Senior Leader Course students Staff Sgt. Anthony LaGuardia, from Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and Sgt. 1st Class Calvin Pearce from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, discuss their experiences as leaders with Basic Leader Course student Sgt. Jose Garcia, from the Army Reserve Center at Papago Park Military Reservation in Phoenix, Arizona, on July 25 in Thurman Hall. Soldiers attending the Senior Leader Course and Basic Leader Course here sat down together for an hour-long open discussion on leadership, as part of a new mentorship program developed at the Maneuver Support Center of Excellence NCO Academy.
Senior Leader Course students Staff Sgt. Anthony LaGuardia, from Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and Sgt. 1st Class Calvin Pearce from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, discuss their experiences as leaders with Basic Leader Course student Sgt. Jose Garcia, from the Army Reserve Center at Papago Park Military Reservation in Phoenix, Arizona, on July 25 in Thurman Hall. Soldiers attending the Senior Leader Course and Basic Leader Course here sat down together for an hour-long open discussion on leadership, as part of a new mentorship program developed at the Maneuver Support Center of Excellence NCO Academy. (Photo Credit: Photo by Amanda Sullivan, Fort Leonard Wood Public Affairs Office) VIEW ORIGINAL

FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. — Soldiers attending the Senior Leader Course and Basic Leader Course here sat down together for an hour-long open discussion on leadership July 25 in Thurman Hall, as part of a new mentorship program developed by the Maneuver Support Center of Excellence NCO Academy.

The discussion, spearheaded by Company B 1st Sgt. Michael McGonigal, paired senior NCOs — some with more than a decade of leadership experience — to junior NCOs. Each group then had the chance to talk about their perceptions of leadership, including what being a leader means and experiences they have each had with leadership throughout their careers.

McGonigal called it one of the most important topics an NCO needs to understand, regardless of their military occupational specialty.

“Their first MOS is leadership, period,” McGonigal said. “What you do (as a profession in the Army) doesn’t matter in this room — it’s all about counseling.”

Participants were provided questionnaires to help guide the conversation, but McGonigal said he also encouraged the groups to ask their own questions and to be open and honest. The informal setting was designed to provide Soldiers the opportunity to discuss topics they may feel uncomfortable addressing in other professional environments.

“In an organizational environment, I have to worry about whether that specialist is really willing to talk to that staff sergeant or sergeant first class in their unit because they don’t want to look dumb, or ask a question,” he said. “Here, there’s no harm done.”

McGonigal said feedback he has received so far — from senior and junior NCOs — has been positive.

“I’m very glad I got to do this,” said Sgt. Lane Grimes, who is stationed at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and is here attending the month-long BLC. “This was a great opportunity for me and my peers. It was amazing — I could have sat there and talked all day.”

Staff Sgt. Shane Ladd, an SLC student from Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, said he appreciated the atmosphere the program offered.

“It was good to sit down with Soldiers in an informal setting as a senior NCO,” he said. “I think a lot of people get to a certain position, where I think they lose track of who they were prior to becoming a leader and what got them there.”

In the long run, McGonigal said he hopes the experience will increase understanding and improve the quality of leadership throughout the Army.

“I honestly hope it expands the idea of what leadership actually is,” he said. “A lot of people don’t understand that right now, yes, you’re impacting this Soldier as a specialist today, but inherently it’s what you’re doing for the Army 10 years from now. That’s the impact I hope this has.”

Ladd said it’s important for senior NCOs to share their wealth of experience with the Soldiers who may one day replace them.

“The only difference between me and this young sergeant is that I joined first, and I got to where I’m at because I’ve been in for nine years and I went through everything that I've been through,” he said. “Eventually he’ll be in my shoes, so it’s about sharing what issues you went through.”

Further implementation of programs like this is something Ladd said he sees as beneficial. After having an open conversation with Soldiers in other MOSs, he realized subordinate Soldiers with different missions may face struggles he never considered.

“I think a lot of people get landlocked into one leadership style,” Ladd said. “As you progress, especially becoming a first sergeant, you’re going to be in charge of (Soldiers from) multiple MOSs, so understanding what other MOSs go through — or what the junior enlisted go through in this day and age — is beneficial, because what I went through as a Soldier is not what they’re going to go through.”

Grimes encouraged future BLC students to take full advantage of opportunities like this, when given the chance.

“Don’t be afraid to ask those hard questions,” he said. “You have this amazing opportunity to have a conversation with senior leaders, so don’t be afraid to ask them the things that you’ve probably been thinking about for a while. Have the intestinal fortitude to ask the hard questions.”

For future senior leaders, Ladd advised being open and honest with junior leaders.

“Don’t close yourself off,” he said. “You have to be the leader for them that you wish you had. So, don't close yourself off and keep information to yourself. Sometimes it’s okay to drop the rank and just be a human being.”