Small Wars Journal

A Leader’s Playbook

Sun, 01/27/2019 - 11:12am

A Leader’s Playbook


Donald C. Bolduc


The military is a noble profession filled with competent and committed officers and Noncommissioned Officers.  It was my honor to serve as both an enlisted man and an officer.  The intent of this playbook is to discuss a list of categories I found important as a leader.  It is important to note that I have made every mistake a leader can make, but more importantly, I admit it, and have learned from my mistakes.


Although important, I believe that it is not the emphasis we place on money and resources, but the lack of emphasis we are placing on leadership that is causing the Army significant problems internally and will eventually present vulnerabilities if not properly addressed.  The ability of our Army to successfully lead our Soldiers and defend the nation depends on leaders that have the flexibility to operate in both conventional and unconventional environments.  The military leadership we need is one that can deal with the strategic issues of the 1st world and the asymmetric challenges of the 3rd world.  Our future success in large wars and in small wars will be dependent on leadership and their ability to adjust and change the institution, improve interoperability among services and Special Operations, and discontinue petty differences for the greater good.  Senior leaders’ default to lack of resources, budget shortfalls, and personnel shortages as their main readiness problem.  These are valid concerns, but the real problem is the trust, growth and development of our people.  Queen Elizabeth said, “I know of no single formula for success.  But over the years, I have observed that some attributes of leadership are universal and are often about finding ways of encouraging people to combine their efforts, their talents, their insights, their enthusiasm and their inspiration to work together.”


The leadership problems in the Army can be directly attributed to inadequate leadership engagement, poor talent management, requirement overload, and a lack of moral courage.  This is a topic that many in the Army are uncomfortable discussing and many will not appreciate my observations.  While Captains, Majors, Lieutenant colonels, and Colonels describe their struggles in maintaining their integrity in a culture that breeds dishonesty and lack of trust, senior officers say the right things, but are reluctant to take care of themselves, admit their mistakes or personal failings to their subordinates.  Another problem leaders are causing is requirement overload.  The Army bureaucracy is so worried about protecting itself that it has lost touch with what is important to maintain resilient and ready Soldiers and units.  Individuals and units are overwhelmed by the number of requirements and directives placed upon them.  Therefore, they cannot properly focus on their core war fighting tasks. In the meantime, the issues with talent management, counseling, mentoring, and the promotion and selection of senior leaders are exacerbating the issues of trust and dishonesty.  The Army profession rests upon the bedrock of good order, discipline, and trust that is dependent on quality leadership.  Unfortunately, an alternative reality where leading honestly, speaking truthfully, and reporting accurately has officers believing that they must be someone they are not, play along to get ahead, and be beholden to the person above you regardless of the consequences to the organization.


Leaders Must Study Leadership and Be Educated to Be Strategic Thinkers:  There is little time spent on leadership outside of military schools.  Leadership is the cornerstone for success in the military and it is the least talked about subject outside of schools.  Likewise, the military does not do well in developing strategic thinkers.  Why should the military put such a high value on leadership and strategy?  Perhaps, because strategic thinkers appear surprised far less often than people who do not think strategically.  Why?  Because strategy requires you to take the long view.  It is not just about solving today’s problems, it is about near-term and short-term planning.  Being a leader and strategic in your thinking is not about anticipating everything out into infinity, but rather, it requires you to divide your thinking into time frames.  Strategic thinking is a skill, but like any skill, you can develop and cultivate it.  The military education system must be reorganized and realigned to develop senior leaders as strategic thinkers.  We must start earlier in the officer’s career.  Trying to teach and educate colonels and Navy Captains at the war college to think strategically is too late.  We need to start when they are senior captains and young majors and reinforce this with appropriate assignments.  The current system creates tactical level strategic thinkers because of the focus on tactical commands.  All commands must be valued equally and if not, the garrison, institutional, and training commands should be weighted higher.  It is these commands that have the most impact on the Army.  If we get this wrong, tactical commands do not have a chance.  To better align education, experience, and assignments, I propose that the war college curriculum should replace ILE/ CGSC and the ILE/CGSC curriculum should be taught to captains at the career course.  Our colonels and Navy Captains should go off to fellowships at universities, think tanks, and the interagency.  General and flag officer education needs to be curtailed significantly and should focus on leadership.  It is amazing that with all the generals we have we cannot put together a quality course on generalship.  The education should focus on leadership, strategic thinking, making decisions, intuition, importance of reading, time management, mentorship, grooming, counseling, teaching, delegation, and mission command.  In my experience, strategy is a lost art and there is little in the way of operational constructs that create continuity in the execution of the type of operations we have been doing since 2001.  We have existed in an environment of poor strategy and personality driven operational constructs since 2001.  All we need to do is consider the policy and strategy in Africa, Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq as examples.  We have relied on our tactical unit success to fix bad strategy and this has not worked.  It is rare for senior leaders to publish documents that drive the organization in purpose, direction, and motivation.  As a result, we have a strategy based on command tenure, commander’s personality, adhoc commands and staffs, and not on a well thought out plan that creates continuity between transitions.  Subordinates are left to guess what their senior leaders want in a rapidly changing environment where intent is critical, and decisions must be made at the lowest level in a timely manner.  In the end, subordinates are left on their own and left to take the blame.  Junior leader careers are negatively affected, and the general goes off to an interim assignment and then emerge with another star on his chest.


