Leadership on the Objective: Head Space and Timing

Sergeants,

The M2 .50 caliber machine gun, arguably, is one of the finest weapons in our inventory. Its reliable design, long range, sustained rate of fire and pure lethal punch have set the conditions for it to be a long, mainstay crew-served weapon over many decades.

As reliable as it is, improper head space and timing renders it useless. If it malfunctions at the wrong time (or a critical time as in ‘when needed’), the loss of combat power can weaken and even bring devastating consequences – to the entire team.

Soldiers don’t man weapons systems. Soldiers man teams. The team is our weapons system. The Soldier-team is much more powerful and enduring than any finely crafted piece of steel. Like the M2, leaders must continuously check head space and timing.

A singular beauty of being an O6 is the opportunity to listen to O6 conversations and approaches to problems. Your colonels are on track when it comes to their assigned disciplines. On occasion a discussion revolves around a first-line leader action or solution to an institutional problem or concern. Funny thing is… There’s generally not one thing any colonel can “do” about anything. The only folks who can really “do” anything about anything are Sergeants.

Colonels will fight for resources, run processes, set conditions for success and empower leaders to execute tasks, but the folks who are able to “do” something about anything are Sergeants.

Here’s a problem. Suicides and fatal accidents (mainly traffic accidents) continue to outpace combat deaths to enemy action 7 to 1. Failure to wear a seat belt is a leading factor in most of the traffic fatalities we suffer.

Why?

I propose it’s not because the living rooms or the highways of Missouri are more dangerous than the war zone.

I propose the difference is the amount of solid NCO leadership and peer over-watch.

While deployed, every Soldier has an NCO watching out for him or her. Soldiers watch over Soldiers. Every mission is preceded with mission analysis, mission planning, pre-combat checks, and firm discipline ensuring adherence to Army standards. The result speaks volumes – 7 to 1. Leaders continuously check the head space and timing of their weapons systems – the team (and those who make it up).

At home however… Soldiers seem to be on their own for all but two days per month. Lots of things happen between drill weekends.

How can the folks who can “do” something about it, get this critical mission done at home? NCOs… We’re lining up resources to help. But, thinking this through, we need you to let the colonels know what you need. The strength, wherewithal and drive to do it is well placed already. It’s in the non-commissioned officer ranks.

To be clear… In no way, do I assume NCOs are responsible for those things that happen between drill weekends. However, following the “Guard is family” model, many NCO’s get a lot done in those intervening days. Let’s start a discussion and share best practices. Let’s share some examples (please don’t pinpoint a Soldier in the process). Let’s find a way to drive down suicides and traffic accidents. In the same effort, let’s find a way to help Soldiers who need them the jobs they need. Let’s find a way to help those find the help they need. Let’s find a way to instill confidence in the force that if something bad happens to them, a team of Guardsmen will stand behind them — help them figure out what to do. I suspect we’re already doing a lot of this throughout the command. Share a TTP you use to maintain head space and timing.

How do we set the head space and timing so your teammate’s actions or circumstances don’t fail him or her at critical moment?

Without the NCO presence on a daily basis we all should stay attuned to the issues of the Soldiers we drill with and offer support wherever we can.

What can we do?

My Regards,

COL Hagler

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17 thoughts on “Leadership on the Objective: Head Space and Timing

  1. Team,

    From the time I wrote this submission to its publication, Missouri suffered two suicide deaths and a third nearly successful attempt. That makes five since January. I’m not asking for your help. I’m depending upon it.
    Leaders -enlisted and officer alike- must engage. I’m planning a conference call to all commanders in this week to discuss this critical problem. We must focus on our Troops and see if we can find, fix, coach and mentor those who are facing transition points in their lives. Those leaving high school and entering the real world. Those facing relationship challenges and are transitioning from married to single. Those who were employed And now are not… These transition points are tough. My message — I got it. My leaders get it.
    Here’s the deal. If you think you’re in trouble, we can help. If we see someone in a tough spot, we’re obligated to mentor that person through the rough spots. A benefit of membership in this organization is being surrounded by like-minded folks who care, have the life experience to help or to know who can. There is a way. Together we can find it. We are not alone, especially if we’re in the National Guard.
    The title of this series is deliberately selected: Leadership on the Objective. Leaders, especially when the going gets rough, can make the difference. It’s rough out there. We are thirsty for leadership on this issue at all levels. Now is the time to make it happen.
    What are you going to do?
    I pray for our losses and for our grieving families. I stand resolved to stand with you as a leader on the objective.

    My Sincere Regards,

    COL Hagler

    Close ranks. Get it done. Take the risk to ask,

  2. Interesting topic and a continual challange in the Guard. As you point out, unlike our Active counterparts, Reservists typically are only face-to-face with their Soldiers once a month. When I was a Company Commander, I would often tell my leaders that if the only time they talk to their Soldiers is during drill, then they are failing as leaders. I would require leaders, even if they delegated to the squad level, to contact every Soldier at least once a month, even if only to ask how they are doing. I don’t have a clear answer to how we continuously ensure appropriate headspace and timing, but I think being actively engaged, even through a phone call, is a start.

