Happy Independence Day!
Independence Day is a perfect time to talk about leadership, especially from the personal point of view of someone who has dedicated their professional life to make sure that we remain independent.
Making a decision to join the United States Armed Forces is a serious decision made by thousands of young people every year. Concurrently, hundreds of thousands of men and women who are already serving decide to continue and honor their commitments to millions of Americans with every day that they serve in the Armed Forces.
Clearly making a decision to serve is a leadership decision. In some cases making the decision to join the armed forces is a decision that follows a family tradition, or it may be a way of improving life outcomes, or it may be the way that a young person decides to go to the next level after high school. Regardless of the reason why, making the decision to serve is a leadership decision, even if the person making the decision doesn’t recognize that they are making such a profound decision at the moment.
Like many of you, I have a personal connection with a proud military man. I wanted to know why he chose the path that he did, and whether or not he felt that his experience made him a better leader. So, I asked him to do an interview for this post. Let me introduce you to my brother, Staff Sergeant Carlos House, Army Retired. He’s also lovingly known as, “Big Dog House” by many who served with him and under him.
Interview with Big Dog House
JDH: Why did you choose to enter the military?
CH: While in high school I participated in JROTC (this is short for the Army’s Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps). I liked being able to work in leadership roles within the program and I was able to advance to 2nd in command during the program. I started out as a private in the program and worked my way up. I took a test every 6 months to promote to the next level. Not only did passing the test show that I was competent, but passing the tests grew my confidence. As I progressed I liked the fact that I could look back over the program and see how much I had progressed. This really led me down the path of joining the military, and it was great preparation for the path that I would take once I joined the army.
JDH: Did you consider yourself a leader before you joined the military?
CH: I really didn’t give much thought to being a leader before I joined the military. As a kid, I was like every other kid and just enjoyed being a part of the crowd. After experiencing the JROTC program and being in the military, I understood that I was a leader. Because I completed the JROTC program, I entered the military at a Private First Class rank, which is an E3 rank, instead of as a Private which is an E1 rank. In the military, everyone is following someone above them; however I had to learn pretty early in my military career how to lead.
JDH: What was the most important leadership lesson you learned while serving?
CH: It’s important to understand that leading in the military is a special leadership situation. Many times following leadership is a matter of life and death. In that respect, I learned that a leader must make a decision and stick to it. If my followers see a leader who constantly changed their minds, that wouldn’t sit well with them. Even if a decision is not a perfect one, it was important to stick with that decision until the mission was over. After the mission there would be an opportunity to discuss what worked well, what didn’t work, and what could be adjusted for the next time out. When a leader constantly changes direction, this breaks the spirit of the followers and makes the importance of the work negligible.
Another lesson that was extremely important was to be flexible. As a leader many times I was relaying orders from above me. When a change occurred during a mission that my crew and I had spent hours prepping for, as a leader I had to be flexible enough to explain to my people that even though we had spent much time and energy preparing for something that wasn’t going to happen, that we learned something from the preparation and that we would be able to use those lessons on the next mission. The way I handled the redirection affected how accepting my group reacted to the new direction.
JDH: What was the quality you appreciated most from your followers while in the military?
CH: I appreciated that they were loyal. I did my best to earn their loyalty by doing what I said I would do no matter what. My followers also knew that I wouldn’t ask them to do something that I wouldn’t do. Many times we worked side by side on the same task, even though I was their leader. No matter the rank of the people that I worked with, I always treated each soldier with care and respect. I never treated any soldier as a stepping stone to advance my personal career. I was actually more concerned with making sure that the soldier got what they needed so that he or she could progress in their career.
JDH: What was the most important thing that you wanted your followers to know?
CH: I wanted everyone under my command to understand that the mission was first and foremost. I also wanted my soldiers to know that when we accomplished the mission, I was going to look out for them and do everything within my power to represent their interests in advancing their growth.
Thanks Big Dog House for letting us peer into your military leadership experiences!
I see lots of similarities to leading any team, whether that team is a civilian team or a military team. Let me hear your thoughts. What similarities or differences do you see? Which leadership lesson strikes you the most and how would you apply it to any team you work with?
Here’s to creating bottom line value in your life and business.
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