WASHINGTON (Army News Service, March 21, 2016) – “How do you empower unmotivated people?” asked a university student.
“You highlighted one of the great leadership challenges,” Vice Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Daniel B. Allyn said to her, noting that the hardest people to empower or inspire are those of one’s peer group.
Allyn spoke to university students at the ninth annual West Point Leadership and Ethics Conference at the Arlington, Virginia campus of George Mason University, March 17, 2016. The theme this year was “Living an Honorable Life.” He spoke to cadets earlier in the day.
LEADING BY EXAMPLE
So how do you empower unmotivated people? the general repeated.
“If you’re a shining light and an example to others, you may think they’re not paying attention, but they are paying attention, so be that shining light and you will bring others to the light,” he exhorted.
The ability to inspire others to do what’s right because it’s the right thing to do is what leadership is ultimately about, he continued: “influencing those around you.”
LEADING UNDER PRESSURE
Another student asked the vice chief of staff what’s the most effective technique for leading others when they’re under “immense pressure?”
Oftentimes, making decisions and leading in high-pressure situations, whether in war or peace, involves degrees of risk, the general offered.
“When you’re a leader, the potential for failure is always there,” he said.
One of the best things to do, he advised, is to “trust those leaders under your command to know what to do and to do the right thing.”
He added that by doing that, a Soldier shares the burden of pressure with leaders he or she is entrusted to lead.
Besides levels of risk in situations where there’s a lot of pressure, the other anxiety is not knowing the outcome of a decision, event or both in advance, Allyn said. “The fear of the unknown is the most crippling potential influence to negating your ability to lead.”
Allyn advised dealing with the fear of the unknown by “not worrying about the stuff you can’t control. Focus on what you can control and the best way to deliver a positive outcome.
“We often cripple ourselves with worries about stuff we have absolutely no ability to influence. Tighten your focus on that which you’re responsible for and empower your leaders to deliver that outcome for you … and they will deliver,” he said, adding, “when you succeed, they succeed and when they succeed, you succeed.”
Allyn then related a personal story about when he was a young lieutenant. He recalled his non-commissioned officers wanting to have the best platoon in the battalion, led by the best lieutenant in the battalion.
“Soldiers’ greatest desire is for you to succeed. They want you to succeed because guess what happens when you succeed? They succeed,” he said.
BEST UNIT IN ARMY
Another student asked Allyn about his favorite assignment and best unit in the Army.
The general responded that he once thought the best unit in the Army was the 82nd Airborne Division. “I wanted to be a leader in that division the rest of my life,” he said.
At the time he thought the 82nd was the best, he quickly added, he was a young lieutenant and somewhat naïve.
Then came the day of disappointment when he said he got orders for Korea to be in the 2nd Infantry Division.
After just a short time with 2ID, he said he pronounced the experience with them to be “awesome.”
In short, each new assignment usually got better and better for him, and he ended up staying in the Army 39 years and still serving, not a plan he had as a West Point cadet.
So why is a unit “the best?” he asked. It’s best because the people make it the best. And all of these best units then make the best Army.
Elaborating more on the student’s question about best units, Allyn gave some examples of others who made their units the best.
The first example was of a young captain, who was in charge of 120 Soldiers. When the Russians invaded Crimea, the captain and his Soldiers were ordered from Italy to Lithuania to bolster NATO’s strength in that area and show Russia that the alliance is firm against any possible aggression that might be directed at them, he said.
En route to Lithuania, that captain probably had a lot of thoughts running through his head, Allyn posited. He must have been wondering if there’s anything he forgot to do, if the training his unit did would pay off and other “tactical thoughts that every company commander has,” the general said.
When he deplaned on the tarmac in Lithuania, the president of that country was there to personally greet him, Allyn said. Suddenly, the captain’s thoughts went from tactical to strategic, realizing at that instant that it was he alone, representing the president of the United States to the Lithuanian president.
He didn’t know that was going to happen, but his training prepared him for that, Allyn said, pointing out how one person can make a huge difference, as well as how a unit like his can be the very best when the time comes for when they’re needed.
Later on, when Ukraine was standing up their army’s training mission, that same captain was met yet again by a president, the president of Ukraine.
Not everyone will have that unusual experience, Allyn said, admitting that as a young captain he would have been envious of the captain. The point is, though, that everyone can and does have the potential to make a difference and have a tremendous impact.
Allyn provided other examples, like a female lieutenant, Ashley Meadows, operating a maintenance platoon out of Burkina Faso, when that country had a coup. She said she relied on her noncommissioned officers to give her advice during those turbulent times. Later on, the new president selected the troops her unit had trained to be his most trusted palace guard, a tribute to how she and her platoon had made a difference.
“Never underestimate the impact one leader has in making a difference,” the general concluded. “We need leaders of character in today’s world and we’re counting on you to make that happen.”