Unique Leadership Axiom: Armchair Leaders Kill Their Troops
Leading from the front is doing what is right. Specifically, it is using everything in your experience, mind and memory to see and do the right thing.
Armchair leaders look for personal glory. Specifically their actions are subject to the guidance of their egos.
Almost all military knowledge comes from mistakes. Fatalities are powerful teachers.
In Bobby Jindal’s book “Leadership And Crisis” the Governor grippingly describes his experience during the BP oil spill. That’s where he says:
As I look back, the oil spill has reinforced several principles I have learned through my years of dealing with crises:
…You must lead from the front. Always.
Three words: “Crisis, Lead and Learned” are core ideas. Mastery of these three words allows the military to win. Master them yourself and you are on your way to “building a better life, a better America and a better you.” This blog uses words to carve leadership concepts out of the Army’s winning ways. Governor Jindal has carved leadership concepts out of his battle with the federal government. The mindset of leaders like Governor Jindal is contagious.
Leading from the front may include being first to expose yourself to risk but it is much more. Leading from the front is mindset.
When you lead from the front, you respect
- Your unit,
- Your service,
- Chain of command, and
- Your Supporting Elements.
When you lead from the front, you accept responsibility. You do not seek personal glory.
The Assistant Secretary of the Army holds progress reviews in the development of new equipment. Typically, during a review the Surgeon General of the Army is asked if this new equipment is safe for use by soldiers. On one occasion, when the Surgeon General was asked if the blast overpressure environment from the new weapon was safe for soldier’s exposure in training, The Surgeon General could not give a positive yes. A series of reactions to this answer lead to the decision that the Army could not train with live ammunition.
To win and survive, soldiers must train as they will fight — soldiers must train with live ammunition.
The Vice-Chief of Staff of the Army is the “get things done” boss. He reached out to Army experts. I was one of about a dozen people at the meeting.
The Vice-Chief of Staff asked us if there was a “ready-made” solution to the problem, and if not how long it would take to get the solution. Each of the other experts present proposed programs that would last many years.
I applied the leadership I learned as an Air Force Officer. I proposed a program that would last years, three years. That was the shortest proposed program!
The senior researchers and managers scoffed.
The Vice-Chief of Staff led from the front.
- He transferred me from BRL to the U.S. Army Human Engineering Laboratory.
- He directed that The Human Engineering Laboratory and The Medical Research and Development Command Laboratory immediately fully support the project.
- He directed me to get the job done in the shortest possible time. He did not want the Army to be without legitimate training for days, much less for years.
The tests started at Aberdeen Proving Ground. For these tests, it was necessary to dig trenches to place instrumentation. It was winter. The night before we were to start work, a very cold and sloppy wet snow began falling. Cold wind and wet snow were to greet us that morning.
Of course, I was nervous about getting a good start and decided that I needed to be at the test site before anyone else. Instead of sitting in the office while others worked, I needed to show my willingness to do what had to be done. In short, I needed to lead from the front.
I left home at 5 AM and drove on slippery roads, through the security gates, parked my car at the test site and started digging. As a young man, I worked as a roustabout in the oil fields of California. I was good at digging.
The weather was miserable and the ground was frozen. The rest of the crew arrived a little before 7 AM. I was covered with snow, my boots and trousers were muddy but I had a good start on the trench that we needed that day.
One of the younger guys had a cup of coffee in his hand as he came out to where I was working, I think he had intended to drink it himself, but he said “Here, why don’t you warm yourself up while I take a turn at that shovel.”
There was a lot of head knocking in the months that followed but everybody knew where I stood. If something difficult needed to be done, I would be there contributing whatever I could and encouraging those who could do better.
After 33 months, the Army was again able to train with live ammunition.
Leadership Focus: Sooner or later you will need to take the lead in your life, business or community. Remember to lead from the front. Lead from your inner values, knowledge and beliefs. Leave your ego behind!
My Take: the leadership of the Vice-Chief of Staff was contagious. We all felt an urgent need to get the job done. That is a hallmark of leading from the front. The hallmark is not proximity to the troops or field of battle; it is the integrity of the leader!