I’ve blogged a lot about my experience in Iraq with some of the folks I’ve worked with. I’ve also been honest with you about some of my failures, both as a leader and as an officer. But at the end of the day, my failures in those situations, my decisions to act or not act for whatever my justifications, were my decisions and my failure has weighed heavily on my heart.
The second and third order effects of my failures are that some people in the army have gotten promoted due to my unwillingness or inability to fall on my sword.
A few weeks ago, I had a phenomenal opportunity to sit down with my former brigade commander and pick his brain about my future as a company commander. In the hour and a half that he sat with me, we talked about some of the things that went wrong and some of the things that he saw that I had not. A hard lesson I had to learn as I’ve come through the ranks is that the people above me making decisions have access to information I do not have and he saw things at his level that I simply did not and even if I did, we would not have seen the same things.
When we talked about NCO/officer relationship, I confessed to him where I failed. I told him explicitly what I did and why I did it. Do you have any idea how hard it is to look into the face of a leader you respect and admire and look up to and tell him how badly you screwed up? And to watch the disappointment flicker there when he told me how many weak words I’d just used?
Yeah, it sucks. And you know what else? He didn’t cut me any slack. He told me point blank that the action I took probably result in that individual being promoted. Maybe even being my first sergeant. He laid it out for me. And then he said get over it. Did you learn from it? I said yes. He then laid out for me that some fights are worth lying on your sword for, some are not but that I made the best decision I could at the time and that other people had a vote. It was not only my decision that sent that NCOER through.
It was truly cathartic for me to admit what I’d done and where I failed. I’ve carried around that failure with me for a year now. That NCOER was mostly the truth but it was better than it should have been. But I also learned a powerful lesson and when he explained to me that no relationship is static, they are constantly in flux and subject to assessment, I had an epiphany as to where I’d failed. I’d failed to constantly adjust and redefine right and left limits in that specific relationship.
So I’ve finally found a way to let go of the guilt I’ve been carrying around inside me for this. It was not an absolution but a way of finally learning what I was supposed to from that whole experience. Because for the life of me, before I’d talked with my former commander, I had no idea what I was supposed to learn from what, in my mind, was one of the biggest mistakes as an officer I’ve made to date.
I understand so many more things now but with that understanding comes new expecations. It’s like one burden has been lifted, replaced by a new responsibility to live up to the things he taught me.
I’m so incredibly lucky to have been part of this brigade and have this brigade commander to step on my neck. That sounds funny but he demanded more from me than I ever thought possible and sometimes more than I thought was fair. But he held me to a high level of performance and he told me I’d lived up to his expectations.
Hearing that? Well I can’t really explain how that made me feel.
It made a lot of the painful lessons of the last two plus years worthwhile. I understood his intent very clearly from the moment he told me what had happened to him in Sadr City. I knew what his intent was for communications in his brigade and I busted my ass to make that happen. I didn’t always succeed but I never quit.
I was meant to go through that pain to learn those lessons. Finally, I understand some of the things that have been driving me absolutely nuts. And I’ve had the opportunity to be influenced by one of the strongest leaders I’ve ever met in my entire career.
I hope the signal world is ready for some venom because that was his charge to me as I leave this brigade and head back to my roots in the signal corps. But I’ll never forget where I come from or the foundation that was laid for me as an officer in my brigade.
Oh and I’m completely borrowing one of his sayings. I will freely admit to it right here: Don’t Mistake My Passion for Anger.
This ought to be interesting.