Leadership on the Objective: Set a Positive Tone – Be Successful


I’m frequently asked, “What do I need to do to be successful?  What would you recommend?”

Everyone has one or more mentors.  I have had some exceptional mentors – platoon sergeants, teachers, news editors, first sergeants, some colonels, and some generals.  I have learned from their guidance and leadership examples.  Having had great mentors, I’ve also experienced the opposite of great (and can tell the difference) – meaning I’ve learned as much about how not to do things as I have learned how to do things the right way.

From the basic to the complex, the good ones have had an impact (for example, my drill sergeant taught me how to shave; my division chief taught me patience when dealing with Army budget processes).   Having the benefit of these mentors and having made and learned from my own mistakes, I have spoken to and answered these questions for dozens of officers over the course of the last several years.

I have answered these two questions consistently, based on my experience, but rarely cover everything because of time or faulty memory.  No one has the market cornered on good ideas in this regard, so I’ll ask the same questions of you and offer some quick bullet points to facilitate the conversation.  These are simply off-the-cuff observations jotted down quickly.  They are not “rules.”  They’re just tips based upon observations and experiences.  Some may be flawed; others may be brilliant.  Most of them are statements of the obvious.  I admit, I’m writing from an officer’s perspective to other officers, but I think some top command sergeants major can chime in with thoughts applicable to senior NCOs, junior NCOs, and junior enlisted Soldiers.  Think about these points and add your thoughts.  In honor of my mentors, here’s the list:

–    Your Success is Paramount.   Individual excellence engenders—and culminates in—institutional excellence.  Your personal success undergirds a positive organizational tone as we build a culture of readiness within the Missouri National Guard.  We need everyone to be promotable or to be approaching a promotable status.  Trends indicate that the top limiting factors are a lack of required military education, low levels of fitness, and weight control challenges.  The organization has established a new approach in this regard.  Deployability, fitness, readiness, and individual Soldier proficiency now receive top priority status. Is that the case in your battalion or company?

–    Live by the Army Values.  This sounds obvious, but Loyalty, Duty, Respect, Selfless Service, Honor, Integrity and Personal Courage aren’t simply words.  Leading and living by these values will underwrite success for you and the organization.  An emphasis on Selfless Service and Personal Courage will place you on the path to success – and it will keep you there.  Remember, integrity and character is determined more by your actions when you think no one else is looking, than when all eyes are upon you.  Whether your leadership comes from position or situation, as long as it is based on a sound, moral foundation of character and integrity, it will benefit others.  Will people look to you as a positive role model?

–    Do not Self-Eliminate.  The military endeavor takes time and effort, but if it’s your calling in life, it is the most rewarding venture you can embark upon.  Everyone has a chance to rise above and beyond their personal expectations and ambitions.   Many who prematurely stall or end their careers do so because of self-elimination through misconduct, failure to maintain their military records, engaging in inappropriate relationships, quitting in the middle, or by failing to maintain health, fitness, weight, or security clearance standards—or simply neglecting the Army Values (particularly Selfless Service and Personal Courage).  Realizing early on that “off duty” behavior is as important as “on duty” behavior, especially when that behavior reflects exceptionally upon the military in either a positive or negative way, helps prevent early, self-elimination.

–    Be Willing to Learn.  Be willing to mentor.  Be able to do both at the same time.  People want to be successful.  You contribute to the success of others and receive cues and guidance in return.  Accept it.  This is a benefit of membership.

–    Compete With Your Peers – Not Against Them.  You are smarter than some people.  Some people are smarter than you.  Be excited when, as a leader or a follower, you find someone smarter than you.  Embrace this fact and use it to the organization’s advantage.  Putting smart people in the right places and encouraging them to do better and do more for the organization is the right thing to do.  Everyone can and will contribute in a positive way if you find what they’re great at doing and let them do it.  The great strength of our organization is derived from the diverse nature of its members.  Harness that diversity.  It’s powerful.  Teamwork is preferred over individual achievement.  The team includes your leaders, your peers, and your subordinates.  Be a part of the winning team.

–    Dress for Success – First impressions matter.

–    Army National Guard officers … green is gone.  Do I need to say more?  Yes I do.  Here’s the thing.  The old Army Class A uniform is just that – old.  Your peers are wearing the blue uniform.  If you’re wearing the green, you stand out.  I understand the wear-out date isn’t until 2014.  If you’re going to retire this year, the blue uniform is probably not worth the investment.  Otherwise… stay competitive.

