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Battalion Commander Leadership Essay

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I thought long and hard about my experiences. My most framework-shaping experiences occurred many years ago while serving as a junior Officer in a Battalion under the toxic leadership of an inept Commander, exposing me to the hard truth that all senior leaders are not necessarily assured to carry the knowledge and competence automatically assumed that someone of their position would possess. This reframed my stereotype of ranking officers, and in the process, taught me leadership lessons on how to best deal with future situations. While this is perhaps not the best setting for a lesson, and certainly not representative of the vast majority of military officers, it is best to never squander an opportunity to learn something.

Upon arrival at my duty station, I had to meet with the Battalion Commander right away. Nothing terribly formal, merely an initial counseling. This was the Battalion Commander. I assumed that meant he had to be one of the best Lieutenant Colonels around. He knew our jobs even better than we did, and we should strive to be just like him. Or so I thought.

I later learned that the Commander had reached his position mostly through successful politicking. He was an Engineer officer, but his entire career was in the construction track. He had managed many high-dollar and even higher-profile projects. But he had never held command over combat engineer units, nor even been assigned to an operational function at any level. He also navigated a wide variety of headquarters positions, in both administration and logistics, through which he was able to establish personal contacts with all of the key decision-makers. But these jobs clearly did very little to hone his leadership skills, and absolutely nothing to develop any form of tactical proficiency.

My first meeting with him went well. I marveled at his “I love me” wall, which displayed multiple framed photographs of his rotund figure proudly presiding over groundbreakings and ribbon-cuttings. He seemed to be very kind and highly intelligent. And he was, when he was in his element, that being an office setting. He welcomed me to the team, inquired of my education and qualifications, briefly covered his expectations for members of the officer corps, and wished me well. This inspired me to push myself even harder in this new job, and I was very anxious to show him and my operations officer what I could do.

Our first field exercise began at an extraordinarily high operational tempo. The commander demanded immediate updates on the Battalion’s current operations. I had better begun my brief even before his rear boot entered the room, or else. He was known to storm in unexpectedly, forcing me to stay on my tiptoes, rehearsing my brief during downtime. Upon completion of my first in-brief to the commander, I was convinced he was satisfied. However, he immediately launched into a profanity-laced tirade, needlessly berating me, and doing so within earshot of several young soldiers. I stood stunned and puzzled, trying to figure out what I had said or done that sent him over the edge, left with even more confusion by the absence of any such clarification in his demeaning remarks. I was equally frustrated as my Operations Officer sat idly by, seemingly paralyzed in fear of becoming the next arbitrary victim of a verbal lashing should he intervene in defense of a subordinate being disciplined for having done no wrong. I didn’t know how, but I obviously screwed up.

My following briefings were even more in-depth and covered every possible metric, utilizing an array of doctrinal terminology. His outrage was only escalated. With my anger and disgust at the commander now becoming visible, my Operations Sergeant pulled me aside. “Sir, do you know what you’re doing?” I thought I did, but maybe not. “You’re confusing the (expletive) out of this guy! He has no idea what you just said! Acronyms are just letters to him. You need to dumb these updates down, and keep your briefs brief.” Now it all made sense. No longer the infallible image I once saw, I now recognized that he didn’t have a clue what he was doing there, biding his time to check the block.



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