Leaders Must Develop and Communicate a Leadership Vision:  You cannot be an effective leader without a vision.  Vision describes some achievement or future state that the organization wants to accomplish.  A vision has to have buy in and be shared in order to do what it is meant to do which is inspire, clarify and focus the work.  In my experience, leaders do not appreciate the strength of a vision, keeping it current, and using it to stay on message, drive change, and continue to focus on the future.


Leaders Must have a Leadership Theory, Approach, and Construct: The utility of developing a leadership approach and construct is that it assists the leader in empowering their subordinates.  In addition, it ensures that they understand the priorities and their limitations.  This will allow them to support the objectives and goals in a more effective way.  It will also support the continuity of in change commands.  As it stands now, there is little continuity in changes of command.  It was my experience in the military that the most effective leaders were those that invested in describing their leadership theory, and then in very simple terms developed, communicated, and lived by it.  It is widely considered an effective technique to have a leadership theory and backstop it with tenets that support your leadership approach and construct to demonstrate leadership behavior.  Leadership models may be defined as guides that suggest specific leadership behaviors to use in a specific environment or situation. As an example, the following is what I established and communicated as a leader; (1) my “Why”, (2) vision and mission, (3) a merit-based, value-based, and belief-based leadership approach, (4) a purpose, direction, and motivation to drive what you do every day, (5) a supporting leadership construct, and (6) a focus  on moral courage and doing the right thing.  For leadership to be effective, it must be built on a solid foundation consisting of a clear mission, a vision for the future, a specific strategy, and a culture conducive to success.  Successful leaders spend considerably more time networking and staying on top of office politics and relatively little time managing people, teams, and results.  There is a difference between successful and effective leaders.  The distinction between successful and effective leaders in government and the military was vividly described in Thomas Ricks' two books, ‘Fiasco’ and ‘The Generals’.


Leaders Must Use Mission Command:  Mission command is a style of military command in which commanding officers inform subordinates of their mission objectives and allow these subordinates to carry out a mission with the freedom to decide how to do so.  This promotes speed of action, effectiveness, and initiative.  Mission command in the US Military originated with the development of Special Operation Forces, larger forces, small wars, and increasingly complex weapons technology.  Mission command is closely linked to risk, so leaders implement differently and some not at all.  Leaders must trust, develop the people around them, and think strategically.  This is about balance; the real challenge is to combine strong leadership and management and use each to balance the other.  My experience was that mission command was talked about, encouraged, but not practiced.  When it came to mission command, I listened to great diatribes by leaders, read it in doctrine, and listened to it in interviews with senior leaders.  I listened to 4 Star commanders refer to it as technology-based, Common Operating Systems, and the ability of leaders to track icons on the map.  Mission command as a philosophy should drive an organization’s culture.  Education in the fundamental principle of mission command must begin in commissioning sources and reinforced at every level.  Leaders must be taught how to receive and give mission orders, and how to clearly express intent.  Do leaders have the guts for mission command?  If we intend to truly embrace mission command, then we should do it to the fullest, and that will require commitment to changing a culture from one of control and process to one of decentralization and trust. We cannot afford to preach one thing and do another.


