Was it Flavor Aid, Kool-Aid or both? Does it matter? Depends on what we’re talking about. I’ve already defined success for myself, and it doesn’t involve climbing someone else’s ladder.
I am a little disappointed with myself.
The other night, one of my section co-workers heard we had a meeting at 6 PM. Turned out to be this mentoring session, with a panel of senior Officers.
It was quite the coincidence. One of them was a previous boss of mine at Fort Polk, Louisiana, the same one I mentioned just a few articles ago who said I couldn’t write kill into the free text of an anonymous survey.
I liked him. He was a good boss. Toward the end, he recommended three books, one was The One Thing (2012) by G. Keller and J. Papasan. I’ve read it. Another book he recommended was any book on improving American English writing and that also provided templates with which one may copy for military writing purposes. Great advice.
Another speaker gave the advice that before diligently pursuing our military careers, we should define what success means first. She asked, “Do you really want to become a brigade commander?” Or anything else in the military?
She mentions brigade command because at her level, that’s a key developmental position in the military, one that the military requires in order for her to move to the next rank. Given one’s rank and occupation, the military has already outlined a career path towards progression through its rank structure. If one feels so inclined to climb this ladder, she need simply follow it.
The nature of the session implied that success meant success in the military, but not all successful paths in the military mean arriving at the same milestones.
I appreciated the evening.
WHY I’M DISAPPOINTED IN MYSELF
Well, I didn’t really want to be there but I’m thankful for having attended. When we started, everyone in the room introduced himself; name, hometown, job, and educational background. I was the only philosopher. Philosophers ask questions.
I failed to ask any questions. I came up with three questions toward the end, and as the end kept getting extended, I kept thinking, “I need to go home and get some sleep. I got to be up by 0300 for that helicopter ride… Helicopter ride! Woo hoo!”
If I had asked my questions, I feel like we would’ve stayed longer and then talked more afterwards. Ain’t nobody got time for that.
There were at least two recurring themes that the panel strongly emphasized, and with which I couldn’t disagree more strongly.
DO WHAT YOUR BOSS SAYS
Quite famously, the Nazis during the Nuremberg trials gave as their defense for their war crimes, that they were following orders. They were doing what their boss said.
In Turn the Ship Around! (2012) by L.D. Marquet, CAPT (Ret.), USN, and former commander of the submarine USS Santa Fe, the author, CAPT Marquet shares a story about asking this one Sailor what the Sailor does in the submarine. The Sailor replies, with a snide, cynical, “Whatever you say.” CAPT Marquet asks himself, and what if I lead us over a cliff?
The great thing about following orders is that when it fails, it’s not the follower’s fault. It’s the leader’s fault. Except when committing atrocities, of course.
My questions here were, what if my boss is wrong? Should I do what my boss says or do what the mission requires? What if my boss is being abusive? Should I do what my boss says or should I do what’s right? Which is worse, living with a bad evaluation report or living with a bad conscience?
ASK FOR YOUR COUNSELING BEFORE THE EVALUATION
In itself, asking for one’s initial counseling rather than waiting for it (in many cases waiting until the evaluation comes due), makes for great advice.
The sentiment during the mentorship session meant something different. One of the panel members commented that although it may be a sad state of affairs on evaluations, to the Army, perception equals reality.
One must look good on paper to advance. Think of Once an Eagle (1968) by A. Myrer. The ass-kissing Courtney Massengale promotes ahead of real leaders like Sam Damon, who seek to do the right thing, for the right reasons, and regardless of the effect to his own career.
It’s a competition between each other to climb this ladder. A panel member shared his method of rating his Officers. He keeps a spreadsheet full of criteria he finds meaningful in comparing his Officers. Like a bell curve, no matter how good the bottom, there must still exist a bottom.
If you believe that you must do what your boss says, then this attitude extends that belief further. A better evaluation starts with first a better understanding of what the boss wants. Maybe he wants mission accomplishment. Maybe he just wants to look good on paper, and to look good to his bosses.
Research on work evaluations reveal work evaluations themselves incentivize the short-term at the expense of the long-term, to look good for the evaluation. What if instead of looking at what a leader does while in office, we instead look at what happens after he leaves?
Some of the greatest leaders, I argue, are still successfully leading long after leaving office. Long after having died. If you’re religious, pick your leader; Abraham, Jesus, Mohammed, Buddha… If you’re not, pick someone else you might be a fan of; Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr… Their communities have grown and inspired new generations of leaders to further the original mission.
Is it possible that our evaluation rating system is inherently flawed, because it cannot measure what happens after a leader leaves? And as such, instead of emphasizing the evaluation, shouldn’t we instead emphasize doing the best job we can do, with what we have, and to leave the unit and each other better than when we found it?