Compassionate Leadership Starts With You: USMA SARC Leads Character Development at West Point

By Major Caleb ManningApril 26, 2023

I am a member of the Special Staff of the Co

Compassionate Leadership Starts With You: USMA SARC Leads Character Development at West Point
(Photo Credit: Courtesy photo) VIEW ORIGINAL

mmandant at the United States Military Academy at West Point. I am a behavioral health nurse (66C) filling the role of the United States Corps of Cadets sexual assault response coordinator (USCC SARC). As a SARC, I respond to reports of sexual assault and sexual harassment, but the job entails so much more. I find myself supporting cadets who have experienced many different types of trauma at various points in their past. Victim advocacy is about having compassion and moving the needle for an individual. This is leadership.

The United States Military Academy develops leaders of character who internalize the ideals of “Duty, Honor, Country” and the Army Ethic. West Point incorporates various experts to complement their robust character development strategy. This month I was given the opportunity to speak to the entire 4,400 Corps of Cadets as part of this strategy. I took this time not for SHARP training but to speak on compassion and leadership.

Compassion is defined as “the recognition, understanding and emotional resonance with another’s concerns, distress, pain or suffering, coupled with relational action to ameliorate these states” (Lown, 2016). Compassion itself is a learned behavior and a critical skill for all successful Army leaders.

Compassionate leadership is the practice of using one’s head and heart to inspire and influence others. Showing compassion as a leader can prevent or alleviate suffering in others. In order to become a leader who inspires others, I believe it is imperative that a leader recognizes and overcomes their own struggles and self-doubt. If an individual chooses to judge themself harshly, they may carry this forward and judge others they lead in the same way. If I was able to suck it up, they can too.

Throughout my career as a SARC and a behavioral health nurse, I have seen marriages, careers and lives lost because services were not sought. If you are struggling, have the compassion for yourself to seek help. As I explained to the Corps of Cadets, as Army officers, our goal is to become great leaders to our Soldiers. In order to do that, it is necessary to address any present or historical trauma that is holding us back. I believe becoming a compassionate leader starts with treating ourselves when we need it. Therefore, I used this opportunity to move the lens from how we treat others to how we treat ourselves. I specifically addressed seeking opportunities to process traumatic events that may have affected the individual’s feelings, thoughts or behaviors in an unhealthy way. Seeking resources after trauma starts the path to healing. The more compassionate we have been with ourselves, the more confident we will become when advising our subordinates in selecting resources and healing from similar situations. We must lead from the front, even in healing.