Cheers to the Stable Call

This post is the eigth in a series in which the CC/PL team highlights the leadership ideas and experiences of company-grade officers. Interested in contributing? Read more here. This post is from LT Christopher Telle, a U.S. Army Armor Officer currently serving as a tank platoon leader. The views expressed here are the author’s alone and do not reflect those of the U.S. Army or the Department of Defense.

The “Stable Call” is a traditional gathering of cavalrymen to drink, to discuss, and possibly to brag of their exploits and professionalism. Today it serves as an informal forum for conversational learning for professionals (not just cavalry) while still maintaining the entertainment and enjoyment values of its historic past.

Do you ever lose sight of our profession amidst the day-to-day of our job? Between the training calendars, the CONOPs, the maintenance and the administrative paperwork, is there a gap that isn’t being filled? AR 350–1 describes three domains of training; institutional, operational, and self-development. The institutional training domain is the realm of Basic Officer Leader Course (BOLC), other Army schools, and TRADOC publications. The operational domain is the training undertaken in support of readiness and the unit’s Mission Essential Task List (METL). The third domain, self-development, is equally as important to professional growth as the doctrine of the institutional domain or the experience of operational learning. It is also harder to quantify and to train. For something as vital to our personal and organizational success as professional self-development, the Army as an organization is not always effective in its support of this type of training. Often, units’ focused efforts in support of self-development come only in the form of counseling with your chain of command and the occasional large-group, PowerPoint-driven Officer Professional Development (OPD) session. At the end of the day, this isn’t enough. The only one really looking out for you is you; especially when it comes to your professional growth. Don’t rely on development to come to you; it won’t. It’s up to you to hunt for it.

There has been a running conversation online recently on the topics of professional development through “Thinking Beer Calls,” and “Communities of Practice.” These and other articles call attention to the fact that social interaction plays a vital role in leader development at all levels. Many of these articles and posts come from the desks of field grade officers, but this doesn’t mean that the ideas and concepts they are sharing are restricted to the likes of majors and colonels. In fact, personal professional development may be even more important for company grade leaders. The conversations you have as a lieutenant, the habits of reading and writing, and the way you interact with your peers all lay the foundation of how you will build your professional self in the years ahead. Don’t sit back and let this conversation occur over your head; get involved! Seize the initiative and reach out laterally to your brothers and sisters in arms.

The obvious first step is to join existing forums online. Sites like the Platoon Leader Forum, Rally Point, or even Facebook and Twitter feature constant commentary on your profession, provide valuable experience from others like you across the Army, and can provide answers to all manner of questions. You need to reach out beyond your computers as well. Don’t be afraid to organize beer calls or other events of your own. This is a Profession; it allows — in fact, it requires — a sizable amount of nerdiness when it comes to development. Don’t be afraid to invite your fellow officers to a conversation on tactics, or development, or leadership. You don’t have to be an expert to foster a conversation, and you may be surprised at who comes along for the ride.

The process of informal development isn’t hard to do, it just requires someone to take the first step. A conversation with some friends across my brigade led to an invitation to meet up at an on-post club for a Stable Call for Armor Lieutenants in the organization. A quick stop by the club to reserve a room, the continued engagement with and recruiting of interested officers, and the ball was rolling. On a Tuesday night after work we assembled, grabbed a beer (or two), and proceeded to talk about our branch. The topic was the Armor Branch, overall, and where we saw its role in the future; a conversational approach to learning prepped with readings on the topic from Armor Magazine disseminated prior to the event. After a slow start, the discussion picked up, with most of the intensity focused on the distinction between tankers, scouts, and what made the two alike enough to merit a joint branch. The diffusion of technology and its effect on reconnaissance also surfaced, with a prior-service 11B making an argument that scouts were less necessary in the face of integrated Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) at increasingly lower echelons. Though the conversation wandered from the topic at several points, the result of the evening was an enjoyable discussion that led to continued conversations and reflections over the following weeks. Recommended for future events would be the addition of a guest speaker of higher rank who would be able to add experience and greater knowledge to the conversation.

Though it can be difficult to take the first step and initiate these sorts of professional conversations, it is something that needs to be done. Take the time to get out of the day-to-day slog of your job and appreciate what it means to be a member of the Profession of Arms. The Army gives you a partial solution for professional growth; it’s on you to reach the objective. A better educated, self-aware, and truly professional leader is what you can be, what you should be, and what you need to be in the years to come. As a professional, you owe it to yourself, you owe it to our Army, and you owe it to your Soldiers.

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