Know who's watching?
June 5, 2014
Fort Belvoir, Va. (June 5, 2014) - To the 25th Infantry Division Soldier from Alaska whom I almost hit yesterday with my car because you ran through the red light at the chapel.
I was making a left at the three way intersection in front of Belvoir Chapel from Belvoir Road to 12th Street. I know you ran the red light as I had a green arrow, you didn't even slow down for the light. I also know you saw me because you gave me a very rude gesture when I honked at you. I apologize for such a long and loud blast from my car; however your actions startled me and placed me in danger.
I wouldn't even bother writing this editorial; however when you made a second rude gesture at me when you turned into Van Noy Library I briefly considered turning into the parking lot for a leadership moment.
Unfortunately I had somewhere I needed to be and couldn't stop to calm someone who was clearly in much more of a hurry than I and also very angry at himself for having done something stupid and wrong -- at least that's what I'm going to tell myself.
At the opposite end of the spectrum I could assume you're just a reckless Soldier who endangers his battle buddies because it suits him. Is this the leadership message you want to embody? Do you want your junior enlisted, noncommissioned officers, officers and senior leaders behaving this way toward you? What about your children? If your answer is no, then you should take a look at your personal behavior.
I consider everyone on this post a battle buddy. I learned from some very savvy leaders at the 25th Infantry Division (my first Department of Army Civilian job) that you don't have to be in the same brigade, battalion, regiment or company to be a battle buddy, you just have to be on the same team. That team includes all servicemembers, Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force and Coast Guard. We collectively have to look out for each other because no one but servicemembers have had our experiences.
I work to support the servicemembers, Families and civilians who live, work and play on Fort Belvoir. As such I want no harm to come to anyone in our community. I also don't want my actions to reflect badly on my boss -- the garrison commander.
Keep in mind there are a lot of (current and former) general officers who live on and around Fort Belvoir in addition to directors of national level agencies. These people are in charge of things like National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, Office of the Chief Army Reserves, Intelligence and Security Command, National Regional Medical Command, even the Military District of Washington commander is known to visit Fort Belvoir. I would hate to see what would happen to the poor soul who performed a rude gesture to a senior leader.
One of my favorite stories considers the "Golden Rule." Nearly all religions have some version of "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." I like the Rabbi Hillel version which goes something like this:
"Once there was a gentile (non-Jew) who came before Rabbi Shammai (a chief rabbi and teacher), and said to him: 'Convert me on the condition that you teach me the whole Torah (Bible) while I stand on one foot.' Shammai pushed him aside with the measuring stick he was holding. The same fellow came before Rabbi Hillel, and Hillel converted him, saying: 'That which is despicable to you, do not do to your fellow, this is the whole Torah, and the rest is commentary, go and learn it.'"
There are two lessons in this story. First, Rabbi Shammai reacted hastily to someone who could have helped him; Shammai also gave a bad reputation regarding his religion to this gentile. Second, Rabbi Hillel practiced personal leadership while teaching the golden rule, nested in the lesson is the action of applying the golden rule.
Personal leadership is a state of mind, of heart and of body. It describes a way of being and of interacting with the world that begins from the "inside out," and that asks us to be fully present in our lives, awake to our habitual behaviors, and willing to look at every situation with fresh eyes.
When you feel offended (or annoyed, confused or frustrated) by what someone else has or has not done, has or has not said, the principles and practices of personal leadership help you to pause, take a step back and decide an appropriate reaction.
These principles help people cultivate a critical thinking space between our immediate and righteous sense of offense and what our automatic reaction might have been. In the critical space of such a pause, however momentary, we can discern the most effective way to proceed.
What we then say or do, or even don't say or do, is now much more likely to be an effective expression of our leader competence.
Nearly every leadership book will tell you to model the behaviors you seek. Accept your responsibility as a leader and act with engagement, commitment and responsibility. Do this every day.
I know you're proud to have served in Afghanistan and probably earned combat awards with the 25th ID. However, your actions the other day reflected poorly on your unit and battle buddies back home.