Tuesday, April 28, 2009

7 Habits--Sharpening the Saw

Ok so this one is a little late.  My bad.  But I'll get right into it.

Basically Sharpening the Saw is a vital habit for leaders, Army officers especially.   It is not enough to learn a skill once, or to be in peak physical shape once.  Our skills and habits must constantly be practiced and honed.  If a soldier does not sharpen his saw, he will be less effective to his unit.  Marksmanship skills must be constantly practiced to maintain.  You have to constantly work out and pt if you hope to attain and maintain physical standards.  Those do not just stay with you without putting effort towards it.  

But most importantly, soldiers train.  They know the basics, but they constantly train to keep that edge gleaming.  Without proper training, proficiency, discipline, and skill slips away.  Mistakes are made that could potentially be deadly to the unit.  Keeping that skill saw sharp is vital to the function of an Army unit.  If the basics are well trained, then soldiers can react when things go wrong.  And that is an important ability.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

7 Habits--Synergy

The first thing I thought of when Covey began discussing synergy was the team that is the Army.  A synergized team becomes greater than the sum of its parts; I cannot help but think of a squad in this case.  Alone, each soldier is a rifleman, easily surrounded, suppressed, and defeated.  But together, the squad is a fluid unit with the flexibility to adapt and the strength to succeed in any situation.  Synergy on the squad level allows the soldiers to function as a single unit, with seamless communication and action.  But this does not come easily; it requires cooperation, time and effort for a unit to attain true synergy.  But that is especially important for Army units.  The squad is only the most basic of these units.  The strength of the US military relies on synergy throughout its unit levels, starting at squad synergy, which allows for a cohesive platoon, which encourages teamwork on a company level, etc.

I was also struck by the section about Lilienthal and the Atomic Energy Commission.  He took the time to have his group get to know each other before they got down to work.  In the short run this delayed results; however, in the long run it was much more effective because his group had true synergy and was very creative.  For a group to attain maximum effectiveness, its members must be close on a personal level.  This is still true of the Army.  A close unit with strong relationships will be more cooperative, work harder, and sacrifice more for each other.  Synergy is the lifeblood of the Army and as future leaders, is a principle we must master.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

7 Habits--First Understand

This chapter was very straightforward.  Seeking first to understand then to be understood is probably simplest of the principles, but the hardest to master.  It requires a major shift from the paradigm we usually use to 'listen' to others.  Putting yourself in someone else's shoes and really understanding their point of view is the best relationship builder you can do.  Nothing else shows that you care and understand them as much as that.

This principle is useful in any situation--with family, friends, superiors, subordinates, and peers.  As an action that can be applied in every interpersonal interaction, it is of course vital for a strong leader to be able to do.  A leader must really seek to understand his subordinates, to build on the bond of trust that his personal principles originally instilled in them.  He must understand his superiors, in order to carry out their orders to the best of his abilities.  

Understanding first is really the interpersonal display of the first three personal principles.  Once you understand yourself, you can extend that understanding to other people.  But without that strong personal base, it will seem a shallow attempt to manipulate.  If the win/win is a business attitude, understanding is a personal one, and probably the most important principle so far.

7 Habits--Win/Win

I was a little confused about this chapter.  I recognize that win/win is the best out of all the human interaction paradigms, but I was unsure as to how it could apply to a military hierarchy.  Covey gives a lot of examples about how it applies to the business world.  However the military doesn't really function like that.  If an order from a superior is given, the expectation is that it is carried out, regardless of whether you like it or not.  There is no real negotiation involved.  Having a win/win mentality does not really work when you have choice about what you do.  And of course, No Deal is not even an option.

I guess thinking win/win can apply to cooperating with ones peers.  If someone is thinking win/lose because they want a promotion, it can affect the stability of a unit.  In all the books written by soldiers I have read, the biggest problem is when someone cares more about their career than their unit.  They are thinking win/lose, or perhaps just win.  Either way, win/win would be much more desirable in this case because it makes everyone look good instead of one person looking good compared to everyone else.

7 Habits--Interpersonal Leadership

In this chapter, Covey prepares the reader of the interpersonal principles.  He discusses the Emotional Bank account.  To have a healthy relationship with someone, you must 'make deposits' into the account in the form of trust and relationship building actions.  Relationship damaging actions are 'withdrawls.'  To have a healthy relationship, the deposits must outweigh withdrawls.  This is important in any aspect of life, but especially applied to the military.

To be a good leader, one cannot simply give orders.  A leader has to invest in his people, to assure them that they really matter.  If the leader does not work to build that trust, then your people will not function as effectively as they would working for a leader they both trust and like.  Personal connections make all the difference in an industry when people's lives depend on trusting each other.  A true military leader has both the skill to command and the compassion to motivate his men.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

7 Habits--Put First Things First

In this chapter, Covey talks about how prioritizing and putting effort towards what is truly important is both a vital and rare skill.  What struck me in this chapter as being relevant to ROTC and the military was his differentiation between leadership and management.

"While leadership decides what 'first things' are, it is management that puts them first, day-by-day, moment by moment.  Management is the discipline of carrying it out."

This really reminded me of the duties of the officer and NCO teams.  The officer is the leadership aspect of the team, concerned with putting the first things first, making sure that the platoon has its mission priorities clearly in order.  The NCO is responsible for disseminating those priorities to the platoon and ensuring that the mission is carried out.  The officer provides the vision and desired endstate, and it is up to the NCO to make sure that action is taken to make those reality.

Understanding the difference between officer and NCO roles is a vital part of our training and careers.  It is also at times difficult to concretely separate the responsibilities.  But this distinction between leadership and management parallels the officer/NCO relationship and I think it is a good summary of the team's different responsibilities.

Monday, February 16, 2009

7 Habits--Begin with the End in Mind

Beginning with the end in mind is a very simple yet deceptively difficult task.  Picturing who you want to be at the end of your life is easy; becoming that person is the hard part.  We are either a products of our own design or the creation of other people's agendas.  

To do this, to capture that self awareness that allows us to dictate or own path, we must first find leadership.  Last semester, we discussed the difference between leadership and management, and Covey expresses similar thoughts.  "Management is doing things right; Leadership is doing the right thing."  While both are very important traits for an officer to have, one cannot be effective without being a leader first, manager second.

Also part of this task is finding your center.  This section calls to mind the scene from "Mulan" where Captain Li Shang sings "once you find your center, you are sure to win!"  While it is true that being a correctly centered person is vital to effective leadership, it is not so simple as to be solved in a quick montage.  The real search for center is a long difficult journey that never really is finished.

The section that really struck me as important to aspiring soldiers was visualization and affirmation.  Astronauts and athletes use this process to remain calm in intense situations and think clearly under stress.  Arguably there is no more intense and dangerous job than that of a professional soldier; visualizing yourself calm and collected in the middle of a hectic ambush will help you be just that if such an event were to occur.  Creating an "internal comfort zone" by visualizing the situation clearly and relentlessly will familiarize the event.  This struck me as a good way to prepare for combat action, an additional process to aid in readiness that goes beyond battle drills and training.  Coolness under pressure is a skill combat leaders need to survive, and anything to help develop that is worth pursuing.