Fort Benning Public Affairs
FORT BENNING, Ga. – A resolute commitment to the hard work of developing high-quality leaders is crucial to the Army's future, on the battlefield and otherwise, senior leaders said during the final day of the 2020 Virtual Maneuver Warfighter Conference.
The conference ran Sept. 9-10 and because of the COVID-19 pandemic was live-streamed.
It brought together – online and from around the world – top military experts, including the Army's top general and top senior enlisted Soldier and numerous other senior Army leaders, as well as prominent figures from the Canadian and Australian military, to discuss ways to increase battlefield lethality and develop first-rate leaders.
This year's conference theme was "Delivering Lethality and World-Class Leaders." The first day focused on lethality, the second on developing leaders.
"I challenge you, each and every one of you, to get excellent at leader development. Make time for it. Refuse to let it get bumped off the training schedule ... You gotta fight to train, you gotta fight to develop leaders." – Lt. Gen. James E. Rainey, commanding general of the U.S. Army Combined Arms Center
The second day's discussions of leadership included a step-by-step walk-through of the ways in which good leaders can be developed, presented by Lt. Gen. James E. Rainey, commanding general of the U.S. Army Combined Arms Center.
"It's key to everything we do on and off the battlefield," Rainey said of leadership. "It's the human endeavor. War is a contest between humans, test of wills, right? It's about leadership."
Early in his presentation, Rainey asked participants to take an informal "fill in the blank" test to 10 questions.
The questions included: "What's the most decisive element of combat power? ... most common characteristic of cohesive teams? ... the best way the Army can stop the terrible problems we have with sexual assault, sexual harassment, suicide and racism and extremism? ... best way to ensure that our great Soldiers and their Families are cared for? ... best way to fix a broken maintenance program in your formation? ... the key to an effective unit training management program? ... Why is U.S. Army Ranger School the most important school for small-unit leaders to attend? ... "
"If you wrote 'Leadership' in all 10 of those questions, then you got an A plus," Rainey said. "Leadership is the answer to every mission we have and every problem we have and every challenge you have," he said.
"I would just challenge you to put the work in," he said. Carving out time to develop leaders is difficult, he said. "You gotta fight for it, but there's nothing you can do better for your formation than build great leaders."
"You gotta learn this," Rainey said of the techniques of leader development. "You gotta be super-passionate about it. It's the best way to improve your formation, it's the key to winning in combat, and it's the answer to everything we do for our great men and women that serve with us.
"I challenge you, each and every one of you, to get excellent at leader development," he said. "Make time for it. Refuse to let it get bumped off the training schedule. I know there's all kinds of reasons" that can hinder such training. "You gotta fight to train, you gotta fight to develop leaders."
A sense of professionalism was also vital, said Rainey, and should be emphasized in developing young leaders.
"I know you all know this, but we are members of a profession," he said. "We do not have jobs. We don't work at the Army, we are the Army. And it's very important that we continue that. If we lose that, then we lose everything that we are.
"Everything we do, the trust and confidence of the American public, the trust and resources that we're provided by Congress and civilians, they control our military, are underpinned by trust, and that trust depends on us acting like and behaving like and living up to the expectations of a profession versus a job...
"I implore you to drive home the fact that we're members of a profession," Rainey said.
"Then you gotta talk about commitment as you build professionals," he said.
"Everybody hears commitment, they think hard physical work," said Rainey. "That's a big part of it, but there's also an emotional element, being committed, emotionally impelled, to our profession, to be all in, to believe in your heart that how well you do your job is gonna determine whether men and women that volunteered to serve the Army are gonna live or die in combat. You ought to be able to get pretty emotionally committed if you subscribe to that."
But those engaged in developing leaders should also embrace the value of developing themselves, Rainey said.
"All about self-development," he said. "And one thing I've noticed. I've been doing this awhile and almost every great leader I've been around – pick a rank, pick a branch – they put the work in. They work on their own.
"They go to the gym on the weekends," he said. "They fight to be a good parent. They fight to find time to support their spouse and their kids. They read books professionally. When they got a gap in their swing they know where it is and they work hard to fix it."
Also speaking on leadership was the Army's top enlisted Soldier, Sgt. Maj. of the Army Michael A. Grinston.
Grinston has been leading a new initiative called "This is My Squad," which aims to see Soldiers foster commitment and mutual support within their group. While the term "squad" is used, the concept applies to other types of formations too, Grinston said.
At the center of such a cohesive unit is "the leader," he said.
"It's about leadership," said Grinston. "It's not about a program. This is about a culture that values good leaders, and how do we enhance those leaders to make them better?
"And when we do that we're gonna have a more cohesive team," he said. "Our units will be physically fit, they'll be disciplined, they'll be highly trained. And those are the stakeholders of what it means to be in 'my squad.'
"But even the phrase is important," Grinston said. "The personal pronoun, 'my' squad. Do you want to be the company commander or do you want to be my company commander ? ... that's my Soldier or that's a Soldier?
"So possession and ownership builds a culture that is positive, that says 'I want to be a part of this organization, that my leaders care, that they can show compassion, they can show empathy, they have common goals, they're connected, they understand each other, they know each other on a whole new level.'
"And," said Grinston, "that's what it means when I say, 'This is my squad.' First it's the leader in the middle, and how do we make the leader better. It shows possession, that 'It's not somebody else's problem, it's mine. I own it.'"
That same mindset in a leader is what Grinston wants to see become the norm, including the noncommissioned officer promotion boards are conducted.
Until now, he said, those coming before such boards typically are ready to discuss their assignments and accomplishments.
"'This this when I came in the Army, my first duty station was ...' and you go through everything that you did," said Grinston.
"I don't want you to do that anymore," he said. "I want you to talk about, tell me about your Soldiers," including such details as their PT, or physical training scores.
"Tell me about your squad," he said. "What makes them special? What's their PT average? Where did they grow up? Do they have kids? Where do they live? What's their address?"
The conference closed with remarks by Maj. Gen. Patrick J. Donahoe, commanding general of the U.S. Army Maneuver Center of Excellence, which hosts the conference each year.
MCoE trains Soldiers for service with the Infantry and Armor, and also trains those hoping to become paratroopers, Rangers, snipers, or to qualify in certain other military specialties.
Donahoe summarized what he saw as "some of the key pieces that came out of these past two days.
"So," he said, "you heard this drumbeat of 'We've gotta discipline ourselves to create the time required to train to mastery, but also the time that we can then focus on leader development ... this ability for us to control our calendars, to give predictability, be able to protect time to both train and leader-develop. Challenges for all of us all the time.
"So I'd also tell us, we've got to work at how we create leaders who lead with empathy," Donahoe said.
That was especially important "as we deal with the challenges of suicide in our ranks, as we deal with the challenges of sexual assault in our formations, and we deal with the challenges of racism and extremism," he said.
"You heard it from Sergeant Major of the Army today," said Donahoe. "'This Is My Squad.' We all have our squad. So we've got to be positively intrusive with the folks that we serve with, to ensure that we can be there when they need us and we can ensure that we know them well enough to know when they've got an issue that we can help them with.
"And we saw ... time and time again through the presentations over the past two days, this constant coming back to 'the profession.' The profession as the root of our strength, the profession that empowers leaders to lead authentically and lead with candor and lead with care and empathy. Rooted in the profession itself.
"So I would just ask ya as we all come back to this requirement, that we have to live up to what the profession calls us to do," said Donahoe. "We must constantly come back to that."