The professionalism of Western militaries is ripe for another discussion. The practitioners who make up the profession of arms—and those that study and teach them—owe it to their citizens, their governments, and themselves to shape their forces, and educate their professionals, in preparation for the future. It is their duty to ensure they are prepared to ethically and effectively achieve the military objectives their leaders lay before them, no matter the adversary or the context of the conflict.
The invaluable lessons in this text only confirmed what I thought I knew about the two. What Dempsey and Brafman bring to the pages of this short, yet enduring book will help dampen the volume of the noise of the world, bring clarity to the fog of the digital battlefield, increase our trust for each other, and ultimately help us all be more inclusive leaders.
Writing provides one of the few venues available for leaders seeking to develop themselves through inward reflection, and, to that end, poetry is writing’s finest vehicle for cultivating empathy. Analytic prose is limited in that it can make self-knowledge explicit only by delineating one’s cause-and-effect reasoning. Poems, however, can go where prosaic essays cannot.
Moderns often talk of facing the future. For the ancient Greeks, the future was coming up from behind unseen. In this as in other matters, the perceptions of the ancient Greeks were more realistic and accurate than our own. Whether the near future comes holding a bouquet or a bludgeon, it is going to require adaptation and innovation from all military members in their roles as leaders, warfighters, veterans, and citizens.
To lead others one must first seek to lead themselves. Solitude creates the necessary white space and opportunity to mature as leaders. Solitude also provides an opportunity to better connect with intuition, which allows our minds to connect the dots, find patterns, and bridge the gap between the conscious and subconscious. Through solitude and reflection, we can unveil our core values, strengthen our resolve, and gain perspective. Each of these are required to lead effectively.
National and multinational defence colleges have long provided a significant method of enhancing the strategic thinking skills and inter-cultural networks of national leaders, to better prepare them for developing and implementing national security doctrines and policies, and coordinating crisis management and informal diplomatic efforts. The creation of a pan-Arab security and defence college could provide a mutually-beneficial means for Arab nations to deliver coordinated, strategic-level education for a community of future Arab leaders and allied officers with regional influence.
In the wake of nearly every scandal and moral lapse in the military, we hear the same response, “This is a leadership issue.” This view is problematic as it seems to assume all ethical matters are reducible to leadership issues or these scandals are a product of the personal morality of the leader in question. Responses like these ought to push us to ask, What is the connection and overlap between ethics and leadership in the military?
What does it take for militaries to win in today’s interconnected, interdependent, and complex environment? I would argue that in contrast with the battlefield of the past, today’s environment demands much more organizational agility, the degree to which a team or company is resourceful and adept at flexing in response to both internal and external factors.
Synonymous with Clausewitz’s military genius, a great captain is that rare leader who stands out as a military mastermind of their time. Arguably, the United States has developed only a few great captains since Matthew Ridgway saved Korea in 1951. It is not that the nation lacks these leaders; rather, the military fails to identify and develop leaders with the virtues great captains possess. The U.S. military can and must do better to attain strategic results in the future. There are junior officers in formations today who need to become the great captains the nation needs in 2040.
The United States military faces uncertainty on several fronts in the upcoming years. How deep will we get into Syria? Will deployments to Iraq surge to former levels? Will the U.S. ever complete the mission in Afghanistan? In what ways will Russian aggression and Chinese expansionism shape training? How significant a role will cyber warfare play in future conflicts? American military leaders, especially junior leaders, must be prepared to confront these uncertainties; to do so, below are three broad areas critical to military leadership of the future.
The U.S. Armed Forces are in for lean times ahead. Budget cuts, continuing operational demands, and ongoing attempts to re-learn the core competencies of conventional warfare will all come together to make resources scarce. Unit-level leader development efforts will have to function with minimal outside resources and assistance; even the minimal assistance higher echelons provided in the past is likely to look luxurious by comparison. At the same time, we should view this period as an opportunity to re-embrace some skills we’ve allowed to atrophy - or at least lay fallow - over the last decade of intense operational activity. The deliberate practice of professional mentoring is one of these skills that, if thoughtfully applied, can pay great dividends for military leaders in the immediate future.
For those who wish to be either a mentor or protégé, or those who wish to foster effective mentorship in their organization, Kimball’s Army Officer’s Guide to Mentoring is an excellent how-to manual. His observations, insights, and best practices are drawn from the experiences of those who have profited from effective mentor-protégé relationships. They are practical, easy to implement, and sure to make each reader more aware of his or her own approach to and effectiveness as a mentor.
Continued service brings with it the obligation to prepare for increased responsibility. The program of professional military education accounts for some of this development, but leaders cannot hope for future success without mentorship and dedicated self-development. Leaders must take charge of this process, but not at the cost of their unit’s readiness. Instead, they would be wise to heed the advice of a senior officer who said, "Lead at your level, think at your boss’s level, and accept that you’ll just have to adapt to everything beyond that."
Developing leaders is one the most important endeavors within the military profession. More specifically, establishing the core of “expert knowledge” essential to winning wars defines the profession. In spite of senior leader emphasis to commit to self-development, one of the paths critical to accruing tacit knowledge, many leaders fail to adequately commit themselves to goal-oriented self-study. Considering this important context, while today’s leaders arguably constitute the most “combat-experienced force” fielded in recent memory, much of this experience reflects over a decade principally focused on counterinsurgency that may be only partially relevant for other strategic challenges.
Battalion and squadron commanders have a profound influence across our military. In the late 1990s, before assuming command of a squadron, I sought advice from then-Colonel Don Holder. The “free, non-binding advice” he sent me proved invaluable. Since that time I learned more about command at the battalion level by observing effective commanders in combat and in training. What follows, printed with his permission, is a revised version of what now Lieutenant General, retired Holder sent me.
Good leadership is learned through experience, observation, study, reflection, and embracing variety in all of its forms. And throughout this journey, leaders also learn that cooperation and collaboration are integral parts of good leadership. Constantly honing the capacity to lead is an ongoing journey and if done right, it is a journey of immense personal satisfaction.
The heart of leadership, especially within the profession of arms, is summarized with a single word: influence. Influence is the ability to have an effect on the character, development, or behavior of someone or something. As leaders, we must begin by first and foremost understanding this fundamental principle. People can be influenced one of two ways: through mandate leadership or through organic leadership. Understanding these two very different approaches to influence will in large measure determine not only what type of leader we are, but also the effectiveness of our leadership in shaping the behavior of others.
Coach, Counsel, Mentor. Every leader uses these developmental methods...or do they? These principal methods are the cornerstone of leadership development used by all the military services. However, we are only trained to implement two of them. This is a problem because, in the military, we grow our own leaders.
Brand matters. Whether you’re talking about Apple computers, Breitling watches, or Coca-Cola products, how a brand is perceived is important. It creates value. And the higher the perceived value, the more revenue the brand generates. So why should it be any different for you? Shouldn’t your personal leader brand be synonymous with quality performance? Don’t you want your name to be first on a senior leader’s mind for career opportunities and assignments? Don’t you want to be perceived as someone who adds value to any leadership team? Yet most of us overlook our leader brand. We take it for granted. If – and that’s a strong if – we even consider our brand. Because, to be completely honest, most of us don’t.