Leaders Must Take Care of Themselves:  In the military it is a badge of honor to claim you slept less than 4 hours and were the last one to leave work.  We praise the person who is the last to leave work and who works during weekends and holidays.  Leadership demands long hours and great effort, but rest and relaxation are just as essential as hard work.  Leaders often feel that every minute of every day must be filled with work, but that is just not a healthy way to lead or live.  A leader must learn to draw a hard line in the sand and rest, reflect, and think.  Leaders must take time for themselves, and they should not apologize or feel guilty for doing so.  Leaders are sons, daughters, mothers and fathers and should not neglect the parts of our lives that make them human.  The failure to plan and embrace “white space” can result in an acute decrease in productivity as well as the quality of the work produced. Stress causes mental blocks that hamper creativity.  It also increases the likelihood of careless mistakes.  When the brain is not free from undue strain and is not functioning at its maximum potential, confusion and distress muck up the work and even the most mundane tasks become difficult.  Stress can also cause physical ailments.  Headaches, hypertension, high blood pressure, weight gain, and moodiness, which is a response to stress, is another strain on the body caused by not balancing work and rest.  The mind, body, and spirit are so intertwined, when one suffers, the other does as well.  In my experience, we take care of our equipment better than we take care of ourselves and our subordinates.  Failure to take care of our minds, body, and spirit is having detrimental effects on our leaders, service members and their families.  The impact on the mission is also detrimental when we do not optimize health for optimum performance.  Leaders must take care of themselves.  A leader that does not take care of themselves has no business being responsible for others.  How do leaders expect others to learn to care for themselves if they do not set the example?  Taking care of yourself and asking for help is a sign of strength not weakness.  This is leadership responsibility and it is not getting done.


Leaders Must Manage Their Time:  The ability of leaders to manage the increase in both workload and burnout more effectively is directly related to their poor time management skills.  Time management is essential because it impacts the productivity, health, and mission accomplishment of our leaders.  Poor time management has significant negative impact on others, and recent studies confirm that under stress, people act more defensively, make poorer decisions, and literally lose the executive function of their minds. This is especially costly for subordinates because the leader set the tone for their organizations. Perhaps the most important assumption for leaders to question is that working harder, longer hours, more days in a year, and getting less sleep increases productivity. This may seem logical, but it is not., but beyond a certain point, the personal consequences include reduced brain functioning, increased stress and health problems, decreased effectiveness, and strained or failed relationships. The impact on teams and the unit of poor time management is sometimes subtle, but it is insidious, leading to a long-term decline in performance and quality of life.  My experience was that time management in the military is a disaster.  Leaders must get better at time management.  There are ways to do this and leaders know this, they just do not follow it.  These include but are not limited to pushing off higher headquarters demands on your time, the use of empowerment, trust, delegation, optimizing battle rhythm, not overreacting to incidents, reducing meetings, briefings, and updates.  Time management is the most abused senior leader daily activity whether it is their time or the time of others.  More time is wasted by senior leaders being late for meetings, causing meetings to go long, and holding meetings that accomplish nothing.  Another time waster is in the planning of meetings, commander updates, unplanned meetings, and rescheduled meetings than any other daily and weekly activity in the military.  Meetings must serve a purpose, need to be short, and either support getting or passing essential information to the leader, getting a decision, or clarifying or receiving guidance.  It is a leader responsibility to get time management and information flow right for their people and their organization.  It is not hard to do.  First, you must be the master of your time.  Second, be the captain of the meeting schedule, and delegate to your subordinates.  Third, be disciplined in your email time and read the documents prepared for you by your subordinates.  Fourth, establish a start time and a finish time for your day.  Fifth, carve out 2 hours to read, think, and reflect.  It took me a while to figure out how to do only what I could do, but I was able to do it.  Be “Invictus” when it comes to time management and information flow, I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.