    It all comes down to communication and communication isn’t easy. I have been doing some research recently into generational differences in order to (since I ain’t gettin’ any younger) better understand the younger Soldiers coming into the ranks. I think part of the answer to communicating effectively is understanding what makes troops click. The Baby-Boomers are all but gone from our ranks, Generation X are our leadership and Generation Y are our team/squad/plt level leadership and also are our young Troops.

    Generation X is defined by traits of independence, resilience and adaptability. They ‘don’t need anyone looking over their shoulders’. They expect mentorship that is as hands-off as possible. They accept feedback, but don’t hold it in as high esteem as their self perception.

    Generation Y is a shift. They relish praise, but are quick to question authority. It is rare that they accept what their superiors say as fact and are quick to attempt to find an alternate answer to meet their expectations. They are committed, flexible and want to be included and involved. They feel more comfortable communicating via email and text than phone or in person.

    So, in my opinion, there are some difficulties on the onset. You have Gen X in charge of Gen Y (and becuase the LT’s are getting younger, sometimes Gen Y in charge of Gen X). It is inherently difficult to get Gen X to be more involved with the communication process because they themselves don’t expect or require the constant ‘over the shoulder’ Gen X doesn’t necessarily understand why, when they call or see a Gen Y Soldier, that the Gen Y Soldier is uncomfortable communicating with them verbally or in person.

    So, understanding the generational differences will help lead to the point that in order to effectively communicate, Gen X (us) has to open up and change their perceptions when it comes to communicating and they have to stretch their comfort area in terms of how and how often they communicate. We have to understand that it is Gen Y’s nature to seem unreceptive and unattentive while all along they are actually soaking in vast amounts of information from multiple sources. In order to communicate effectively with Gen Y, we have to do what we are doing here; blog, get online, send some texts, set up a squad/plt facebook page…understand the generational communication boundaries and cross them and we will more effectively check headspace and timing throughout the month through command messages and just general involvement.

  3. Firsties!
    Seatbelts: Easy fix. If you want a soldier to do something, you inspect it and hold them accountable. Have the First line leader conduct a simple case-net search annually (say…NCOER/evaluation time) and reduce in rank the soldiers that have seat belt violations. Situation resolved because now it is not just a $10 ticket, it is a career choice.
    Suicide: Difficult fix. Look at the state of the nation. Jobs are not exactly growing on trees and a lot of people don

  4. I like your approach, sir. My reply was only focused on a fix for the symptoms and not a fix for the root cause. I think there is a vast amount of information that will go into working the root cause.

    It is my personal belief that some of the failures is in what some of the Gen Y people have been taught since they were children and I think it will require extensive re-programing.

  5. Team,

    The command-wide conference call is set for 1600-1800 on Friday. It probably won’t take all that amount of time, but we’ll take what time we need. Get the phone number from your FTUS staff and join us. I’ll relay some of the comments in this blog as well as some ideas the JFHQ staff has been working. We’re going to take a multi-prong, multi-level approach.

    See you on Friday….

    V/r

    COL Hagler

  6. While I totally agree with some of the above statements, I beleive that there is a key element to the NCO that is not being considered. NCO’s are supposed to be the backbone of the Army, however as much as I hate to say it, many NCO’s are not. When I was trained by a senior NCO when I first put on stripes, the one thing tha was enbedded in me by that NCO was, no matter what good, bad, or real bad, you can count on me to make sure you are takin care of. I knew I could count on that NCO and I did many times over, and it wasn’t always during the duty day. How many times have we all witnessed somebody passing the buck because “that’s not my lane”. Instead we should be saying “let me see what i can do for you. I may not have the answer, but i will find you the answer.” Just because we are National Guard does not mean we only serve one weekend a month and 2 weeks a year. Unfortunately, I beleive that many leaders, Officers and NCO’s alike have that attitude. With the suicide rate, we can’tafford to have that kind of attitude. Coming from the NCO side of the house and working where I do, i trully appreciate what the leadership is doing, but looking at the target age group where suicide keeps happening is in the younger Soldiers. Who do the younger Soldiers take their orders from? They look to the NCO to know what they are supposed to do. That shouldn’t just be in a mission sense. As NCO’s we wear many different hats at different times. It is our job to know when PVT Snuffy is having a bad day and ask why. If we train our lower enlisted the right way, not only will they take care of Soldiers when they become an NCO, but they will also learn to take care of each other. While I hear the Senior Officers talking about solutions to combat the suicide problem, I can’t help but wonder, where are the NCO’s that deal with average joe Soldier issues all the time, why aren’t they giving their input or why aren’t they being asked for their input?

