Fifteenth SMA offers leadership lessons to Fort Leonard Wood NCOs at LPD event

By Brian Hill, Fort Leonard Wood Public Affairs OfficeAugust 3, 2023

Retired Sgt. Maj. Daniel Dailey, the 15th Sergeant Major of the Army, who currently serves with the Association of the U.S. Army, speaks to NCOs about leadership Tuesday in Lincoln Hall Auditorium during a visit this week to Fort Leonard Wood.
Retired Sgt. Maj. Daniel Dailey, the 15th Sergeant Major of the Army, who currently serves with the Association of the U.S. Army, speaks to NCOs about leadership Tuesday in Lincoln Hall Auditorium during a visit this week to Fort Leonard Wood. (Photo Credit: Photo by Angi Betran, Fort Leonard Wood Public Affairs Office) VIEW ORIGINAL

FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. — Retired Sgt. Maj. of the Army Daniel Dailey visited Fort Leonard Wood this week and took the opportunity to talk “the importance and the value of a simple, overused term called leadership” with more than 100 NCOs here, during a leader professional development event Tuesday in Lincoln Hall Auditorium.

Dailey, who served as the 15th SMA from 2015 to 2019 and currently serves with the Association of the U.S. Army, shared what he called his “10 leadership tips.”

“I was blessed with opportunities; I was blessed with the right jobs; but the most important reason why I became a Sergeant Major of the Army — because I get that question a lot — is I was blessed with great leadership,” he said. “I was that lucky Soldier, who never had a bad leader. And I know that’s not true for every Soldier in the Army, but I had phenomenal leaders, and they inspired me to do great things.”

Throughout his career, Dailey said he would write down the things he found both good and bad in the leaders he met. After consolidating them, he formed his opinion of what he called “expert leadership” — different from the “basic form” of leadership, which he defined as “getting somebody to do something,” and “military leadership,” which he said adds “motivation, direction and purpose” to basic leadership.

“Expert leadership, in my opinion — in what I’ve evaluated — is better than that,” he said. “It’s getting people to do things; it’s providing motivation, direction and purpose; but it’s creating an environment conducive to success, such that your subordinates feel a sense of guilt if they fail to achieve for the leader — without intimidation, without fear, without yelling, without screaming. It just exists inside the organization. And those organizations prosper.”

Dailey said the first tip he always offers was also the “very first one I ever wrote down.” He said, “the most important thing you do every single day in the Army is (physical training),” and he offered the story of a time he was running one morning early in his career. He decided to cut across the installation headquarters grass, when the installation command sergeant major — in uniform, coffee cup in hand — yelled at him for running on that grass.

“I thought to myself, ‘Well, that was a really good example,’” he said, and later wrote down, “Yelling doesn’t make you skinny. PT does.”

“This is more than just PT,” he added, “this is a leadership lesson. This is an opportunity for you to build a team.”

He then compared a team in the military to a family.

“You share the same experiences,” he said. “You live through the good times and the bad; the tough times and the prosperous; you cried together; you fought; you made up. You went through opportunities in life that challenged you, and you saw the shared pain, misery, success and happiness, year after year after year. The same thing you can do at 6:30 to 9 a.m. with your squad every day. There’s absolutely no difference, and that’s what bonds people forever.”

The other thing this provides, Dailey said, is “the most precious thing you can give your Soldier — it’s the one thing you can’t buy any more of: time, your presence.” And he called it “a requirement to be a great leader.”

The second tip Dailey offered was, “If you’re not nervous on the first day of school, then you’re either lying, you don’t care or you’re just plain stupid.”

He explained that it’s OK to be nervous, adding that is what propelled him to learn the ins and outs of each leadership position he filled — with nervousness “comes confidence and capability.”

“When you take over a new leadership position, if you’re not feeling this way, there’s a problem,” he said. “That’s called hubris, overconfidence.”

The third tip Dailey offered was, “If you have to remind everybody all the time that you’re in charge, you are probably not.”

“Just because you have the job, or your name’s on the parking spot — your picture’s on the wall — doesn’t mean you’re in charge,” he said. “Just because you’re wearing the rank, that does not mean you’re in charge. That does not make you the leader. There’s somebody leading in that organization — it may be a specialist; it may be a staff sergeant under you. Being a leader is not something you achieve; being a leader is not something you become; being a leader is something you do, and you have to continue to do every single day.”

Dailey said the goal is to always strive to be better.

“You are never going to get to the end of becoming a good leader,” he said. “It doesn’t happen. It’s a continuous, sustaining process.”