Leaders Must Take a Stand: If you want to be an effective leader you must step forward while others stand on the sideline.  Judge a leader not by what they do regarding popular programs and ideas, but by whether or not they stand up for what they believe and take what are often difficult or challenging positions.  My experience was that we waste a lot of time in the military because leaders will not take a stand.  There are times when I wanted to bang my head against the wall because of the lack of leadership direction, the spinning of our wheels, wasting time at meetings or going back and forth on emails thinking through various options.  Sometimes there is a decision that everyone knows must be made, but no one wants to pull the trigger. This is the time when the leader must take a stand.  Based on what we know, this is what we need to do” or “This is our best option, I suggest we implement it.”


Leaders Must Be Persistent:  Achieving goals is not an accident.  It is the result of persistent leadership that views mistakes as opportunities to learn from and failure as a temporary setback.  Persistence is the ability to continue moving forward, looking for solutions and working toward success.  Persistence is the driving trait behind effective leadership.  It is also important to note, that blind persistence is not productive, so listening and learning is hugely important part of being persistent.  It was experience, that persistence is a valued trait when it is convenient for the chain of command.  Leaders must be persistent and determined to succeed, because it is a sure thing there will be tests and trials along the way.  When you are leading a group of individuals toward a vision and goals, achieving crystal-clear clarity is a challenge.  People are desperate for real leaders who have a vision and continue to move forward.  They find this type of leader inspirational and motivational.  On the other hand, blind persistence is not productive, so listening and learning is hugely important part of being persistent as it prevents continuing and repeating mistakes.


Leaders Must Have Moral Courage:  Moral courage is doing the right thing when everyone is watching.  It is a leader’s strength of character to be willing to incur risk in order to act according to his or her values and beliefs and stand up to authority to protect his or her soldiers’ welfare or defend his or her decisions.  Subordinates can trust leaders who have the courage to act in accordance with their values because they know the directives they issue will be honest and based on values.  My experience has been that moral courage is an espoused value and not an enacted value in the military.  I have always been outspoken, and I am very conscious about speaking truth to power, but not everyone likes it.  I have found that some people admire me for it, and when I leave a team those people will thank me for my contribution. But others think of me as too aggressive and controversial.  It is hard not to care when people do not like you, but not everyone will like you.  In the end, I realized I could not please all the people, all the time.  It is most important to be authentic, stop worrying and speak the truth.  I found that my subordinates appreciated this approach, but many of my peers and bosses did not.


Leaders Must Take Risk:  Leaders must accept that it is nearly impossible to gain knowledge if they are unwilling to take risks.  It is the bold leaders we admire.  Those leaders that take the risks to innovate, empower and trust their subordinates, underwrite mistakes, take responsibility, and do not succumb to pressure understand how to responsibly take risk.  My experience has been that the military has institutionalized being risk averse.  Just about every leader I worked for talked about innovation and the importance of trying new things and taking risks. Risk is accepted if it benefits the leader.  If it does not, look out, you are going to get hammered.  Taking risks and accepting the mistakes that come with it takes more than just words. You must demonstrate your willingness to take risks even if it means it may cost you your job, That is your responsibility as a leader.


Leaders Must Lead Change:  The only permanent thing in an organization is change.  Failure to change will have detrimental effects on an organization and the people in it.  A leader who accepts this is someone who knows how to balance risk, trust subordinates, empower subordinates, step outside of his or her comfort zone, and make timely decisions.  In my experience, military leaders are not comfortable with changed.  It is the responsibility of the leader to involve everyone in the change effort.  It has to be an all-hands-on-deck approach.  The leader must signal that transformation is constant a not an event.  It is a collective effort, with accountability distributed throughout the organization.  My approach was to ensure that solutions that would make the organization more agile, cost effective, people-focused, and faster at decision making were key to our success.  We want to leverage all our talent, minimize weariness brought on by needless duplication of effort, and create a team approach to change.  Change is for the benefit of the organization not the leader.


Leaders Must Be Clear and Consistent in Their Behavior:  One of the keys to good leadership is to be consistent in behavior, messaging, priorities, and decision-making so that your team knows where you are coming from.  Unpredictable behavior will have a detrimental effect on the organization.  Leaders must be transparent and approachable.  Being authentic and transparent as a leader is hugely important.  My experience is that it is important to be approachable, behave consistently, be self-aware, show authenticity through deeds, and maintain honesty in communication. I was not always this way, but I changed, I have worked for many leaders that were not consistent in their behavior and this served.  This is uncomfortable, detrimental to communication, and stifles productivity.  This type of leader makes everyone uncomfortable.


