By: Peter Sessum
Leadership in the Army is heavily discussed and written about. It always seems to be viewed from the perspective of the academic gentleman. Trust me, there are two things you don’t want in a firefight is academics and gentlemen.
In Field Manual (FM) 1, “The Army defines leadership as influencing people-by providing purpose, direction, and motivation-while operating to accomplish the mission and improving the organization.” I must admit, I still get a chuckle every time I read that. Mainly because that is the worst definition of leadership I have ever heard. Considering who published it, I am not surprised.
The Army quite literally has an FM or Army Regulation (AR) for everything. And details are exhaustive. The reason is because if the tiniest of loopholes is left, a private will drive a truck through it. Before anything is published in an Army document it is edited to death. In the case of Army leadership, it is written for Army officers by Army officers. In this case, a lot of wiggle room is wanted. After all, any standard that is set must be maintained and enforced.
The reason why the FM-1 definition of leadership is lacking is because it is more about management, not leadership. The person who thinks the two things are the same is not a leader. A manager can easily fulfill the Army definition of leadership. It is easy to influence people. Threatening to fire someone is a form of influence. People will stay late and work weekends if they think it will help them keep their job.
“Improving the organization” is so subjective. If you don’t like someone, fire them. Instant improvement right? There is no quantifiable measure for this improvement. Officers thrive on paperwork. Force everyone to write a report about daily activities and it can be said that the “leader” instituted a work tracking system. Put a big checkmark next to improved the organization. There is nothing that says it can’t be a toxic environment.
A real leader doesn’t influence people, he inspires them. An inspired worker will work past 5:00 because he lost track of time. If a worker is inspired, he will work harder and more efficiently because he wants the group to succeed. By those actions, the organization will be improved.
A manager will give the order to assault an objective, a leader will give the order to assault an objective and add “follow me” and that makes all the difference. Real leadership isn’t about giving speeches from horseback prior to going into battle. Real leadership is about inspiring the kind of loyalty in your men that they would follow you to Hell and back, not because they are ordered to but because they trust that you will bring them back.
A thousand times yes. My last department chief (E7, 8, or 9)(boat organization devision<department<boat, each with it's own level of enlisted and officer leadership), before I left the boat, and the Navy, was the best damn department chief, and chief at all, that I had over my entire 6 years. What I had noticed over my time in the Navy was that the most effective leaders were the more junior NCOs, the ones that hadn't quite completely committed to a career. Hell, even some of the senior NCOs that didn't give a damn about their careers anymore made the best leaders. This mainly because they *weren't* so damn focused on the politics of it all, because there's still politics in the enlisted world, as far as careers go. Anyway, this was the first department chief, or chief at all that both went to bat for his guys while still maintaining a standard for us to live up to. He was tough but fair, but never lost sight that he was working with people, not just some more stepping stones to advancing his career. He *saw* us, and he *fought* for us, and I would have done anything for the man. It wasn't always easy living up to his standards, but he made you want to.