"Thoughts From the Running Trail" – Stepping Up!
(Editors Note: BG Grigsby and SgtMaj Skinner are off-post this week, but will return for next week’s column)
You’ve probably heard Gen Grigsby or SgtMaj Skinner talk about the fact that they view CJTF-HOA as a leadership factory. They believe, as do we, that our most important job as military leaders is to prepare future leaders to eventually take our places. That has always been the way of the military and it ensures the survivability of our units in combat and the vitality of our services over time. Someone always has to be ready to step up and take charge, regardless of why the previous leader is no longer able to serve.
In the worst of circumstances, we are required to step up because death or other disaster has befallen a leader. In those cases, leadership becomes most likely about action, about defying the odds to win the fight or extricating the unit from overwhelming peril. It may be an unwelcome surprise, but regardless of whether we feel ready to assume the role or not, we must do our absolute best, despite timing and circumstances.
In other cases, it might be as simple as the boss being TDY or transferring early. It can happen for any reason and with the increased responsibility of taking over will come new expectations of you. Regardless of why you now find yourself in charge, you must be ready to fill their shoes.
Usually our military is a highly-controlled environment. We don’t appoint leaders by accident or chance. There is a tried and true process to screen and select leaders at every level. Whether putting on that first NCO stripe or first star, you can be assured that you have been evaluated, assessed, and found worthy of being a leader. By virtue of your service and demonstrated superior performance, your country has placed special trust and confidence in you and your ability to lead. You must and will be ready when the time comes to step up.
So, how can you be ready to step up? To paraphrase some great lessons from the Marine Corps, learn your job and understand those of everyone around you, striving for tactical and technical proficiency. Know the people in your unit, their strengths and weaknesses. Know yourself and constantly seek ways to improve yourself. Figure out how you learn, and become a lifelong learner. It’s not something that’s ever complete. To some degree, leaders are born, but the best leaders take what nature provided and nurture it carefully through hard work and study. You will make mistakes, but try to make lots of little ones, not big ones. Good judgment really does come from experience, which like it or not often comes from bad judgment.
Find a mentor – or better yet, several whose leadership style you like, and want to replicate. Take the things you like and the things you think are effective from that person, and apply them to your own leadership style. Allegedly, the artist Picasso said that talent imitates, genius steals. By that he meant that talented people merely see what others do and do something like it. Geniuses see what others do, figure out why they do it, and then take what best fits into their own style and abilities to make something wholly new. Steal the best from other leaders, and use it to become the best leader you can be. When you see others stealing from you, it is a good sign that you are doing things right.
In fact, encouraging others to steal from you could also be called teaching. It’s not enough to forge yourself into a great leader. You should also raise the abilities of those you lead. Encourage them to seek opportunities both formally and informally. Take time to talk with them, share lessons you’ve learned and experiences you’ve had, and give them honest, constructive feedback on how they can become better leaders. In turn, be open to constructive criticism yourself.
We owe it to all the men and women we serve with to be our best, to hold ourselves to high standards, and to recognize when we have opportunities to step up and lead.
That’s how we ensure mission success not just for today, but for the future as well. Will you be ready to step up when the opportunity presents itself?
See you on the running trail. Ubuntu!