Leaders Must Listen to Understand Not to Respond:  Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” - Stephen R. Covey.  Anyone can listen to respond to a question or statement, but it takes someone skilled in communications to listen and truly understand.  This is not a skill that comes easy and a lot of the time it requires you to ask a lot of questions from your subject or your audience to make sure that you truly understand the subject and are not just responding to their statements.  My experience has been that leaders do not listen well.  I was guilty of this and had to concentrate to change my behavior.  You know when you work for this type of leader when you consistently have to explain the problem, get blamed for not keeping them informed, consistently have to repeat the same information, and the failure of a leader to make a decision or makes the wrong decision.


Leaders Must Invest in the Right People:  Jim Collins has cornered the market on this critical concept.  Get the right people in senior leader positions.  Leaders must be rigorous in the selection process for getting the right people on the bus.  This called talent management.  We must ensure that we are doing an exceptional job of retaining the right people.  Get the right people in the right seats.  Have 100% of the key seats on the bus filled with the right people.  If you think there might be a “wrong who,” first give the person the benefit of the doubt that perhaps he or she is in the wrong seat. Whenever possible, give a person the chance to prove himself or herself in a different seat, before drawing the conclusion that he or she is a wrong person on the bus.  Once you know you need to make a people change be rigorous in the decision, but not ruthless in the implementation.  When confronted with any problem or opportunity, shift the decision from a “what” question (“what should we do?”) into a “who” decision (“who would be the right person to take responsibility for this?”).  In my experience we do not spend a significant portion of time on people decisions.  The process we follow today, is nepotistic, advocacy- based, and go along to get along.  It is about my guy and not the right guy.  We must develop a disciplined, systematic process for getting the right people in senior leadership positions.  Most organizations have a serial bully. It never ceases to amaze me how one person's divisive dysfunctional behavior can permeate the entire organization like a cancer." (unknown).  In addition, a relatively new phenomenon known as “Mobbing” is also related to our talent management system.  Mobbing is a phenomenon that happens during the talent management process.  As it relates to talent management mobbing is "ganging up" by superiors to force someone out of the workplace through rumor, innuendo, intimidation, humiliation, discrediting, and isolation.  In mobbing the officer has done nothing wrong, performance is above average, but is a victim of not being liked or does not have the advocacy of the leadership clique.  I have seen many deserving officers overlooked for awards and assignments because they are not somebody’s guy or a victim of mobbing by superiors.  Relationships are important, but not at the expense of getting the right people in the right jobs.


Leaders Must Be Held Accountable:  Leaders must be held accountable for their performance not just their behavior.  Being held accountable for failing to do their job is as important as being held accountable for inappropriate moral behavior.  Tom Ricks’ discusses this in his lectures, and notes that the last Division Commander to held responsible and fired for his performance was in 1971.  Senior leaders today, know that as long as they do not have zipper problems, travel issues, or money issues they have nothing to worry about.  We have seen in recent investigation the problem of leadership accountability.  In my experience, leaders have not been held accountable for their mistakes or failures.  The norm is to hold the subordinates accountable.  It is troubling that studies have shown there is a truth issue in the military.  Investigations are viewed as a process to protect the leadership and blame the subordinates.  This must change.  We must get back to a more General Marshall type senior leader accountability process.


Leaders Must Empower Their Subordinates:  No one leads an organization effectively on their own. It is the collective excellence of many that builds success. The concept of empowering the members of your team is talked about a lot these days but is not done consistently.  Effective leaders are characterized by their ability to empower their teams to achieve maximum success.  Empowerment is trust and a means to include the team in decision making, to give them a participatory role which capitalizes on their expertise and judgment, and that increases their sense of both individual worth and commitment to the organization.  Empowerment also demonstrates that you have good listening skills, and that you care about the input of everyone on your team.  In my experience, when you empower your team, you motivate them to “row together”, and you increase the overall success of your mission.  Empowering builds confidence in their capacity to execute your collective mission and goals, establishes essential trust in an organization, and creates the secondary level of leadership necessary when you are not present for key decisions so that the organization continues to move forward.


