Special Operations Leadership: The Mission or the Men? Spec Ops Post 12
In between my plebe (freshman) and yearling (sophomore) years at West Point I, along with my classmates, went to Camp Buckner for our summer training. Buckner is about ten miles west of the main post, a collection of tin buildings set around the end of Lake Popolopen. This summer of training was the equivalent of advanced individual training, with an emphasis on leadership fundamentals.
One exercise I found particularly bothersome was when we would “what-if” scenarios without actually being in the situation. Do you remember playing those philosophy games where you would be asked if Joe is justified stealing the medicine that would save his wife if he couldn’t afford it? Nice to theorize about but a whole different ball game when real. One issue raised quite often was which came first: the mission or the men? What do you think the West Point approved solution was?
The Mission, of course. Nothing could get in the way of the mission.
And, as usual, I disagreed. My basic problem with the approved solution was that it would be very difficult to achieve the mission without the men. I felt that too often it was assumed that the men would also be on board for mission accomplishment. If that was true, then what was the point of any leadership training? The definition of a leader is someone who leads others along a way. When you consider leading people into combat you run into the fundamental problem that you are leading them into a situation where the possibility of being maimed or killed is significantly higher than normal. Therefore, the normal, rational person, does not want to go this way. It is the leader who must get the people to do what they naturally don’t want to do. Because of that, it seemed to me a flawed assumption that the men would follow.
In the same way, I opened this book with character before goals. Because without understanding of your own character and others, you can never achieve your goals.
The purpose of leadership
A leader is a person who makes decisions and then implements a course of action. Since an elite person is someone who takes action, it is implied that an elite person is a leader.
A leader can consolidate and focus the other elite areas. The first thing a leader must do is set goals. Then the leader must make a decision leading to a course of action that implements change. And ultimately, a leader must take care of him/her/self and those around them.
In setting goals, the leader must make sure all goals are aligned and not in conflict. An interesting example of non-alignment of goals I experienced was as a plebe at West Point. We were required to memorize large amounts of information, some of it useful, such as the ranges of various weapons, much of it useless, such as how many gallons were in Lusk Reservoir when the water was flowing over the spillway. One particular piece of information we had to memorize that struck me as strange was called Schofield’s Definition of Discipline. It begins:
“The discipline which makes the soldiers of a free country reliable in battle is not to be gained by harsh or tyrannical treatment. On the contrary, such treatment is far more likely to destroy than to make an army.”
I would be standing in the hallway of the barracks at West Point, braced against the wall by an upperclassman, who would demand I recite the entire definition as a form a hazing. To me there was an inherent contradiction in the content of what I was saying and the context under which I was saying it. The two were not aligned.
How to state goals in one sentence and align them was covered earlier in this book. It is a leader’s job to make sure this is done. How people change was also covered earlier. It is a leader’s job to provide the moment of enlightenment and then insure that sustained action is taken that ultimately leads to change.
A leader is a conflict resolver. Not only in aligning goals, but also other variables that can cause conflicts in our lives. The four key variables a leader must understand and work with are:
All are covered elsewhere in this book, but it is our leadership style that will determine how we approach each. I’m going to cover some well-known military leaders to give you an insight into various leadership styles, and then I’ll discuss the most common type of style inherent in Special Operations. Now that you have a handle on your own personality, try to see which of these famous figures resonate with you. See how the personalities of each of these examples strongly affected their leadership styles and vice versa.
The key elements of Special Operations leadership are:
- Team Building.