–    Civilian clothing – especially while in a travel status (which is a duty status) – should reflect well on the organization.  Based on the frequency of lost or delayed luggage, what you wear on the airplane should be something you’re prepared to wear for a second day while your luggage tours the rest of the United States.  Officers should look like professional officers in or out of uniform – all the time, but especially when representing the organization.  Do some research before investing in a civilian or military wardrobe or old habits will lead you to make costly mistakes.  What does “business casual” mean?  What does “formal” mean?  How should trousers fit?  Should they be cuffed or straight hemmed?  (the answer is preferably cuffed, if making an initial purchase)  For men, a standard, well-fitting sport coat, dress shirt (usually without a tie), a simple dress watch, a belt matching your dress shoes, wrinkle resistant slacks and over-the-calf socks will give you a more professional look and create a great impression of you and your organization.  You’ll feel better too.   A small wardrobe investment, provided you do some research first, will pay dividends.

–    According to Emily Post’s “Etiquette” book, even “casual” should never be sloppy or inappropriate.  “The clothes we wear and the way we groom ourselves represent how we choose to present ourselves to others and reflect the importance we attach to the occasion.”   The message that clothes can send often matters more than the clothes themselves.

–    For women, from the perspective of several female officers:  Ensure your clothing meets time-honored standards for decorum and good taste if you want to be taken seriously as a professional.  Although today’s fashions tend to draw attention to one’s self, the key is to err toward the side of discretion.  Too much skin exposure on the upper or lower body does not gain points in our environment, nor does body-hugging clothing.  The general rule of thumb is not to wear clothing that is too tight, too short, or too revealing for the occasion.  This type of attire is not helpful in your quest to be valuable, respected, and relevant in our trade.  Read the dress code for your kids’ camps—it’s a good guide.  Set the example for junior Soldiers who may need role models and mentors in this area.

Full-time Unit Support Officers – Be Ready to Move.  At times, the needs of the organization trump the needs (or wants) of the individual Soldier.  Understand from the start you may be reassigned to a different unit far away from your home of record.  Set the conditions early to defeat the need to be a geographic bachelor or bachelorette.  You’ll eventually find yourself at the state headquarters and along the way you’ll live in St. Louis, Springfield, Ft Leonard Wood or Kansas City (to name a few) or even live out-of-state on tours at the National Guard Bureau, US Northern Command, resident schooling at Ft Leavenworth, Ft Gordon, or elsewhere.  Some moves can be anticipated.  Others come with little warning.  It comes with the territory.  When people thank you for your service and your sacrifices, this is one of the things they’re talking about.  Advice I was given early in my career has proven helpful to us.  We have never purchased a home we couldn’t rent or sell easily.  This means We have lived in nice communities, but in three-bedroom or smaller homes.  Early in my career I rented small apartments.  Maintaining such a small footprint has twice allowed my family and me to move across the country on two-weeks to 10-days notice.  My mentor’s advice has had some very positive second and third order effects.  It has limited our ability to accumulate “stuff” for the sake of accumulating “stuff” and it has allowed us to save significantly more for retirement than we otherwise would have.  More importantly, except for a few deployments, our family has always been under the same roof.  This has had a significant and positive impact on our home-life and, subsequently, the career.  We have tried not to set roots so deep we are forced to live away from each other because of the career.  We’re concerned our health and the health of our most important relationships cannot be adequately attended to if we’re hundreds of miles apart.  We can’t control a lot of things, but these are the conditions we decided to control – and it’s working.

–    Traditional Officers and Officer Candidates – Prepare to Drive.  But before you find yourself assigned to a unit a hundred or more miles from your home, try to select a branch most commonly found in the unit nearest your home.  There’s a lot more to developing as an officer than pulling off a great drill weekend.  There are a variety of tasks and additional duties—such as FLIPL, LOD, safety and AR 15-6 investigations; inventories and inspections; training management and pre-mobilization tasks, etc., which officers are typically given, and they develop through accomplishing these tasks successfully.  They are usually done between drill weekends.  If you live hundreds of miles from your unit, you’re less likely to take these tasks on and will miss out on the opportunity to adequately develop in  these areas of the craft.

–    Be on Time.  Be Early if You Can.   This is an admitted weakness of mine, especially as I have grown more senior and hold more senior positions in the organization (it’ll happen to you too, but at least try).

–    When in Charge, be in charge.  When not in charge, do all you can to protect the authority of the person who is in charge and is responsible for the calculated risks associated with their chosen course of action (COA).  Execute your portion of his or her intent.  Understand the most positive COAs have their negatives.  Internalize all the positives and negatives and execute the order or the plan as if it were your own.

–    Don’t Self-Promote or Self-Aggrandize.  Don’t be seen as self-serving.  Guard against using “I”, “Me” and “Mine” too much.  Be part of the team.  Tell your story through your actions: your hard work, competence, integrity, and accomplishments which will garner credibility for you.  Take all the hard jobs you can get and do them well.  You will be easily recognized for your abilities and your motivation.   When you’re right, people will see that.  When you’re wrong, be the first to admit it – then fix the mistake.  Don’t be about “ME”.  Doing so causes you to stand out in a negative way.  Selfless people become leery of you and your motivations.  For example, an Army officer called me a few weeks ago and listed at least eleven reasons why he should be a general officer.  All I could think about was the one very good reason he should not.

