WASHINGTON, D.C. –
Leading with Love
Watching Lt. Gen. Charles D. Luckey lead is a master class in the dual nature of leadership: half commander and half service to those he leads.
“My Soldiers don't work for me. I work for them,” Luckey told a crowd of executives at Warner Bros. Studios in California when asked about his leadership style. “Leading with love means setting up and supporting your subordinates for success.”
Most Army Reserve Soldiers know him from his videos before they even meet him. In those videos, posted regularly on his social media accounts and websites, he’s loud, he’s aggressive, and he’s outside not wearing a cover.
“Someone asked me if I was okay,” Luckey said at a recent shoot. Waiting for the team to set up, he continuously rolled and folded a piece of paper, a gesture that could – to those who work with him closely – be interpreted as impatience.
“Because the last video I did, I was wearing my cover, and they were worried I was a pod person,” he said with a chuckle.
“I’m keeping my cover off,” he added, a half-smile crossing his face. “It’s become a part of my brand now.”
Many people have commented on his lack of head gear on social media. But what many haven’t understood is that he isn’t glib about standards. It’s simply that the ledge outside his office is a no-hat, no-salute zone. Regardless, his lack of headgear has become part of his image over the years.
Luckey made a rolling gesture with his hand, signaling he was ready. It was time to get on with the recording. Standing around and waiting is not part of his brand, and it’s not something he wants his Soldiers to think is OK. In fact, the only thing he finds worse than standing around and waiting is keeping Soldiers waiting on him.
One time, he was in the middle of receiving a brief as part of his battlefield circulations, when he found out a group of Soldiers had been told to wait for him for hours. He stopped everything else to go see them.
“I was in a brief, and your leadership told me you guys were here waiting for me, and no one had told you when I was going to be here,” Luckey said, after demanding he see the Soldiers immediately. “Your time is important. Your time is valuable. You don’t wait for me … because you don’t work for me. I work for you.”
It’s messages like these that he wants leaders and future leaders to learn from, but he also understands that he can’t see everyone. So, he leverages all the tools of communication to reach his audience.
His call sign, Double Eagle 6, is an amalgamation of the U.S. Army Reserve Command’s patch, a two-headed eagle, and the number six, part of a naming convention believed to have originated during World War II to denote a commander.
He’s incorporated that call sign into every video as his brand developed over the past four years. He starts with a boisterous, “Team! Double Eagle 6 here,” and always ends with his mantra, “Keep pounding …”
However, his often brash Pattonesque attitude is only half the story. Luckey is a man who will laser focus on the person in front of him, be present in the moment, and make the person feel important. It’s not an act. Every one of his Soldiers matters to him.
“I first saw Lt. Gen. Luckey speak in his videos. … [H]e was quick, concise and spoke volumes with just a few words,” said 1st Lt. Christian Lewis, commander, 329th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion Headquarters and Headquarters Company. “He made you want to be in the Army Reserve with his messages and made you feel purposeful.
“In person, he maintained that same strong, clear message,” he continued. “He showed a personal side of him by introducing his wife and humanizing his rough exterior.”
Through his videos and his presence, he impresses upon Soldiers and the leaders he commands that they matter to him, and he can’t do it without them.
He takes his hallmark shout of “Team!” on the road. It is infused in his leadership style.
He does this not only in his videos, but wherever he goes, emphatically emphasizing that every Soldier is a part of his team.
“When I talk with commanders, I talk to them about being present, be in the moment with your Soldiers, and unleashing the power of the team,” Luckey said. “My view of it is you can't unleash the power of the team unless the team perceives itself to be a team. And part of that has to do with leading with love.”
“It’s never I,” Luckey said after reviewing text that would appear on his social media platforms. “It’s always we, us, team,” he said as he crossed out a capital letter I at the start of a sentence.
It’s that consistency that has become a trademark of his leadership style. It’s a style that is intended to get results.
“(Leading with love) doesn't mean being nice or pandering to them,” Luckey said, “It does mean you don't abuse them or mistreat them, but in many cases, you're actually extracting more out of them than they thought they could give — and you're doing it by making sure by the end of the day that you care about them, and that they are a part of a team that has to be selfless in order to do what it has to do.”
Tough as Nails
“He looks like he eats nails for breakfast, and I think that's the perception a lot of younger Soldiers have,” said Maj. Gen. Alberto C. Rosende, his former chief of staff who now commands the 63rd Readiness Division. “He always reached out to people in ways that were surprising to me, in ways that let that person know he was concerned for that person and that person's family."
In December of 2019, Luckey went to Kuwait moving from unit to unit to see as many Soldiers as he could, sometimes just a half-dozen and other times a couple of hundred. Each time, he strived to convey how important each of them was to his team.
At the final event of the final day of the 5-day trip to the Middle East, Luckey met with about a hundred Soldiers in front of their office tents. The gathering was bathed by the orange hues of sunset as a dry wind filled the flags soaring above. He asked his Soldiers if anyone felt alone, because if anyone did, he was going to hug them.
One Soldier, Spc. Christopher Sprinkle, tentatively raised his hand.
“Did you raise your hand?” he said, ducking down to get eye to eye with his Soldier who had been kneeling. “Come here,” he said, waving him over. Sprinkle complied, and Luckey opened his arms, embracing his Soldier amid cheers and claps.
