“The best leaders create environments that allow individuals to grow and trust subordinates.”
The purpose of this topic is to help educate maneuver leaders about the nature and importance of leader development in our Army. Good leaders produce more leaders, not more followers. Developing leaders is not a matter of resources; it is mainly a matter of commitment.
The Myths: Leader development is having OPDs and NCOPDs regularly. Leader development is your assignment progression over time. Leader development is counseling and mentoring. Leader development is something that TRADOC does – meaning it is synonymous with education.
As defined in the Army Leader Development Strategy, leader development is, “A continuous, progressive process by which the synthesis of an individual’s training, education, and experiences contribute to individual growth over the course of a career”. Leader development is a mutually shared responsibility across three domains: the institutional Army (education or training institutions), the operational force (organization or unit), and the individual. As illustrated in the below diagram, the three components of leader development occur in each of these domains. Surrounding the model are peer and developmental relationships that provide context and enhance professional growth. These relationships are critical to overall development and involve sharing, counseling, reflection, coaching, mentoring, and 360 degree assessments like the current Multi-Source Assessment and Feedback (MSAF) program. These relationships and programs increase a leader’s self-awareness through objective feedback from multiple perspectives.
There is a distinction between leader development and leadership development (defined as, enhancing a leader’s ability to influence others within a given social context), the Army merges the two in its description of a developmental process that is intended to produce a leader embodying the attributes and competencies defined in ADP 6-22 , Army Leadership.
Developmental processes, such as that depicted in the Army Leader Development Model, describe how a leader within an organization develops. Consistent with the Army model, most literature on developmental processes highlights three components of development: Challenging Experiences, the Readiness of the Individual to Respond to the Challenge, and Reflection.
Readiness of the Individual. We have to assess the readiness of the subordinate with respect to the challenge for which they are about to be presented and we must decide if it is appropriate. A basketball team of 9 yr olds should probably not be “challenged” with playing the Lakers. There is no hope, and it is very doubtful that any development will occur. What is more likely is an emotional outcome of crushing failure. The Asymmetric Warfare Group coined the phrase, “Training at the Threshold of Failure”. It would be simple to replace “training” with “development”:
Implied in all of the above is that the senior leader must have a pretty specific understanding of the subordinate’s capabilities, if the experience is to be challenging, yet attainable (the sweet spot). Said another way, en masse development has some utility, but the best development occurs when it is individualized.
When discussing Challenging Experiences, we often equate that to challenging training events; ones that have curveballs thrown in to test our agility, or mental resolve, etc. That is a normal association, but experiences can come in many forms: challenging educational experiences, a challenging public speaking engagement, counseling a troubled family, or being given a staff project that appears on the surface to be “too hard and too complex” for what you believe your capabilities to be. Anything that stretches one’s capacity can be considered a challenging experience.
Reflection is probably the most important part of the developmental process and the most misunderstood and least applied. As soon as we complete the latest task, assignment, or mission and no matter how challenging it was, we move immediately to the next task. Reflection includes feedback (to include 360s), coaching and mentoring. Self-reflection is also a powerful tool, but it is not enough. If you reflect wrongly, or in a shallow fashion, then you might misinterpret the lessons you learned from that experience. This is where more experienced leaders coach, counsel, share, explain, and put into context what they think you might have learned from that experience. That feedback might not be 100% accurate either, but if nothing else, it has given you a different perspective.
The Army grows its own leaders. Unlike large organizations in the civil sector, the uniformed Army does not routinely recruit, select, and assign mid-grade and senior level leaders from outside its service. Development of a senior uniformed leader begins two decades prior to the organization’s employment of that individual. The Army develops adaptive leaders through training, education and experiences within a mission command climate.
How is the Army doing with respect to developing leaders? The survey indicates that we can do better. Over the past three years, “Develops Others” has been our lowest rated leader competency. The two highest rated competencies have been “Achieves Results” and “Leads Others”. In short, it appears that we are strong at “doing”, but weak at “giving”.
Do not assume that you already “know” what leader development is. To paraphrase numerous articles and books on developmental systems, three things must be present for a developmental system is to be effective: Intention, ownership and accountability. Intention is the organization’s desired outcome of development. The organization must fill in the blank of the following sentence, or the developmental activity will be just that-activity with no purpose: “We want to develop leaders who _____. Ownership means that senior leaders of the organization establish leader development as a priority, not just in writing, but in word, deed, and action. Ownership also relates to the individuals’ within the organization being prepared and are willing to develop. Accountability entails senior members being held accountable for how well they have developed those junior to them (subordinates), and individuals being held personally accountable for their own growth”.
You will be leading others your entire time you are in our Army. The best leaders understand that it is never about them, it is about those whom they lead. The following approach to the study of this topic is meant to help you develop yourself, and in turn be better prepared to develop others.
Read the Army Leader Development Strategy (ALDS) and the Maneuver Leader Development Strategy (MLDS) along with the Army leadership doctrine. Then select an article such as The Building Blocks to Leader Development to help you gain a broader perspective on leader development. Next, select a book such as High Flyers to then mature your own theory of leader development.
Finally, after reading a book and an article on leader development, transition to a book or article on how military leaders developed. There are a few books listed under this topic, and several more under the self study topic on Military Leadership.