This Is My Squad: Forging leadership skills through the squad leader development course

By Piers Kowalski, Laura Kirschner, Ian Gutierrez, and Susannah Knust, Ph.D., Army Resilience DirectorateJanuary 6, 2021

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“This Is My Squad,” an initiative of Sgt. Maj. of the Army Michael A. Grinston, aims to build more cohesive units across the Army and empower noncommissioned officers with the leadership skills to anticipate issues and address them early on. The Army Resilience Directorate’s contribution to TIMS is the Squad Leader Development Course, which aims to advance this initiative by giving squad leaders the opportunity to critically reflect on their leadership style and learn to employ evidence-based leadership skills. Leaders who understand their leadership philosophy, know their Soldiers, and live the Army Values can forge cohesive Army units that are strong and resilient in the face of any challenge.

SLDC facilitators will guide squad leaders to craft their personal leadership philosophy focusing on the areas of commitment, trust, and developing others. A personal leadership philosophy can increase leader consistency and effectiveness. It provides a plan for value-based action, which can be particularly helpful in challenging moments or at tough decision points. A personal leadership philosophy, particularly when shared with others, can improve relationships. It allows others to understand a leader’s values, priorities, approach to decision-making, and expectations. During this two-day course, squad leaders discuss doctrine from Army Doctrine Publication 6-22 and research from the field of human performance, organizational psychology, and positive psychology to highlight the impact and importance of squad-level leadership behaviors. During the course, Soldiers discuss effective leader behaviors in different components of leadership to include character, motivation, trust, and developing others. The intent of the course is to motivate students to identify, adopt, and internalize leadership behaviors outlined in doctrine and supported by research. R2 Performance Experts delivered SLDC as a pilot from Dec. 1-2 to 24 squad leaders that make up Grinston’s TIMS Leadership Panel. On Dec. 3, the TLP provided feedback to R2’s Curriculum Development Team on the course content and design so organizers can make improvements before making the course available to all squad leaders.

ARD requested that the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research conduct a longitudinal evaluation of SLDC to determine the effectiveness of the training in improving squad leader knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors that foster unit trust and exemplify ethical leadership. In partnership with R2 Performance Experts at Fort Riley, Kansas, it is anticipated that SLDC will be delivered to squad leaders with the 1st Infantry Division in March 2021. Half of the participating squad leaders will be randomized to receive SLDC training as part of the evaluation. The other half will be assigned to a wait-list control group to receive training following the completion of the evaluation. Soldiers receiving SLDC will complete surveys before training, following training, and at follow-ups scheduled over two months after the training. Surveys are designed to assess Soldier’s pre-training knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors and offer Soldiers the opportunity to provide feedback regarding the training.