Sunday, September 21, 2014

"Once upon a time..." Storytelling as a Weapon


This post continues the Twitter based professional conversation between military leaders in the United States and faculty and students at Kings College in London. If you’re interested in participating just “tweet” your response with #CCLKOW





Storytelling is a powerful catalyst for learning, and likely has been since humans developed language. Stories enable people to reflect on their own experiences and abstract knowledge through the lens of another. It is an effective way for catalyzing learning in any organization. In his book "Tell me a Story" Roger Schank writes “Stories illustrate points better than simply stating the points themselves because, if the story is good enough, you usually dont have to state your point at all; the hearer thinks about what you said and figures out the point independently. The more work your hearer does, the more he or she will get out of the story." The best way to convey what we learn is through stories of our experiences. Stories contain many different lessons and are educational for people who were not present for the experience.

Storytelling can also be used as a weapon. In his article "Why Storytelling is The Ultimate Weapon" Jonathan Gottschall writes "But as the bloody metaphor of the Trojan Horse suggests, story is a tool that can be used for good or ill. Like fire, it can be used to warm a city or to burn it down. "

Social media is a particularly effective story-telling platform. ISIS has proved to be very adept at using social media to tell their story. Their latest chapter comes in their recent movie "Flames of War"
 

Is the story ISIS is telling being used to warm or burn its audience? It is safe to say that the anti-ISIS coalition sees it as "burn" but how does the target audience of the video view and receive  it?

In his article, Gottschall writes "The best way to emotionally connect other people to our agenda begins with “Once upon a time…”  Is the ISIS story trying to be the "Once upon a time" for the Muslims, with the narrative being they are fighting for them in order to reinstate the Caliphate from the 7th century?

In addition to the questions posed above here are a couple more questions for the #CCLKOW discussion:

What is the anti-ISIS coalition story? How are they using digital media? Is this US State Department Video the message? http://youtu.be/-wmdEFvsY0E

Is this an effective counter to the ISIS story, or is there a better way?

“Tweet” your response with #CCLKOW

======
Jonathan Silk is a Major in the U.S. Army. He has served as a Cavalry Scout platoon leader , and has commanded both a Tank Company and an Infantry Company. He is currently an Academic Instructor and serving as the Operations Officer for the Center for the Advancement of Leader Development and Organizational Learning (CALDOL) at the United States Army Military Academy, West Point, NY. He was a recipient of the calendar year 2009 General Douglas MacArthur Leadership Award.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Why do we lead from the Front?


This post continues the Twitter based professional conversation between military leaders in the United States and faculty and students at Kings College in London. If you’re interested in participating just “tweet” your response with #CCLKOW


For this week, Ray Kimball (@KimballRay )  and I (@FrontlineLDR ) explore “Why do we lead from the Front?” 


As Leaders we are developed to lead by example. In training or combat we place ourselves with the means to communicate with our subordinate units and our higher headquarters. As leaders we are expected to understand what is happening on the battlefield and report timely and accurate information to our higher headquarters. So what is our fascination with leading from the front? Is leading from the front really leading by example?




Ray and I share our experiences with you followed by some questions for discussion.


Ray's Experience:
 
"April 2003 in Iraq: Baghdad has just fallen and we've crossed the Euphrates to move the squadron support area into the squadron's area of operations. We're just establishing our assembly area and everyone is jumpy about the car-bomb threat, which has started to escalate in the past few days.  I'm the troop commander, setting up my command post when we get a call of a suspicious vehicle pulling close to our perimeter and parking. On instinct, I grab my weapon and body armor/kevlar and start heading in that direction. My 1SG physically grabs the back of my IBA: 'Whoa, sir. Let's think about this for a moment.' A spirited discussion ensues. Meanwhile, the vehicle pulls away and is never seen again. Was I right? Was my 1SG? Dunno."  CNN Reporter Walter Rodgers was embedded with Ray’s unit and wrote "Sleeping with Custer and the Cavalry”  if you would like to learn more about the experiences of Ray's unit in Iraq.


(L to R) 1SG David Spurlin, SPC John Paszterko, and me circa June 2003



My Experience:
 
"May 2004 in Kufah, Iraq during Operation Iron Saber.  I was a cavalry scout platoon leader in Killer 3/2 ACR attached to Battlecat 2-37 AR and we were conducting a force oriented zone reconnaissance. I remember leading a section into a house in Kufah. We were taking so much fire from the building that I decided to lead the way since my guys were pretty scared. We threw grenades to clear the courtyard and front hallway.  Reflecting on that I realize how that was not the smartest decision. Being up front like that did not allow me to lead and maneuver my platoon effectively."  For more background on the fight I described and our units experience read the Washington Post article titled “InsurgencyLeaves U.S. Forces Baffled” 

Team Battlecat 2-37 AR moving out from FOB Duke for operations vic Kufah/Najaf
 
With weapons my platoon captured during the fight I described above

Discussion questions:



1. Why do we put so much emphasis on leading from the front?



2. What are some appropriate rules of thumb for a leader's place on the battlefield?



3. Do these rules of thumb change as leaders become more senior? Should they?




======
Jonathan Silk is a Major in the U.S. Army. He has served as a Cavalry Scout platoon leader , and has commanded both a Tank Company and an Infantry Company. He is currently an Academic Instructor and serving as the Operations Officer for the Center for the Advancement of Leader Development and Organizational Learning (CALDOL) at the United States Army Military Academy, West Point, NY. He was a recipient of the calendar year  2009 General Douglas MacArthur Leadership Award.