Dear LT: Military Leadership Part 1: It's Not About You.

By Shannon Huffman Polson (aborderlife.com)

Dear LT,

Why you got that promotion:

The crew for 248, my first assigned aircraft with 3/229th Aviation at Ft. Bragg 1995. SPC Cameron was one of the best crew chiefs I ever knew. The Army did not take care of him, and he got out.

The crew for 248, my first assigned aircraft with 3/229th Aviation at Ft. Bragg 1995. SPC Cameron was one of the best crew chiefs I ever knew. The Army did not take care of him, and he got out.

When I was promoted from 2d Lieutenant to 1st Lieutenant (from a novice to a slightly older novice) my battalion commander, then LTC Macdonald, pinned on one silver bar while my dad pinned on the other. I'll never forget the few words he said then: This bar represents more power, and the only good use of that power is taking care of your people.

THE SECRET TO LEADERSHIP

Your first few promotions are going to follow the military's timeline. You'll feel good, and you should-- you're putting your time in! Here's the secret though: it's not about you. Your promotions are to help you with one thing more than any other: taking care of your people.It's not about you: it's about them. The Army says that there are no bad soldiers, only bad leaders. That might be a little extreme, but you get the point. The culture expects you to work with your people to bring out their best selves. It's about finding ways to support and encourage them so that they can do their best work. You know them personally so you can support them professionally.

With my first platoon sergeant at a battalion function

With my first platoon sergeant at a battalion function

That isn't all. You will succeed only when your people succeed, and for a number of years, the people who work for you will generally have more experience than you do. You're still in charge, but it's good to keep this in perspective. In my first platoon, I would have had a tough time without the advice and support I had from my platoon sergeant, one of the best non-commissioned officers I ever had a chance to know. That's not to say we always agreed. We had more than our share of closed door raised voice arguments, but we each knew we were looking out for each other and for the best interests of our soldiers. We were friendly but professional, but I'll never forget being invited to join his wife and him for his son's christening.

All of us need to feel good about what it is that we do. When your people feel good about working for you based on your support, and when they are given the chance to do good and meaningful work, your unit will function even better.

I hope you'll have a chance to work for a LTC Macdonald, and learn from a great platoon sergeant or crew chief. Seek out the good people. Find someone you can trust for advice. 

LEADERSHIP CHECKLIST:

1. Get to know your people. Know about their lives and their goals.

2. Spend time with your people. Try for weekly 1:1s, even if they're casual.

3. Ask questions about how your people are doing.

4. Find opportunities for your people to learn and to be seen, and give them credit when talking to your boss.

5. Always shield your team from heat from above. Take responsibility for any problems in your team when talking to your boss or others.

6. Get out and walk around. It's easy to get stuck behind your desk or doing the many things junior officers are tasked with doing. You'll hear a number of terms: management by walking around, muddy boots leadership...it all has to do with getting out there to spend time with your soldiers. It's the only way you will know them and their work, the only way to know how best to support and advocate for them or redirect course, and the only way you will earn their respect.

Remember to have fun, too. Leadership is a sacred trust, and each promotion underscores just how important that trust must be.

Check out Shannon's website: aborderlife.com