–    Understand the End State of the Officer Development and Promotion Process.  Officers are developed and promoted to be great colonels – not just great captains or majors.  Be sure you get the kinds of experiences you need at each rank and don’t feel rushed to get every promotion at minimum time in grade.  Once you miss a key job, you usually can’t go back to get it.  If you haven’t gotten the key jobs done at your current rank, consider entering a dialog with your leadership to get them done before advancing to the next rank.  This surely applies to NCOs.  We want great sergeants major at the end state.  There’s a path to follow for a very good reason.  It takes time to go down that path.

–    Learn to Prioritize and to Delegate.  Understand it’s ok to feel behind, and guard against getting to the point of feeling overwhelmed.  Busy people never get everything done, but they do get more done than anyone else.  By the way, in this business, if you feel “caught up” and “don’t have anything to do” you should be very, very concerned.

–    Be Passionate and Authentic as a Leader.  Do the right things for the right reasons.  Understand the difference between learning and incompetence is usually laziness (and we don’t have a lot of laziness around here).  Don’t be a jerk.  Everyone deserves to be treated with respect and honesty.  Most want to learn.  Encourage others to do well.  Do not be a toxic leader, and do muster the personal courage to expose toxic leadership.  Toxic leadership and micro-management erodes the fabric of the organization, undermines trust, inhibits innovation, kills initiative, and limits the unit’s ability to effectively accomplish its mission.  Toxic leadership is self-serving leadership, marked by incompetent leaders who are irrationally fearful of their peers or people who are smarter than them.    It is not “demanding” leadership in and of itself.  Solid leaders, who are demanding, are focused on operational or organizational needs and enforcing clear standards – oftentimes at their own expense.  The act of holding subordinates accountable doesn’t make a leader “toxic.”    There’s a big difference.

–    Be Proud of Yourself and Your Profession.  If you’re reading this, you’re likely a member of the military and the following things are already true about you:  You are a values-based person.  You are dedicated, trained, educated, experienced, and you’re among the half-a-percent of the American population serving in the military.  You are elite.  You come from many walks of life and your circumstances now are what you’ve made for yourself.  The basics have not been given to you.  You have earned them on your own.  Because you share these traits with a select few—gathered and organized into disciplined, military formations –  you’re part of an organization which can do just about anything under any set of circumstances, especially in conditions others would quickly shrink from.  Your life has meaning.  You have a calling.  You protect good people from bad people and bad things.  You are, by definition, on the road to success – not just for the military, but for life.

These are just a few ideas.  What do you think?  I look forward to the discussion.

My Regards,
COL Hagler

6 thoughts on “Leadership on the Objective: Set a Positive Tone – Be Successful

  1. Sir,

    Great points. Here is one that took me entirely too long to learn:

    Enter into every debate with the understanding that there is at least a 50% chance that you’re completely wrong.

    I’ve had to deliver more abashed apologies to freshly chastised Soldiers than I care to admit. Especially over the phone. These conversations would typically go thusly:

    Me: (Annoyed) “Where is that report I asked you for? The suspense was three days ago! What happened to ‘Officers of my unit will have maximum time to complete their duties, they will not have to complete mine?'”

    Soldier: “Sir, I sent you the report two days before the suspense. You e-mailed me to thank me for getting it back to you so quickly.” (this line is given with a hint of sympathy, like explaining there is no Easter Bunny to a child)

    Me: (horrified) “Ah, yes…..good job…excellent work…sorry about that.”

    Soldier: (smugly) “No one is more professional than I, sir.”

    Me: (mumbles weakly and hangs up)

    This simple rule has saved me a lot of embarrassment and probably saved me some serious credibility with the professionals with whom I work.

    If this rule saves one person from coming across as a total clown, then I will feel like I’ve done some good.

    CPT Jakin J. Waldock
    AO, 175th MP Bn
    CDR, 1139th MP Co

  2. Sir,
    Great points. I love to see I am on the right path in most cases. Some points I have already locked myself out of through previous life decisions. Hard to move around the country with joint custody but as with many things, we just do what we can. My lesson learned: Stay married till one of you is dead.

    Military schools are needed for promotion and for some professional growth, but almost every military school, my best Soldiers have attended, they excelled because they didn’t have to learn anything. They learned it by reading manuals. The knowledge is already out there and free. Don’t wait to do to school to learn anything. Read the manuals. All leaders are looking for the best answer and usually don’t care where it comes from.

    Sir, when is the Army going to get wise and start letting Soldiers take some sort of CLEP tests to confirm their knowledge of a given school instead of making Soldiers sit through a two week course they could easily prove their abilities on in 3 days? With all the cutbacks in budgets, you would think it would be massively cost effective to have an accelerated WLC course.