“I was a little intimidated … but I came to realize, even though he is the commander of one of the greatest fighting forces in the world, he is still a man: down to earth, goofy and a great speaker,” Sprinkle said. “He could rally anyone to pick up and follow him. It was an honor to meet and serve under a leader such as him.”
Luckey has harnessed mass media to communicate with Soldiers at all levels of his command. His videos “from the ledge,” as Soldiers under his command often refer to them, discuss a wide variety of topics from hot-button issues such as sexual harassment and equal opportunity to topics like the Army Combat Fitness Test and COVID-19.
He is conscientious not to tell his team what to do. Luckey’s philosophy is to lead through vision and trust.
“He trusts his commanders, and he conveys intent. He doesn't just believe in mission command. He lives it," said Brig. Gen. Jami C. Shawley, commanding general of the Army Reserve Aviation Command. "He has communicated to leaders down to the lowest level, to the leaders on the ground, how they have to be ready and how they influence the success of the United States Army and the military abroad.”
As such, his videos are often goal-oriented, allowing his commanders to lead by not undermining their authority, but providing context and guidance along the way.
For example, Ready Force X, Luckey's doctrinal approach to generating readiness “at the speed of relevance” was initially met with some concern that Soldiers might be called to deploy within a few days of designation, or that they were being forced to stay with a unit to deploy to war at a moment's notice.
So, Luckey made a video.
“I'm getting concerned that Soldiers, families and employers think that if you are in an RFX formation, they could be called to go away like poof,” Luckey said. “RFX is not that. RFX is a verb. It's a way we organize and see ourselves as a total team to make sure we can do what we need to do in time and space if there's a bad day.”
Luckey told his Soldiers, in his own voice, that he needed them to help message that RFX is about Soldiers being physically and emotionally ready if and when there might be a horrible day calling them to action.
The video had a positive effect on Soldiers and their families almost immediately as the message spread via social media platforms. As a result, the questions he received from Soldiers in the field changed. He previously found himself responding to various questions about family and work stress related to perceived RFX demands. After the video, the questions changed to the new Army Combat Fitness Test. He was able to change the conversation because he answered the questions via a platform any Soldier could access from anywhere in the world.
What no one knew at the time was that RFX, and his ability to reach out to Soldiers directly, would be critical during one of America's most demanding times: a global pandemic.
As COVID-19 spread around the world, Army intelligence began tracking and briefing leadership on the potential impacts.
Because the vast majority of Army Reserve Soldiers don’t report to a formation every day, communicating to the force can be challenging. Decisions had been made, but in the hours and days afterward, many Soldiers were concerned about how the pandemic would affect their battle assemblies and annual training. This caused rumors and misinformation.
Soldiers needed clear guidance that would cut through the chaos coming from a multitude of sources. So, Luckey took to the ledge and messaged directly to them and their families with his intent. He urged Soldiers to stop moving and to take the virus seriously. Within minutes, thousands of Soldiers and leaders shared the video and commented their appreciation for the clear message.
Focus on Readiness
Internal and external perception of the Army Reserve is that it tends to be more of a life-giving and life-sustaining force due to its limited combat arms capabilities. The Army Reserve has just one infantry unit stationed in America Samoa and Hawaii. However, Luckey implemented a shift in vision toward lethality. He communicated that all Soldiers are expected to integrate with other components as a force multiplier.
For every combat-arms Soldier, there are a slew of Soldiers who support the combat effort with everything from engineers to medical care. They operate in the same conditions and environments as any other Soldier when deployed. It is an often unseen yet vital component to the Army.
When Luckey visits Soldiers, he tells them they are providing the nation, and the Army, with campaign-quality logistics. Without them, the Army doesn't have its unrivaled moving or staying power.
Throughout his years in command, Luckey has had one mantra: the Army Reserve must be capable, combat-ready and lethal. Through events like Cold Steel, a unit-based gunnery exercise that focuses on crew-served weapons, Luckey reminded all Soldiers that they must deal with the enemy first and foremost.
The focus on lethality raises the expectation that his Soldiers will be ready to go whenever and wherever needed — to fight fast. Because of the emphasis on fighting fast, Soldiers have maintained readiness at all times.
Unexpectedly, this paradigm shift meant that when COVID-19 strained national infrastructure, Army Reserve Soldiers mobilized to areas struggling to deal with the medical demands created by the pandemic.
“In 13 days, we organized, marshaled and equipped Soldiers to jump into the fight against COVID-19,” Luckey said. “This isn't the enemy we thought we'd be fighting, but it's the war we are in, and we're going to win.”
His “Keep pounding!” motto, which ends his every video and personal interaction, has turned up on ”morale” patches, welcome signs, T-shirts, and shouted by Soldiers throughout 20 different time zones around the world. His brand and message have had a positive impact on the way his Soldiers see themselves. However, commanders come and go, and Luckey is no exception.
As Double Eagle 6 prepares to depart, knowing this, many Soldiers have already expressed their gratitude for the leadership Luckey has provided both in person and on social media.
His personal cadre of Soldiers, those who work with him directly — and who themselves have calls signs like Shadow, Batman, Breaker, Wreck-it and just B — will go on to serve in other roles with Luckey’s particular brand of bravado, humor and leadership style impressed upon them.
The future of the Army Reserve will be shaped by the new Double Eagle 6, but Luckey has left behind a legacy and planted the seeds of organizational change.
Luckey’s next stop is uncertain, but to the Soldiers he's impacted, his mark will be indelible.