my 1SG and orderly room NCOIC help me disengage.)
5.       Remember:  Perception is Reality.  What people see is going to color the rumors they start, and that’s going to influence what gets around to your Soldiers, your chain of command, and your wife.
The key here is to behave in such a way that, when the rumors inevitably start, they are laughable.  This is the only way to ensure a healthy, happy relationship with your family and to keep your name in the clear.