By Nathan Pfau, Army Flier Staff WriterApril 11, 2013
FORT RUCKER, Ala. (April 11, 2013) -- Fort Rucker's commanding general spoke with junior leaders at the Landing April 9 about what it takes to become a senior leader in today's Army.
Leaders ranging from captains promotable to majors came together at the Commanding General's Officer Professional Development training to listen to Maj. Gen. Kevin W. Mangum, U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence and Fort Rucker commanding general, give advice and talk about his experience coming up through the ranks.
Mangum started by talking about his experience as a captain in the Army, a rank he held for nine years with positions as a battalion S-3, company commander and other joint assignments, but he said it wasn't until he was promoted to major that he realized how much there really was to learn.
"I don't know that I really learned how to learn until I became a major, and I truly mean that," he said. "I started learning about how to communicate. It doesn't matter how charismatic or dynamic of a speaker you are, if you're message isn't packaged correctly, you're going to have a challenge conveying what it is you want to do -- particularly up the chain."
He said communication is key, and when officers are conducting a brief as leaders, they should keep it brief, which can be a challenge.
"The most complex thing we've got to do as human beings is take a series of complex steps that are required to accomplish a mission and articulate them simply, clearly, directly and completely so that everybody understands," said the general. "You've got to determine what's important."
Before moving on, Mangum touched on the issue of basic leadership and said he was astonished at how little people in the Army know about leadership.
By Army regulation definition, leadership is the process of influencing people by providing purpose, direction and motivation to accomplish the mission and improve the organization, he said. He emphasized that the most important part of that definition were the last three words -- improving the organization -- and that failure to take those words to heart can lead to toxic leadership.
Mangum said that there is too much focus in the Army about what leaders are expected not to do rather than what they are expected to do.
"Toxic leaders tend to be more concerned about themselves and the mission, and not about the organization," he said. "They don't develop their subordinates, they don't build processes that will outlive themselves, but are more worried about what the unit looks like than how well it performs."
Throughout the session, Mangum spoke about key points in his leadership career where he often found himself hit by epiphanies, one of which hit him when he was promoted to brigadier general during his 26th year of service.
He explained that when becoming a general officer, other general officers often send congratulatory letters, and a few of the first letters he received said, "being a general officer is a team sport, so don't hesitate to call if I can help in any way."
"Why have I never heard this before?" Mangum asked. "You hear about being a team player all the time, but that's different."
Mangum said that it's important for commanders to look beyond than just their own organization and help focus on the Army as a whole. Being a team player causes people to focus on only their "team" he said, but being in the Army is a team sport with many different "teams" within.
"If you are the commander of Battalion A, there's no reason you can't and shouldn't be a team player and do everything you can for the success of battalions B and C," said the general. "It's about recognizing what you need to do for the larger effort."
The second epiphany Mangum said he came upon was during his 28th year of service -- humility. He said leaders should be aggressive, dynamic, proactive, charismatic and heroic, but all under the "umbrella of humility," and then brought up the issue of many senior leaders getting into trouble.
"When you get promoted, you need to look at it as an opportunity to do more for Soldiers," said Mangum. "It isn't about you, but it has everything to do with how you do it," adding that senior leaders represent the Army.
There were three main works that Mangum said influenced him as a leader when it came to what he called "humble service leadership." He referenced the poem "Anyway" by Kent M. Keith, "If" by Rudyard Kipling and the "Love Verse" from the Bible, First Corinthians 13:4-8.
The poem "Anyway" taught him to make decisions based on what's right rather than what people think about you, which he said isn't easy, but necessary.
Part of leadership isn't only praising people when they do well, but making sure they know when they do wrong.
"Part of it is telling people when they don't meet the standard, and that's a hard business, but it's something that we absolutely have to do," he said. "Sometimes, you've got to let your subordinates fail, because it's about giving them feedback when they get outside those limits."
Mangum also said that as leaders move up through the ranks into senior leader territory, leadership becomes more about indirect leadership than direct leadership.
"You're going to stop being graded as much on your technical and tactical competence," he said. "As you progress, it's more interpersonal and conceptual leadership, and problem solving, but the key thing is to not forget where you came from and do the best you can.
"Do the right thing for the right reason to accomplish your mission and improve your organization," he said. "I think that's what it takes to be a successful leader and truly improve."