  7. Looky here. I am going to take a little more liberty here on the blog (as fewer read it) than I will on Facebook.

    I watched the video on suicide awareness. It was well done and very professional. Unfortunately, you are not going to hit your intended audience with the awesome message. If the 18-24 year old kids want to hear someone talk, It sure isn’t a LTC, MAJ, CPT, LT, 1SG, and probably not even a platoon sergeant. If you don

  8. Just the other day, my 21 year-old brother called my cell phone out of the blue. I missed his call. He left this message: “Hey sister, I just called to say ‘I love ya. Drive safely and wear your seat-belt. Don’t need to call me back. Love you.'”
    I smiled while listening to this message in my car. Very casual, but so strong!
    I thought to myself that I was 10 years older than this kid and that I should have been the one to remind him to be safe on the road and to let him know that his sister always cared about him. I chuckled with thoughts and feeling going through my mind about my little brother. At times, I wasn’t often being there for him to give him the guidance when needed, but he had come a long way from the past, from the teenager’s struggles, the expectations of Generation Y, and the struggle of surviving in society. He made it through. Just last month he graduated from Lindenwood University with a BA in Social Studies. At that thought, I reached for the seat-belt, and I buckled up. I mumbled to myself, “I do this for you, my little brother.”
    I just want to express that we all do the best we can with many methods and ways to care and look out for others. A singular effective method that is very simple and not costly is making sure that it’s real from the heart. People can tell and feel the difference between a true care and a pretention. I often had my NCO’s asking me, “Hi, how are you today?”; and before I could speak, I realized he wasn’t even looking at me, and he was already 5 steps passed me. I thought to myself ‘Why bothered!’
    Consistency, persistency, and patience will also go along away. Sometimes it only takes a minute. If you say you care, show me. I might not believe you now, but when I see, I will. At my darkest moments, I might think of you.

  9. Exactly on target…. When it comes to Troop leading, the only folks who can really “do” anything about anything are NCO leaders. For example, my suicide hotline should ring at my squad leader’s house. We will recast the effort with some solid NCO leadership at the pointed end of this.

    Good observations and meaningful answers.

    Help enlist some support for the effort. I’ll line up the resources.

  10. Nominate some solid SPC’s for the effort too! NCOs can quickly point them out.

  11. Very blunt but very true. I can’t count the number of times that I thought I was speaking pationately about something and really thought I was relating just to look out into the crowd to see the glazed looks on my troops’ eyes. As much as we like to think we can figure out how to relate and get into their worlds, the SR folks usually can’t. Not because they don’t get it but because they are not let in the ‘circle’ as you put it. I doubt that will ever change. I think we all get this -even if we hate to admit it. Question is, how the hell do we get the great implementation from the jr leaders in a manner that will truely affect change?

  12. Teammates,

    We’ll wrap this discussion for the time being. I appreciate the discussion. The points raised here will translate into action as we renew our efforts to empower leaders to accomplish their mission – including heading off suicide, causing Soldiers to select seatbelt use as a natural option and to reduce/re-think risky behavior.
    Empowered leaders are confident leaders. Confident leaders quickly earn the respect of those in their charge. Knowing you can count on your leader allows you to approach that leader when times are good and when they are hard.
    This is about Soldiering at all levels. Soldiering is a discipline – including the discipline to empower, tolerate learning, never tolerating selfish incompetence, accepting diverse views and solutions to complex problems and having confidence in subordinates, peers and senior leaders to do the right thing (unless proven otherwise).
    Confidence, integrity and discipline are among the most valuable coins of the realm. Be selfless – lead. I have confidence in you.

  13. Absolutely. The power of “connection” is meaningfully potent. Abandon a PowerPoint approach to these issues. Don’t do it to get it done. Do it because you mean it; because you believe in it. Thanks.

  14. Team,

    The improved version of the suicide awareness video posted to Facebook today. Does it meet the mail?

    v/r

    wgh

  15. My ititial response is NO.

    In reality, it is good for some. But we really need to get away from ALWAYS using the standard Freudian soft voice and talk to soldiers like they are warriros. Read some medal of honor citations. Almost all of them in clude something to the effect of “continued to encourage fellow soldiers.” I guarentee they didn’t use a soft, passive, and gentle voice.

    So, another good option is to do a video with someone that talks like their team leaders do. Do a video that doesn’t encourage someone to seek help with soft voices and elevator music, but one that enspires people to grab a team leader or battle buddy and face problems head on. We need to make sure we are giving them what they need, not just what they want. Sometimes they need someone to grab them by the collar and scream at them to advance and fight.

    That is just my humble but accurate opinion. LOL

  16. Got it.

    I’m saddened to report an additional suicide this past week.

    Let’s try a direct leader to Troop approach. If you have an idea as to how to approach this, link up with me. I’ll introduce it to PAO and the Soldier-Family Care Tea

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