So the last couple weeks I’ve been reading LIVING IN THE END TIMES by Slavoj Zizek. Yesterday, I started reading JUSTICE by Michael Sandel. I freely admit that Zizek’s book was over my head in many cases. There were large sections that I had no earthly idea what he was talking about. But other cases resonated deeply. JUSTICE is much more up my alley and I’m absolutely hooked on the philosophy behind our ability to make decisions, so much so that I’m seriously considering using his lectures at iTunesU as part of a Leader Development Program in my company (obviously have to check into copyright & fair use first).
Here’s why. In our current operational structure, the lowest level of authority in my organization may not be the platoon. It very week could end up being a section or even a team. So I need to have young NCOs, young sergeants and specialists that can step up and make decisions – ethical and moral decisions – that will bear out in support of the mission and the commander’s intent. I think that by making them think and learn about how they make decisions and why, it will challenge them to consider their actions in a more meaningful way. Plus, its not the same old lectures about EO, Sexual Assault, etc that makes everyone’s eyes cross because it doesn’t challenge them to think. I want to challenge my future organization to be better than they think they can be. They already know they’re good. I’m hearing nothing but positives about the organization I’m becoming a part of and that, to me is exciting.
As I move into my new organization, I realize 2 things, both of which I’m learning (at least formally) somewhat late in my military career but young enough in my officer career. The first is that people need to know what you expect. You, as a leader, cannot assume that people understand your expectations, especially if your expectations are out of step (notice I did not say wrong) with the current organizations norms. Every organization has norms and values and yes, I do believe in casting a value judgment on those to say these are good and these are not so good and HERE’S WHY. Clearly articulating your expectations to your subordinates is a critical step that so many of my peers fail in. Why? Because they assume a similar basis of experience, they assume too many things. You must articulate it and then you must ensure that it is understood.
The second thing is that its not about the organization. In three years time, no one is going to remember Captain Dawson was C Co’s commander. A few folks might remember me but overall, I will pass into history with every other company commander this unit has had. The organization will continue but where I believe as a leader, I can truly make a difference is my impact on the individuals. If my soldiers know that I truly give a shit about their well being and truly believe in enabling them to perform and truly believe that I care about their families, then the organizational stuff will follow. It has to, because an organization that takes care of the individual needs is going to get supported by those individuals.
There are so many factors that go into making decisions and that’s one of the things that I’m really taking away from the Harvard Justice lectures. I’m not just listening to them because I’m an uber nerd who enjoys philosophy (true, however). I’m listening to them and reading these books because to me, I have to be able to articulate to my soldiers why I’m making the decisions I’ve made and gaining education is a way to help me to do that. If I understand it, I can then explain it in a way to make them understand it. If I can teach them how and why I make decisions, then maybe they can learn how and why to make their own decisions. Because it is at the E5 level that the Army must teach coach and mentor if we are to truly impact our ability to take care of our soldiers.
When I interviewed for this command position, my new battalion commander asked me why I wanted to be a commander. I told her that I wanted to help teach coach and mentor the next generation of leaders because I believe I can still make a difference. So that’s why I’m looking at my leader development program. That’s why I’m looking so hard at not only what decisions I will make but why. Because there is huge potential for me to screw this up and this responsibility isn’t something that I’m taking lightly. I won’t. But its not about the Army. Its about the soldiers in the army. Who can I make a difference with today. I bet if all of us, civilian and soldier alike, went out into the world with that mentality, we could dramatically improve the world around us.
One person at a time.