3 Key Leadership Lessons My Combat Arms Training Taught Me

M1A1 Abrams Main Battle Tank | Source: MilitaryEdge.com

In 2006 I spent 16 weeks at Ft. Knox, Kentucky completing One Station Unit Training (O.S.U.T.) to become a 19K M1A1 Armor Crewman. Those four months of training were life changing in many ways. One area of development and learning was leadership.

What I learned about leadership during O.S.U.T. and beyond will mark my professional life forever. Below are three lessons I learned about leadership through U.S. Army combat arms training.

Attention To Detail

We did a lot of push-ups. Up, down, up, down. And during those ups and downs we were directed to say, “Attention to detail!” and “Teamwork is key!” It quickly got old but it never stopped.

Attention to detail is a well-known military principle. The theory is that paying close attention to detail will keep operations running smoothly and effectively, especially when operations are scaled to large Army size units. A little slack quickly becomes a lot of slack when multiplied by tens, hundreds, or thousands of soldiers.

Outside the military, attention to detail is not as well known as it should be. Sure, certain jobs are marked by principled attention to detail (engineers, architects, etc.), but every job in every industry should be marked by attention to detail.

Ex. 1 — A secretary cannot be slack in taking messages lest she lose the contact for a potential client, investor, or donor.
Ex. 2 — A facilities manager cannot overlook issues lest the physical plant of the campus be shut down for repairs resulting in lost productivity.

Don’t fool yourself, attention to detail matters in every position in every industry.

Teamwork Is Key

As a 19K, teamwork is part of every day life. It takes 4 tankers to operate a tank: Driver, Loader, Gunner, Tank Commander. It is very clear how teamwork is vital to effective tank operations.

In the civilian world, it is not always clear why teamwork is necessary. However, this does not mean teamwork is optional. It just means you need to find how teamwork fits into your job and how you can cultivate teamwork as a priority in your office culture.

Your organization will not be carried into the future with sustaining success on the back of one or two individuals. It is by leveraging the talents and skills of those around you that teamwork gives organizations true strength and stability. Teamwork is key.

You Have To Make A Decision

Even inside O.S.U.T. we lowly Privates had positions of leadership within our training company. We had Squad Leaders and Platoon Guides. I spent the majority of my time as 1st. Squad Leader.

As 1st. Squad Leader I had the responsibility of making sure my squad was in order. I also had the responsibility of serving as Platoon Guide (leading all the squads and reporting to the Drill Sergeant) whenever the Platoon Guide was absent. Many times, I took charge as Platoon Guide because the current one was being smoked (disciplined for lack of leadership). In these times I had to make quick decisions on what the platoon was to do. Where will the platoon go? How will we stand? What direction will we face? Am I about to be smoked too? I had to make a decision.

Beyond the small decisions of platoon dynamics, we were trained as combat arms soldiers to always make a decision if called on. It didn’t have to be the right decision but a decision must be made. In the military, lives can depend on the quick decision. In civilian life, the mortgages, car payments, and financial life of your employees will sometimes depend on quick decisions. Leaders must stay prepared to make quick decisions.

Waiting hours or days to make business decisions is sometimes wise but not always an option. Analysis paralysis is a real foe that is too often coddled instead of killed. Make a decision. It doesn’t have to be the right decision but a decision it must be. Only then can you Charlie Mike (continue mission).

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This was originally posted on my blog at Josh.ly