FORT McCOY, Wis. –
“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader,” stated John Quincy Adams, 6th President of the United States.
Leadership is the foundation on which our strong country and strong Army stands. The Army uses an acronym from it to echo its core values. Shortly after arriving at Army Basic Training, Soldiers learn LDRSHIP - Loyalty, Duty, Respect, Selfless Service, Honor, Integrity and Personal Courage. So what does it look like to be a leader in uniform?
Officers and noncommissioned officers are responsible for their Soldiers, and evaluated on their skills as leaders. Leaders demonstrate how they build trust, extend influence beyond the chain of command, lead by example and communicate in their evaluation report. These are fine definitions on paper, but how leaders behave in the field is what inspires Soldiers to follow.
“If you can’t get your followers to believe in you as a leader, you might as well be a follower, too. Followers enable leaders to be successful, the two have to coexist.“ said U.S. Army Reserve Capt. Jason W. DeWitt, assigned to the 364th Theater Public Affairs Support Element, Fort Snelling, Minnesota.
Quality leaders can be peers as well as superiors. DeWitt told of when he attended Officers Candidate School and there was a co-student who had a vision and enough of the vision was good that they all subscribed to it and made it happen.
“He was pretty squared away and enough of us had confidence in him to follow his vision,” says DeWitt.
DeWitt recalls his basic training platoon sergeant, U.S. Army Reserve Sgt. 1st Class Arnold Brown, didn’t want to be a first sergeant because it meant he’d be further from the troops. He would lead by example. At 50 years old, he would do push-ups on his fingers to show his Soldiers they could do more than they thought they could.
In order to follow, people expect their leaders to know what they’re doing, to have been there themselves.
“Not just telling people what to do, but actually put yourself through it,” said U.S. Army Reserve Spc. Joseph D. Lopez assigned to the 728th Transportation Company, Concord, California, who was named acting platoon sergeant for their recent training mission.
“A competent leader can get efficient service from poor troops, while on the contrary an incapable leader can demoralize the best of troops,” said U.S. Army Gen. John J. Pershing commanded of the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) in Europe during World War I.
When faith is lost, dauntless leaders can do damage control.
“It just made the morale worse. It made a bad impression of whoever that was. And the next order they would tell us we would be grumbling or just having complaints, not like happily doing it,” said Lopez. “I would tell my soldiers to keep their head up, and this is the Army, we gotta do what we got to do,”
As when Soldiers were stranded without a mission plan and conflicting or lack of guidance from higher, it was junior officers and senior non-commissioned officers who took charge to create purpose, protocol and morale through the chaos.
No matter what the situation or morale, all leadership can be learned from.
“I’ve had enough bad leadership, but I learned from them as well, as ‘hey, this is what I don’t want to be,’ so I can tweak mine in how I want to be,” said Sgt. 1st Class Billy J. Conley assigned to the 13th Ordnance Battalion, Fort McCoy, Wisconsin.
“You’re not just a natural born leader, you actually have to work at it”, said Conley who has taken a lot of leadership courses in the military.
Those who want to lead put in the effort. Thankfully, the Army recognizes that not all Soldiers may innately be leaders, but all can be taught. The Army offers leadership courses as Soldiers step through the ranks, from Basic Leaders Course through Command Sergeants Major Academy. These are designed to teach leadership skills that will help advance themselves and their military careers.
“I just like mentoring Soldiers. ... Eventually, they’re going to have to take over. I want to leave the Army better than it was when I first started,” said Conley.