Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Preparing Future Leaders for Combat: Sharing Experience in the Classroom


The Roman god Janus had two faces, one focusing on the past, and one looking to the future. With our involvement in the war in Iraq over, and our involvement with the war in Afghanistan winding down we need to look to the future to prepare for the future of war. But we also need to understand the unchanging nature of war by constantly looking to both our recent historical experiences and lessons from older and ancient military history. 

 
10 years ago, on April 9th 2004 I led my scout platoon in an attack to seize a bridge over the Tigris River in the city of Al Kut, Iraq. In the ensuing fight 9 of my Troopers plus myself (total of 10) were wounded (Read about the "Alive Day WOD here). In order to prepare these future leaders for war we must emphasize the study of warfare and connect them to the most recent historical combat experiences in our past by sharing our individual experiences. 

Today, on the anniversary of that fight I decided to share the experience in class with my cadets who are future leaders in the Army. 

I focused on the unchanging nature of war in a tactical context. From my experience in combat, war is uncertain, complex, dynamic, and dangerous and I am sure it will remain so in the future. Clausewitz writes about this in the first chapter of "On War" stating  
"From the very start there is an interplay of possibilities, probabilities, good luck and bad that weaves its way throughout the length and breadth of the tapestry. In the whole range of human activities, war most closely resembles a game of cards."

 
To make the point about uncertainty in war, I shared the story of the opening moments in the fight for the bridge. Our intelligence had indicated there would be no enemy on the western or eastern side of the bridge. The plan for the attack was to have our sister platoon lead the way and clear the western side and intersection, and then my platoon would move through and attack across to the eastern side and seize the far intersection. 



We quickly determined the intelligence was wrong after the lead platoon made contact with Mahdi Militia forces. After a fairly long fight they secured the western side. As we prepared to attack across we pushed an Apache gunship across to conduct a reconnaissance of the eastern side. He came back with a "negative enemy contact". My commander gave us the order to move and we attacked under the cover of darkness, blacked out with our night vision devices on.

As my lead section approached the far side they were met with a blinding light. The Mahdi Militia forces waiting for us on the eastern side had turned the floodlights from the Iraqi Police station and oriented them on the bridge, which temporarily blinded us, "whiting out" our night vision devices. The enemy used that to their advantage and engaged us with machine gun and RPG fire. During those first few minutes there was a lot of uncertainty as we reacted to contact and started engaging enemy positions. Once we shot out the floodlights we were able to identify the enemy positions and destroy them. The ensuing fight lasted over 3 1/2 hours, but in the end we seized the eastern side with a little help from our Air Force brothers and sisters in an AC-130 Spectre Gunship.

From this story my students took away that intelligence is not always correct, that the enemy is smart, and while he might not be able to match our technology, he will find ways to counter it. They realized that the enemy will always have a vote and look for opportunities to create uncertainty.


Killer Troop Leads the Way! Toujours Pret!!!
 

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 andOrganizational 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.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Competence and the Trust Meter



“I Don’t Trust You!!!!!”

  The other day in class I told my cadets that they could hear that from their superiors and/or subordinates when they arrive at their first unit after being commissioned as Army Officers.  My message to them was trust is earned, and until they demonstrate their competence, they will not be fully trusted as leaders.


I then introduced the concept of the "Trust Meter" and how competence is a critical component of trust. In his book, The Speed of Trust ,Stephen Covey writes "Trust is a function of two things: Character and competence. Character includes your integrity, your motive, your intent with people. Competence includes your capabilities, your skills, your results, your track record. And both are vital."


I explained that when new leaders arrive at a unit; the trust meter is hovering right around "empty."  Unless they have previously established reputations and relationships then there is no basis for trust. Leaders have to do something every single day that moves them closer to being "full" on the meter. Over time and through shared experiences, they will demonstrate their competence and effectiveness.

Leadership Counts!!!

NOTE: The idea to use the "Trust Meter" concept in class and write this post came after hearing COL John O’Grady’s remarks on trust and competence during a Leader Professional Development (LPD) session LTC Pete Kilner and I facilitated for his brigade. Read more here

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 andOrganizational 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, January 26, 2014

Great Teams Storytelling and Vision Exercise

Last week I conducted the “Great Team Exercise” with my class. The exercise was conducted in the same way as in previous semesters (Read more here and here). All the cadets in my section will be commissioned officers in approximately 5 months. The class I teach helps them make the transition from cadet to lieutenant (commissioned officer), and platoon leader (in charge of a team of approximately 20-40 soldiers).


