9 Practical Methods for Maintaining Professional Excellence
1. Assume the Best
It is good to assume that people are trying to do their best, or that they think they are. Of course this is not always true, but it has the advantage of keeping the commander from being unduly suspicious and critical before there is something to be critical about.
In this way people soon learn that the leader is there to help, not to find fault.
2. Insist on Obedience
Insist on full obedience. Never overlook what appears to be a deliberate disobedience or neglect of duty. Of course, the penalty has to be appropriate to the offense.
One must be sure that the apparent disobedience is not the result of ignorance, inexperience or misunderstanding. Try to get to the true facts before taking action. Then the culprit knows he is getting his just desserts.
He will not like it, but there is no sense of resentment because of injustice. Try never to speak harshly or critically to an individual in the presence of others. Some need a good bawling out: but privately.
Avoid public humiliation of an individual unless that is the only thing that will influence him.
3. Admit Your Mistakes
Sometimes one’s own orders are faulty. Then the only fair thing to do is to accept the responsibility. To admit a mistake will not lower one’s authority or influence; rather the reverse is true.
4. Promote and Assist
After the commander wins his subordinates’ confidence and support, these must be preserved. One of the best ways to lose them is to hold on to a subordinate who can improve his assignment and get a promotion by leaving the organization.
The best policy is to assist to a better assignment and promote anyone who deserves it. One’s people should feel that a job well done for the present commander will be rewarded by a push up the ladder.
Of course, there may be a brief need to retain an officer, but he should not be held longer than the situation really requires. No one is indispensable, and replacements can almost always pick up quickly where their predecessors left off.
5. Handling Disobedience vs. Poor Judgment
It is essential to make a clear distinction between matters of rule and those of judgment. Infractions of rules must be dealt with firmly and quickly. Errors in judgment need correctional instruction.
When I arrived at an activity, usually unexpected, I first looked for something I could recognize as worthy of favorable notice, even if it was only for effort. This done, we were on ground of mutual confidence.
Then I looked for the mistakes or weaknesses. Usually there were a number of these.
After I knew in my mind what the trouble was and how to correct it, I would ask the responsible person simple questions about the matter.
These questions were so framed that he himself soon discovered the error and applied corrective action. In this way I did not wound his ego by telling him he was wrong. By his own thinking he saw a better way to do the thing.
He was learning by himself and not just because I told him the error and its correction. He had achieved something even though he knew I had helped.
Thus was developed initiative, ability to act without feeling dependent on someone else, and the feeling of belonging on the team with me.
This system worked with all ranks.
6. Spend Time With Lowest Ranks
The leader should spend as much time with the lowest ranks as he can. That is where most of the work and the fighting are done.
If the people at these levels are doing what he wants, then there is no great need to worry about intermediate levels.
If the lowest are doing wrong, then by tracing back up the chain of command it is easy to see where the problem originates. Of course, everybody knows this, but too often we neglect to do it.
Further, the higher the command the more difficult it is to do this necessary supervision. That means the commander must make a special effort to get around.
I have found it very easy to discover reasons why one should not leave his command post, but, on analysis, the reasons usually do not hold up.
7. Personally Supervise Training and Combat
Every activity of a unit is important and must be done properly. Some things can be quickly learned and follow definite patterns. Others, like training in purely military subjects and combat techniques, require constant supervision.
Therefore, as a commander, I spent most of my time giving personal supervision to training and combat activities.
In maneuvers and in combat, I took occasion to stress the reasons for success or failure, emphasizing the application of basic tactical principles, and devising methods to meet particular situations.
These instructions were given to regimental and battalion commanders, and there was free discussion. Combat principles are applied so as to fit the existing situations. Too often a particular action, suitable under certain conditions, would be used in a situation sufficiently different to require different methods.
Officers must be trained to analyze situations and utilize the best methods. This instruction paid off in victories and in conservation of lives.
Our soldiers learned they were not just being thrown into battle, but were employed in ways to win quickly and with relatively light losses.
8. Handling Incompetence
An incompetent officer should be eliminated. There is too much at stake to retain such a one. However, I fear that too often officers, particularly commanders, are removed simply because they do not achieve some prescribed result.
Some in higher levels appear to have forgotten that the enemy insists on fighting!
The only legitimate reasons for getting rid of an officer are weaknesses in his basic character or competence.
These include habitually poor judgment, lack of military sense or knowledge, physical failure, worrying or lack of stability under pressure, lack of intelligence, lack of physical or moral courage, failure to maintain discipline, unreliability, etc.
9. Always Think Ahead
The commander should stay ahead of his subordinates. He should be constantly thinking ahead to his objective, whether in training or combat.
He seeks ideas, using his imagination. He sets the pace for his staff, not sitting back waiting for some staff officer to generate ideas he has to accept for want of anything better.
The commander should be the spark that keeps the engine functioning.