  3. In the late 80s, the Army contracted a consultant to help increase weapon qualification scores. The consultant interviewed the top 10 shooters in the Army. His intent was to convey these beliefs to all the Soldiers in the Army.

    The five common beliefs of the top ten shooters were:
    1) Shooting well is fun.
    2) Shooting well is critical to my survival.
    3) If my shooting is not good, there is something I can do to improve it; I have to change.
    4) Focus on the center of the target that is up; don’t worry about anything else: Focus.
    5) Visualize success: The top shooter in the Army at that time said he visualized a 1,000 round match the night before every competition.

    These five beliefs have application to everything we do in every aspect of life, career, financial, relationships, emotional well-being, education and mental growth, physical health and wellness and spiritual life.

    1) Whatever we do, if we love what we do, we’ll have greater success.
    2) If we don’t perform with excellence, we’ll get sidelined; we have to be our best to survive at our craft or endeavor, regardless of what it is.
    3) We have to focus on one thing at a time; a scatterbrained will have a tough time with success. We have to concentrate on the task at hand and follow-through to the end for success.
    4) Placing blame or making excuses will never make the grade: Personal responsibility is the first key to success. If something is not going according to plan, we have to take personal responsibility for the problem and find ways to make things work. Excuses are made by people who don’t want to do something.
    5) People don’t acknowledge the power of visualization, but I dare say, every success is a result of mental imaging. Conscientious mental imaging can prove very useful in preparation for any challenge.

    Memorize these five principles and you’ll find a pragmatic approach to success in everything you do.

  4. Sir,

    These are all great insights. I could not agree more with your comments on professional appearance, and this is something one does not hear much about from senior leaders. Perhaps I will add this to the OCS curriculum.

    We Americans tend to take “casual” to the very extreme. It was not much more than 50 years ago when “short pants” were only appropriate for boys and men engaged in sports or swimming. Now it is common to see grown men wearing ball caps and Crocs to nice restaurants. I won’t even go into the stuff you commonly see people wearing in public at Walmart, because this could easily devolve into a rant.

    I will just say at some point in a leader’s career he or she should evolve past “dorm-room clothing”, especially in any kind of professional setting.

    My parents are both assigned overseas with the State Department, and I am fairly well traveled, so I am admittedly a bit more sensitive to these nuances than most. However, military leaders are all diplomats to some degree, and at the very least representatives of the Officer/NCO corp.

    We need to be cognizant that appearance and demeanor matter. Represent the profession with pride.

    -MAJ H (ready to receive the “metro” cracks…)

  5. Great stuff here. Thanks to the Chief for starting this and to the others who have contributed. Since I’m in my 30th year, I’ll share a few of my favorites as well. These are not my creations, but rather things that I have learned over the years. Maybe some of these will be helpful.

    Leadership Top 10

    10. Treat everyone with respect regardless of rank or position

    9. Lead by example – Live the Army Values – 24/7. As I have heard Chaplain Gilmore say, “remember the names on your uniform”. You represent your family name, your unit, the Army, and the United States. I think it was Secretary England who once said the simple rule he lived by was from his mother who said “Never do anything to embarrass me.” He said this covered a lot of ground for him.

    8. Be willing to admit when you don’t know something. My Dad used to say “The smartest man I ever met, knew what he didn’t know”

    7. Learn from subordinates, peers, and seniors alike. Be a good listener. Another great quote: “I never learned anything while I was talking”. In the National Guard, we get the unique opportunity to work with people from all walks of life. I have learned an incredible amount from the Soldiers I have been fortunate enough to serve with. I often say “I try to learn something everyday”.

    6. “Never kick someone for trying to do the right thing”.

    5. Never forget our responsibility to provide trained and ready Soldiers – train hard. “The more you sweat in peace, the less you bleed in war.”

    4. Maintain open and honest communications – “The day Soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help them or concluded that you do not care. Either case is a failure of leadership.” – GEN Colin Powell

    3. Take full responsibility when your team fails – give your team the credit when things go right.

    2. When you can, involve your team in decisions. They will take ownership and support you when you need to make decisions without their involvement.

    1. Take care of your Soldiers – “Soldiers don’t care about how much you know, until they know how much you care”.

  6. I can’t thank the above enough for the insight and helpful tips that will allow me to continue to be and develop into being a more successful leader. I am currently deployed with the 175th Battalion to Qatar and plan on printing off enough of these to pass out and make mandatory reading for my soldiers. Wrapping up this deployment this really helped me get my head where it needs to be. I don’t feel I have any place adding anything to this but only soaking up everything I can as a future leader. In ending; #7 “I never learned anything while I was talking” or in this case typing, General Irwin sir, I look forward to reading more posts on this and once again appreciate all the great insight.
    SGT. Stone

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