In the exercise the cadets tell stories of great teams they have been members of.  The main focus is on their storytelling skills. In the exercise they will tell their story four times to four separate groups, refining the story each time.  The reason for the focus on storytelling is that well-told stories really touch the listener and pull them along. They simulate the actual experience of being on the team and give listeners a compelling way to learn about that particular team experience. Well-told stories put the behavior in real context, bringing the values to life.

Prior to class, the cadets had been instructed to think of a great team they had been part of and what made it a “great” team. The class started with a 5-minute reflective journaling exercise where the cadets described the great team they had been part of (it could be any team- grade school, youth group, Church, High School, West Point, etc…).

After the journal exercise was complete, the cadets shared their stories with their small groups . Each student had one minute to share their story. The time constraint made them focus only on the important details about what made the team great. Once they had shared the story with everyone in the group, one cadet stayed at the table while the others (not as a group) rotated to a new table that now had all new participants. After four rounds of storytelling, every cadet in the class had heard every other cadets' story about the great team they had been part of.

After the storytelling exercise was complete, the cadets were instructed to go to the person whose story they connected with the most and put their hand on that person's shoulder. This was a little chaotic as cadets moved all over the room to reach the person whose story had registered with them. After the dust settled there were three cadets who had many hands connected to them.  I then asked the three cadets to share their great team stories again with the whole class.






That evening I posted a question in the Glassboard mobile learning application (read more on Glassboard here and here) instructing the cadets to write a post about the key themes, characteristics, and values they heard in the great team stories.

Here is one response (name removed)




This was a powerful exercise which got the cadets thinking about what they valued most in a team. It also demonstrated how to use storytelling to communicate vision to their subordinates when they are building and leading their own teams in the near future as Army officers.

Leadership Counts!




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 andOrganizational 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.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Myths of Leader Development




I recently had a discussion with an Instructor from FT. Benning about a seminar he conducted with some Maneuver Captains Career Course students at FT. Benning, Ga. He shared with me that during the seminar a Captain said “I never thought about what I will do to develop Lieutenants as a commander."  I thought “WOW, what kind of leader would not have a plan to develop his/her subordinates?” As I thought about it some more it was obvious that the captain’s statement was an indicator of a much larger problem, a HUGE leader development problem. Leader development was obviously not a priority in the units he had previously been assigned to or he would have had some idea on how to develop his lieutenants when he took command.


Commanders have a duty to provide leader development opportunities for their subordinates by regulation,  but based on the example given above, there seems to be a lack of understanding about leader development is. To have shared understanding, leaders need to speak the same language. The Army describes leader development as occurring “through the lifelong synthesis of education, training, and experience.” Over the past 10 years, leader development has mostly occurred from operational experiences.  As a result of being at war for the past decade, the three pillars of leader development; the operational, institutional, and self-development domains have become out of balance. To bring the components back into balance there needs to be a common understanding of what a leader development program is.
I recently had a discussion with Col Tom Guthrie, author of Mission Command: Do We Have the Stomach For What Is Really Required?”   He agrees that there is a lack of shared understanding about what leader development is and that the language needs to be corrected.  

He shared the four myths of Leader Development:

Myth #1:  Leader development is just having unit Officer Professional Development (OPD) sessions and Non-Commissioned Officer Professional Development (NCOPD) sessions regularly. It is not.   Although often great events, having them is not THE unit's leader development program; it is hopefully a part of a more consciously thought through, larger, holistic program.

Myth #2:  Leader development is synonymous with one's assignment progression over time.  When people believe this, we see the G1's of the world being the lead for leader development and although they do great work, when that happens, we end up boiling development down to how many months an NCO or officer has had as a squad leader or platoon leader and we miss the bigger picture. 

Myth #3:  Leader development is synonymous with counseling.  Again, counseling is very, very important for the growth of our leaders, but it is just one piece (like OPDs/NCOPDs) of a quality unit developmental program.

And finally Myth #4:  Leader development is something that Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) does – meaning it is synonymous with education or the Institutional Army.  The TRADOC Commander is charged by the CSA to lead and manage Leader Development at the Army level and they do a great service, but the fact is that in a 20 year or more career, a leader is only typically in the schoolhouse as a student for about 10-15% of their career, so in terms of time, we must admit that most of our actual development happens in units like many of them in Forces Command (FORSCOM).