The fourth tip he offered was, “I can accept failure; what I can’t tolerate is quitting.”

Dailey, who served as an Army Infantryman, said the Army taught him early on not to accept failure.

And while he added the caveat that people shouldn’t plan to fail, he eventually realized failure “is an opportunity to learn.”

“I can’t tell you how many things I’ve learned — how many great lessons in leadership and life that I’ve learned — out of failure,” he said. “And if you have the mentality that there is no such thing as failure, you won’t accept those lessons, when they’re presented to you.”

Dailey’s fifth leadership tip was about experience.

“I love this one for the older folks in the room,” he said. “If your only justification for continued existence as a leader is your 30 years of experience, then it might be time to do something else.”

People don’t get better with age, “and neither does your brain,” he said.

“Now, experience is an important part of being a leader, but it’s not the only component,” he said. “And if you are relying on it as the only component, you will fail.”

Dailey said that’s why people must combine “experience with knowledge and skill.”

“Invest in educating yourself on a regular basis and stimulate the brain functions,” he said.

The sixth leadership tip, Dailey said, is to “be more informed and less emotional.”

“It’s the No. 1 reason why leaders are relieved in the United States Army,” he said. “You have to learn how to suppress your emotion.”

Dailey said emotion clouds a person’s ability to make good decisions.

“Now, this is, unfortunately, a human endeavor that we all suffer from, and it still happens to me today,” he said, but he added, “have someone to help keep you humble.”

As the SMA, when he was interviewing individuals for positions in his office, Dailey said the first question he would ask them was, “‘Can you look me in the face and tell me I’m being stupid?’”

The seventh leadership tip, Dailey said, is to, “Be positive. And if you can’t, go home.”

“We deal with enough stuff as Soldiers,” he said. “And if you’re the person in the organization that’s making it not good to be there, then you’re a problem — and you need to go home.”

That’s a big part of the job of a leader, Dailey said — to inspire junior Soldiers, so they can “look at you and say, ‘That’s what I want to be.’”

“If you’re not giving them that opportunity, you’re failing them as a leader, and you should go do something else,” he said.

Dailey’s eighth leadership tip was about the importance of listening and being a “leader Soldiers know they can approach.”

“Never forget to take the distinct opportunity to keep your mouth shut,” he said. “Just think what you can learn if you take the opportunity to keep your mouth closed for a second.”

As a senior leader, it is actually very difficult to learn how to be briefed, Dailey said.

“You sit at the end of the table, and you have to be very reserved to just sit there and listen,” he said. “And it’s amazing what you’ll learn.”

For his ninth leadership tip, Dailey pointed out the only difference between great units and bad units are leaders.

“Leadership truly does make a difference,” he said. “We design every like-organization to be exactly alike for a reason. If you have an infantry company, armored company, engineer company, you have the same number of cars, trucks, weapons, knives, computers. There’s even a book in the Army that says you have the same amount of square footage for your office. Everything is the same, and inherently, that’s for a reason. So, we have continuity, consistency…and then, when we put Soldiers inside that organization, we distribute them randomly.”

Dailey said he learned very quickly as SMA that leaders determine good or bad units.

“If you have everything the same, and the Army gives you all the same equipment — and we randomly distribute Soldiers across the Army — what’s the difference in every unit? Leaders,” he said. “That’s the only variable. That’s what makes great units great, good units good, and bad units bad.”

The final leadership tip Dailey offered — what he called the “Holy Grail” — is to remember “you are no better than anyone else.”

“I’m just a Soldier, no better or worse than any other. Just one of them, and you know what? That’s enough,” he said.

Failing to know that is one of the most common mistakes leaders make, Dailey said, before pointing to a photo of a military cemetery on his final slide.

“You’re all going there — every last one of us,” he said. “And there’s a reason why every one of those headstones are the same color, same size, the same shape, the same placement inside that field — because we all deserve the same honor.”

Dailey ended his remarks with a reminder to “take care of your people.”

“Soldiers are going to respect the leaders they feel are truly invested in them and care for them and their well-being,” he said.

One of the attendees at the LPD, Staff Sgt. Daniel Cutshall, a drill sergeant with Company B, 169th Engineer Battalion — who is currently attending Fort Leonard Wood’s Senior Leader Course — thought Dailey’s LPD event was exceptional — he noted his favorite take away being, “we’re all just Soldiers.”

“I think today’s LPD was really motivating,” he said. “We all need to continue to develop, but also remember where we came from.”