Jason Howk is a retired South Asia Foreign Area Officer who also served the Army as an enlisted Infantry Paratrooper and Engineer officer from 1991-2015. He spent over 12 years contributing to the Afghan campaign and thrived in Joint, Interagency, Intergovernmental, Non-Governmental and Multi-national organizations. He is a published author of scholarly and professional books and articles, is a Malone Fellow in Arab and Islamic Studies and was a term member in the Council on Foreign Relations. When not writing and teaching Jason runs a not for profit organization that improves the diversity of thought in foreign affairs by helping college-age Americans of all backgrounds find their way into the community.
My previous article about leadership describes it as an art that takes years of practice, trial, and error to improve on and also requires the ability to hone your skills while never forgetting your older lessons. In this installment, I discuss the more difficult leadership positions where teams might range from 100 to 1 million people.
U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Nathanael Callon
While leadership is best described as an art that takes years of practice, trial, and error to improve, it also requires an important mathematical technique: addition. Every stage in your development as a leader requires you to master certain skills and avoid various pitfalls. A productive and selfless senior leader is someone who is able to build upon their skills at every level but also retain the previous lessons they learned. Let’s “add up” some techniques, lessons, and ideas that make leaders respected, emulated, and successful.
“Mentor” is a word that gets thrown around a lot. Maybe now is a good time to redefine it, because there is a large generation of veterans who have learned a lot from their experiences that is worth passing on.
When poor leaders make it into the general and flag officer ranks, it can really be destructive to the military profession and unit effectiveness. It’s no different in the civilian world where people are even less likely to point out that the emperor has no clothes for fear of losing their job. Below are 17 sayings from senior leaders demonstrating poor leadership that I overheard as an aide-de-camp for three well-known successful generals. People who habitually say these things or act in this manner can send organizations hurtling in the wrong direction unless there was a very strong team of soldiers, noncommissioned officers, and junior officers to keep the unit on track despite their failing commander.
I was privileged in my 23-year Army career to work directly with four very successful general officers. The lessons I learned from them can be applied to both military and civilian leadership at every level and I promised my peers that one day I would write down what I saw.
Don’t worry Texans the American Special Forces are not coming for you. It’s a good thing too; these guys are pretty special when it comes to unconventional warfare. But they can be better and that is why they need realistic training scenarios like Jade Helm that span multiple states and agencies.