Leaders need to get the language right, and create a shared understanding of what leader development is in order for any approach to leader development to be successful. Until we have shared understanding we cannot hope to implement mission command and we will have more captains from the example given above with no idea on how to develop their lieutenants.

Leadership Counts! 



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 andOrganizational 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.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Hashtag(#) Leader Development: Using Twitter to Develop a Professional Learning Network for Leaders


 
Time is a limited resource for leaders. While many leaders are passionate about leader development, they don't always have time to study for self-development or plan development sessions where participants sit around and discuss an article, book or other topic. Both avenues of development are easily disrupted by competing priorities. Social media and mobile technology platforms are great resources for leaders to interact with others and build relationships that will lead to learning and development. One platform that works well is Twitter. The capabilities of Twitter combined with mobile platforms allow both self-development and leader-led professional discussions to take place in any location, at any time, and not be restrained by time and location. This post is about using Twitter for self-development and leading professional discussions as part of a leader development program. 



 

Twitter 101 (Skip ahead to Leader Development if you are familiar with PLNs, self-development and Twitter)

Twitter is one resource that leaders can use for learning by developing a Personal Learning Network (PLN). A PLN is an informal learning network that consists of the people a learner connects and interacts with for the purpose of learning. Learners create connections and develop a network that contributes to their professional development and knowledge (Click here for a good blog about PLNs) .The learner does not have to know these people personally or ever meet them in person. This network is relatively easy to set up over Twitter and is a simple and powerful way to both self-develop and develop others. Twitter can be a great source of information if you know how to search for and evaluate the sources. There is a wide variety of information available on Twitter; for example, almost every magazine or professional publication posts on Twitter. 




People use the hashtag symbol # before a relevant keyword or phrase in their Tweet to categorize those tweets and help them show up more easily in Twitter Search. The learner simply searches for the topic or, if they know a hashtag associated with the subject, they can use that as the terms for the search (see screenshots below).  For example, one of the screen shots below shows a search for “Land Warfare” and the results delivered range from various individuals to “Doctrine Man”, to ”Pakistan Defence”.

 
Search for Land Warfare on Twitter for iPad


Search for #Leadership on Twitter for iPad.


Search for #Innovation on Twitter for iPad.

Once the results are delivered learners can sort through the posts and evaluate the information. Clicking on a hashtagged word in any message shows all the other tweets marked with that keyword. Many of these posts will have links to blogs or articles that contain information the learner is looking for. As the learner finds reliable posts, they can follow the user and build their PLN ( It is also interesting to see who the users you are following, follow as well.) One way to evaluate whether a user on Twitter is credible is by the number of follows and followers they have. Learners can also check out previous tweets by the source, which is another way to evaluate if the source is credible or not. The reporters and other contributors that work for most major news organizations post to Twitter as well and can be a good addition to a PLN.



Leader Development Program:

Twitter is a great way to share information to develop others. Leaders connect with their subordinates over Twitter and share relevant content with a hashtag. Twitter can also be used for “Twitter Chats” . Twitter chats are chats that occur using a hashtag. Instead of tweeting one-on-one learners are now engaged in a conversation with many people around a particular topic or piece of content such as an article or blog post.  Pictures and other media can be used as well to add more context to discussions. Twitter chats lets a group maximize their time on Twitter and participate in existing conversations when it is convenient for them. Twitter chats can take place over extended periods, and from any location, extending learning and development well beyond the walls of an office, building, or other location commonly used for these sessions.  This capability lengthens the period of engagement and can lead to higher quality discussions, which might not be attainable in a normal face-to-face professional development session that is constrained by time and location (a leader development session scheduled from 1-2pm in a conference room).   There are also tools available, like Storify for example, that can help learners manage and archive the chats for later reference. Through professional discussion, leaders can get to know their subordinates better and evaluate their level of competence, which can help build trust in an organization.

Leaders develop subordinates by creating experiences. Professional discussion is one of those experiences. It can improve learning and leader development across an organization. When time is a limited resource, social media is an excellent and simple way to engage subordinates in professional discussion. 


Follow me @quadshotwarrior


Leadership Counts!!!








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 andOrganizational 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.