A Leader Must Delegate:  Leaders must avoid the ultra-hands-on approach in their organizations.  Leader must invest their time in the overall direction of a team.  The Leader must  look ahead, steer the course, and make needed corrections to avoid getting off track. The leader should not be buried in the details because they will lose sight of the big picture and fail to see that the mission is falling apart until it is too late.  In my experience, delegating increases the morale, confidence, and productivity of subordinates.  Delegating saves you time and allows you to concentrate on more important matters.


Virtual Leadership Does Not Equal Face-to-face Leadership:  Todays leaders must consider the increasing need to understand how leading in virtual teams is different from leading in face-to-face teams.  In many cases, people have challenged the idea that leading in virtual teams is different from leading in face-to-face situations.  Studies have shown that leadership in virtual teams is different and to achieve the same level of effectiveness as in face-to-face teams, virtual team leadership takes a lot more effort.  My experience in Afghanistan and Africa due to the distance, decentralization, and distribution of my subordinates, understanding how to lead effectively through virtual leadership was a key component to our success.  As a leader, you must adopt the approach that the subordinate knows the situation better than you and your staff.  Your decisions should be driven by their input.  This does not mean you let them do everything they want, but if they tell you they should not do something you should default to their situational awareness, knowledge, and expertise.


Leaders Must Accept Disagreement and Debate:  In the military conformity is the norm.  Leaders must value the contrarian.  If you want openness, if want to hear what you need to hear, if you want all people in your organization feel valued then do not ridicule or punish those that do not agree with you.  My experience in the military is that a contrarian and a team player cannot exist in the same person.  Leaders must learn to accept debate and disagreement and not view it as not being a team player.  Nothing hurts the creativity, imagination, and initiative inside an organization more than not accepting disagreement and debate in the same way you do consent to your ideas.  Senior leader selection and talent management is negatively affected by leaders that dismiss contrarians from consideration for promotion and command selection.  In a way, contrarians are more loyal by having the moral courage to tell you what you need to hear.  You can count on them to do the right thing.  Despite the price you may pay, do not back down on an issue just to avoid conflict.  Always be respectful when you are disagreeing, but never apologize for disagreeing.  Criticize ideas, not people, and offer another course of action that may be different but can be successful and why it is preferred.


Leaders Must Avoid Leading By Meetings:  Meetings are for creating value, not playing politics, covering your backside, facetime, or simply because "that's how we've always done things."  Only meet to create value.  If the meeting does not create value, do not have it or cancel the meeting.  You will reap an instant savings from the freed-up staff time, not to mention the opportunity for them to do other more valuable work.  Meetings are a great place to brainstorm ideas, to reach a key decision, to gain full buy-in from your staff, or to coordinate execution.  If you are going to have a meeting, plan the meeting in advance.  This means a written agenda which gets in the hands of all participants well in advance of the meeting so they can come prepared.  If there is specific information, or other preparation work that participants need to have ready, make that explicit on the agenda.   This means starting the meeting on time and ending on time.  It is one thing to have an agenda, but altogether another thing to actually follow it.  It is one thing to have a productive meeting, but to reap the value of that meeting.  At the end of the meeting, go back and explicitly clarify action commitments out of the meeting.  Clarifying who owns which tasks, by when, and how they will "close the loop" by reporting back its completion is half the battle for accountability.  My experience is that we have too many unproductive meetings in the military.  Meetings in the military are predominantly the method of getting things done, but rarely do.  Conferences are usually the same.  They turn into platforms for the leader to go on a diatribe, complain, chew someone’s butt, waste time, and more often start late and go long.  More time is wasted in meeting and conferences than any other venue and this must change.


