This piece is in response to the weekly #CCLKOW discussion titled Stories of Inspiring Leaders. CCLKOW is a Twitter based professional conversation between military leaders in the United States and faculty and students at Kings College in London. The author Gary M. Klein is an Army Officer and member of the Military Writers Guild. The views expressed here are the author’s alone and do not reflect those of the US Army or the Department of Defense. Read the post and share your own story of inspirational leaders.
A recent CCLKOW piece encouraged us all to share a “story about the leader who influenced or inspired you the most in your career decisions.” Like most, I have been shaped and developed by many leaders; some of whose examples I’ve tried to internalize, while others have taught me what not to do. Thankfully, I’ve benefited from vastly more of the former rather than the latter. That being said, it is hard for me to single out one leader who has influenced me the most, so I will highlight three: my father, MSG (Ret.) Frank Hooper, and LTC James Smith. All of these leaders have made a significant impact on me and they continue to influence the way I approach life and leadership in the Army.
I credit my father with instilling me with discipline. I did not recognize this as a kid then, but as a father now, this does not surprise me. Most parents recognize that discipline is not something that kids voluntarily seek. At the time, it was as simple as a desire to work with my father to earn spending money, but if I had another option I doubt I would have volunteered to work construction outside during Michigan winters. I still remember sitting on the floor of my dad’s truck holding my hands to the air duct to thaw out my fingers. Or having the metal nails stick to the moist fabric of my cloth gloves. Then in the summer, longer days meant longer work days, and sawdust sticking to my sweaty skin, while my friends were likely comfortable at home. These are certainly not the only experiences that helped me build discipline, but they are certainly the most memorable.
Looking back now — and as a father — I often think about these experiences. When did these experiences have their greatest effect? Then, or not until later in life? Did I become more disciplined because of what my father insisted I do, or because of the positive example I have to look back on now? I ponder these questions often and I hope that I am setting an equivalent example for my kids today.
MSG (Ret) Frank Hooper
My second story comes a couple of years after 9/11. The events on that terrible day inspired me to serve something more than myself and my family. After meeting MSG (Ret.) Frank Hooper, this desire slowly galvanized into service to my country. MSG Hooper was my ROTC battalion sergeant major and instructor my first two years in ROTC. Even after I advanced to other classes, and instructors, he continued to coach me. At surface level, MSG Hooper and I could not have been more different. I was doing ROTC as a graduate student studying medicinal chemistry, and he was a senior tanker. Initially, I planned to continue my research as a biochemist (Army Occupation Code 71B), but MSG Hooper inspired me otherwise.
To make things clear, Master Sergeant Hooper never tried to steer me away from my studies or my own thoughts. He is the type of leader who would support you in any situation. However, his example encouraged me to do something that my research likely would not — lead Soldiers. As a leader in our ROTC battalion, MSG Hooper positively influenced dozens of college students. He encouraged cadets to accomplish things beyond their current capacity. He helped us find resources to assist us with our goals. When we needed assistance, he was there to help with fundraisers and extracurricular activities, to coach us through challenges, and to build esprit d’corps. Master Sergeant Hooper was a tanker, and if the armored corps had forged this man, I wanted to follow in his footsteps.
LTC James Smith
The most recent leader who has had a lasting impact on me is LTC James Smith. When I met then MAJ Smith, I had only recently reported to the 1st Squadron, 33rd Cavalry Regiment as a recent graduate of the Maneuver Captain’s Career Course. By this point in time I had been in the Army for a few years, but my view of things was still narrow in scope. Working as an assistant operations officer, MAJ Smith helped broaden my understanding and perspective on a lot of things. He taught me the value of frequent one-on-one coaching, creating opportunities for subordinates to excel in front of their bosses, taking a step back from the obvious to define the problem, and the importance of writing.
As an assistant operations officer/plans officer it would have been easy for me to be just another staff officer, or for the operations officer to brief plans to the squadron commander, but MAJ Smith did not let that happen. He contributed analytical rigor to our planning — to include teaching me how to frame problems — and frequent one-on-one in progress reviews and coaching. Once we had completed the plan he had me brief the squadron commander. MAJ Smith was always there to assist with questions and to emphasize certain parts, but he entrusted me with owning the plan.
This trust and his developmental efforts continued after I took command. MAJ Smith helped all of us commanders to recognize the importance of written reports. Initially most of us thought of our weekly situation reports, among others, as necessary evils — check the block exercises — but MAJ Smith helped us realize their true impact. A leader’s writing is often the most frequent or widest reaching impression he has on his others. In the Army, this includes a leader’s senior rater, who in this case was our brigade commander. Depending on the project, LTC Smith continues to provide feedback on my writing to this day. He has made a lasting impression on the way I think, plan, and communicate.
I could add other stories to any one of these leaders, or I could add others to the list, but for now I wanted to publicly thank my dad, MSG (Ret.) Frank Hooper, and LTC James Smith. None of us would be the people we are now without the support of those around us. So I pose to you — the reader — the same questions that prompted me to write this piece.
- Who has influenced or inspired you the most in your life/career?
- What did they do that had such a profound effect on your personal and professional development?
Share your own story by replying to this post, or the original Stories of Inspiring Leaders. Afterwards, continue to follow the professional discussions on Twitter using #CCLKOW.