By Mr. Michael Maddox (ROTC)February 20, 2019
FORT LEAVENWORTH, Kansas. (February 13, 2019) -- Top ROTC and West Point Cadets from across the country recently had the opportunity to learn from peers and Army leaders during the 2019 George C. Marshall Seminar at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas Feb. 11-13.
The week was highlighted by speakers, panel discussions and small group sessions, but it began with a welcome by Maj. Gen. John Evans, commander of U.S. Army Cadet Command.
"One of the true highlights of my job is to participate in events like this where I have the opportunity to engage with you -- future Army officers. Your presence here today signifies that you're not only good at serving, you are committed to leading from the front with an eye towards excellence," he said. "You've been selected from among your peers because of your dedication and commitment to excellence."
"Whether you are here as a cadet or cadre member, you'll be surrounded by some of our nation's best and brightest leaders. I encourage you, no matter your rank, to take advantage of the opportunity to share and learn from your teammates," he said. "We crafted this conference with the thought of how to give you a little something extra. What we want you focused on, whether you're a West Point Cadet or an ROTC cadet, is the basic blocking and tackling of what leadership is, and what's going to be expected of you when you become second lieutenants."
Evans said one of best ways to grow and prepare for leadership is to learn from others.
"The most important take away from this symposium will be the peer-to-peer sharing and interfacing with a multitude of leaders in thought and practice," he said. "The real takeaway should be how to interact with leaders and how you as a second lieutenant must seek to lead with confidence and wisdom. You must also seek others to whom you can turn for guidance."
He added, that drive to seek guidance and advice shouldn't stop at the end of the conference.
"I believe mentorship is a covenant between two people -- a person who is desiring an opportunity to grow and better themselves and a person who wants to give back based on what they've learned and what they've done," Evans said. "Go out there and find someone who is going to invest in you and take time to make sure you're providing feedback as well."
Jacob Adel, from University of Arkansas, said he feels more at ease with the responsibility of being a new officer knowing he won't be in it alone.
"I think this has better prepared me to be a competent and adaptable leader for when I go into the Army," he said. "I think the advice about finding a mentor, both above and below you, was really useful. I think it would be beneficial to find someone to be mentoring and have someone who has been in your shoes mentoring you."
No matter how prepared a leader is, there will still be times they are tested and it's how they handle those tests that matter, Evans said.
"Bad things will happen to good leaders -- always. If you think being a good leader will keep bad things from happening to your organization, you're mistaken," he shared. "You won't be judged by the fact that bad things happen, you will be evaluated on how you respond to that. You'll be evaluated by your chain of command and you'll be evaluated by your Soldiers.
"If you create an environment where people who are doing the right thing can go out and make honest mistakes and work with that, then I think you'll have a great organization," Evans added. "If you have an organization where mistakes aren't tolerated, I think you'll struggle."
During his welcome, Evans also took questions from Cadets about various topics like diversity in the Army.
"I will tell you that we have work to do. It's very important for each and every one of you -- as young officers who understand what the Army is and who understand intrinsically the value of selfless service and serving the nation -- to go out there and find people of color, people of different genders, people of different beliefs. That's what enriches our Army," he said. "If we get into this group think that we all have to look the same and think the same, we are short selling ourselves. We have to make sure the Army looks as much like America as we can make it."
He was also asked how to best deal with perceived toxic leadership.
"You're going to work with someone you don't really agree with; that's just going to happen. The bottom line is he or she is the boss and you're a new lieutenant. That doesn't mean they're a toxic leader," Evans advised. "They may not be as malleable as you would like them to be. They may not do as much group hugging as you would like to have. They may be able to hear your ideas on some things. But the bottom line is that isn't toxic leadership. If you're under toxic leadership it will be apparent in the morale of the unit, in the way the people address the boss, the way the boss addresses the subordinates, and I think we have done a pretty good job of holding people accountable in the Army."
Cadets in the audience were very interested in guidance on how to be successful leaders. Evans shared several tips with them.
"You have to develop your own leadership style as you develop in the Army. You have to determine what you think works best for you," he said. "That's one of the hard parts of leadership, you have to sort of feel that out. I always thought a more open approach worked well for me."
"The more senior you become, you'll be able to pick out the good leaders. They are the ones taking care of their folks, doing the right thing, working through the process, bringing the unit together," Evans added. "It comes down to figuring out who is doing things for the team and who is kind of a spotlight ranger. To me, a leader is the person who is quietly and humbly bringing the team together, lifting everyone up, who carries the commander's intent forward and makes it their own."
Evans closed out his time by reminding the cadets they will not be alone as leaders, they will have a platoon sergeant to help them along.
"You're going to have a member of your leadership team who knows your formation, knows your Soldiers, and knows your squad leaders. They're someone you can talk to when making decisions. Ultimately, you're going to be the leader and they expect you to lead," Evans said. "The challenge is you may feel a little overwhelmed because you don't have a lot of experience and that's understandable. But look at this as an advantage: here you have someone who has been in the Army 11, 12, 13 years, who is going to be able to coach you as to what this team is like. So lean on them."
Grace Lawrence, from the University of Kansas, said the advice Evans provided gave her a better grasp of what to expect once she graduates and is sent to her first unit.
"It's given me a broader perspective on what I am actually here for rather than just focusing on my tasks and the things I will be doing each day," she said. "I have a better understanding on who I will be working for and what I will be doing."
U.S. Army Cadet Command oversees the Army's senior and Junior ROTC programs. The Army ROTC program provides more college scholarships than any other program in America, with merit-based benefits going to about 15K students each year. The total amount of scholarship benefits paid this year currently stands at over $370M. It commissions more than 70 percent of the Army's new officers each year through host ROTC programs at 274 host universities at nearly 1,000 affiliated programs at other colleges across the nation. Learn more about Army ROTC at www.goarmy.com/rotc.