Leaders Must Communicate Effectively and Often:  Clear and concise communication is the most important key to a leader’s effectiveness.  To grow as a leader, you must learn how to be an effective, direct, and compelling communicator at all levels.  Leaders Must Understand Cross-generational Communication.  Cross-generational communication in the military is a huge gap and we do not do it well.  Leaders must begin by replacing assumptions about generations with an open mind and a willingness to shift their perspective.  Leaders must listen better to create deeper communication.  Leaders must ask “what” questions instead of “why” questions to drive collaboration and understanding.  Leaders must look to combine the strengths of each generation and be willing to learn from them.  Baby Boomers tend to lead from the top down. They are very process oriented and created many of the processes being used in the organization.  This is why Baby Boomers are more resistant to suggestions for changing those processes.  Generation Xers typically lead from the side because they are independent and entrepreneurial.  Leadership for them is delegation oriented and Generation Xers had more time to themselves and learned to do things for themselves. Their independence makes them uncomfortable with micromanagers, and it is why they feel that those who work for them should figure out what is needed, rather than be led through the steps.  Millennials tend to lead from the middle.  They seek collaboration and consensus and want to be sure everyone on the team agrees and thinks it is a good idea before moving forward or making a decision.  This generation was raised very democratically, which is why they seek collaboration and consensus.  Although small in number, the Generation Z will likely be similar to Gen Xers.  They are going to be very independent and are self-solvers, and less collaborative than millennials.  Generation Z individuals often interact with friends online rather than face to face.  Their leadership style is going to be doing things alone but together, and technology will facilitate this approach.  The importance of cross-generational communication leadership styles can clash when leaders from one generation report to leaders from another generation. But it doesn’t have to be that way.  Learning to build bridges between generations is important in the military as it is critical for the success of our people, their families and the mission.  My experience has been that communication in the military must be improved at all levels. The baby boomer generation does not understand how to effectively communicate across generations.  Leveraging the talents of everyone and creating an organizational structure that combines the strengths and compensates for the weaknesses is a leader’s primary responsibility.  Divisiveness and exclusion due to a lack of understanding of generational differences must stop.


Leaders Must Get Public Relations and Affairs Right:  This is an important area for leaders to understand and it is not easy.  Alvin Adams said in the 1800’s that, Public relations are a key component to any operation in this day of instant communications and rightly inquisitive citizens.”  The military senior leadership gets a D+ on the effective use of media and public relations.  There is a lack of trust in the media that permeates the military at the senior levels.  The military is not proactive in this area, usually late, defensive, and not transparent.  It is my observation that Public Relations and Public Affairs exists in the military as a defensive tool and not an offensive tool.  Often the public affairs plan and guidance is “RESPOND TO QUERY”.  This approach lacks imagination and is so detrimental to our ability to be effective and stay ahead of the information cycle.  We are comfortable with recruiting campaigns, telling good stories, but lack the same approach to explaining what we are doing, why we are doing it, and when things go wrong, we lack the transparency to get the information out and hide behind the investigative process.  Our public affairs and relations personnel are professional, experienced, and good at what they do.  We must trust them, support them, and become less risk averse in this important area of military relations.  Bill Gates said, “If I was down to my last dollar, I would spend it on public relations.”  My experience is that leaders do not know how to use the media effectively or understand the importance of public relations.  It is not uncommon to here we do not talk to the media or trust the media.  This is a huge mistake and we must change our view of the media and become proactive in our approach and not reactive.  Failing to do this negatively effects trust, communication, and our reputation.


Be a Leader Not a Boss:  Leaders lead rather than rule.  Leaders listen and speak rather than command.  Leaders motivate rather than terrify.  Leaders teach and learn rather than expect and ignore.  a leader offers constructive criticism and never belittles or shouts at their subordinates   Leaders take initiative, watch over the progress of work, make adjustments where necessary, and support the team members. They choose to be a part of the team rather than bossing the team around.  While a boss is mostly concerned with outcomes, a leader feels responsible for the process and the people who see it through.  Bosses tend to give orders; they need their employees to listen and to obey.  My experience was that I had a lot of bosses and few leaders.   The scolding, pounding on desks, negative phone calls, throwing papers and objects, public butt chewings, and reacting without all the facts must become the exception rather than the rule.



About the Author(s)

Brigadier General Bolduc is a former commander of U.S. Special Operations Command Africa. During his 33 years of active duty, he received 2 awards for valor, 5 Bronze Stars and 2 Purple Hearts and survived numerous firefights, a bombing, and a helicopter crash.  He is a self-described leader who admits his mistakes, learned from his many mistakes, and keeps the faith with the people, family, and organizations he serves.