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Tom Rozman: Leadership Approaches That Get the Job Done

Intro from the editor:

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E-Veritas in its pursuit of leadership oriented articles that provide its readership with hopefully insightful perspective on the art and practice of effective leadership, especially in the crucible of “real” leader experiences, is embarking on series of mini-case studies in practical leadership. It’s a version of the Harvard case study approach in miniature.

The hope is that the series will generate thought and comment by readers engaged in the vital business of leading organizations that may add to the store of all on how to approach future leadership challenges with enhanced perspective and a confidence to succeed.

The author, Tom Rozman, is an American soldier of 27 years and 23 years in public civil sector, who led 15 organizations of 14-800 soldiers/employees.

He has extensive Canadian roots on his mother’s side, all French speakers into his mother’s generation, back to the early French settlement in Quebec and Acadie. At least 7 soldiers to include one officer were known to have been members of the Carignan Salieres Regiment. He has extended family in Canada today that he remains connected with. His wife’s father’s family is from Newfoundland many having served in the Royal Newfoundland Regiment in WW I.

Many readers have his ancestral names and are probably related. As well he has traveled to Canada many times to include his honeymoon in Nova Scotia, traveling not only there but British Colombia, New Brunswick, Newfoundland, Ontario, Prince Edward Isle, and Quebec.

Leadership Approaches That Get the Job Done

First in a series by Tom Rozman

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Many who read this article have experienced leadership as a person responsible for providing it to an organization or have worked with a leader they did or did not respond to. Certainly there has been much writing and comment to leadership, how it has done well or not well. Many observations have been shared and concise to extensive analysis and distillations on what constitutes effective or less effective leadership have been written about or commented on. In that light, the following draws from real experiences over some 50 years of observing how leadership gets difficult mission tasks done under circumstances where little is what it should be–in fact the inhibitors seem to outweigh the factors that are ideal to accomplish the mission on time and to an acceptable level of quality or to standard.

As a slightly different approach than the norm, the following exploration examines applied leadership through a number of vignettes—mini leadership case studies. These mini-cases are developed from real examples of how applied leadership got the job done against less than ideal circumstances. Some occurred in a military environment and some in a civilian context. The examples are intended to illustrate how applied leadership can get a difficult task accomplished and done well in less than ideal circumstances. The examples do not use real names and places or organization designations to respect privacy—but they are real life examples. All of these organizations were “first class” in their business. But, inhibitors to mission accomplishment existed—how were these inhibitors overcome? That is the focus of the investigation.

The Mini-Cases

Mini-Case #1—Platoon with a High Visibility Mission: Nearing the end of a long and difficult war, a major army was initiating studies on how it should organize and equip itself for a very different security environment. As part of this initiative it was beginning an ultimately 9 month test program of types of organization and mixes of equipment that could best confront the anticipated most likely threat ground force at a large military post in an arid less populated part of the country. Armored systems and emerging advanced helicopter, attack and transport, and other systems were being evaluated in an integrated tactical organization mix to assess their capabilities and optimize fighting organization.

A mechanized rifle platoon had been selected for the initial 6 month high profile test mission. It was to be attached to a tank company and thus comprise the friendly ground force in the countless maneuver scenarios of the test. The platoon was to be brought to the full establishment by grade authorized for such a platoon—49 soldiers, a lieutenant, sergeant first class, four staff sergeants, 8 sergeants and 35 specialists and privates organized into a headquarters, three mechanized rifle squads and a weapons squad.

The platoon would complete a comprehensive training period and evaluation that would be validated by the Assistant Division Commander for Maneuver (ADC(M)) after which the platoon would operate under command of the tank company that served as part of a friendly force consisting of the test tank heavy company team with attack helicopter units in battle scenarios against a tank battalion reconfigured to operate as a Soviet tank regiment.

A lieutenant in another role in the battalion was assigned to lead the platoon about a week after the platoon had started organizing and initiating its intense training program. The lieutenant joined the platoon at 5:30 on a Monday morning after a long weekend taking the long drive to the laager site in a 5-ton truck with minimum information about the day’s program. The platoon, from those soldiers transporting in the truck, was not a “by authorization outfit of 49 soldiers”—12 soldiers were on the truck.

On arrival at the laager site where the platoon’s four M113 Armored Personnel Carriers had been positioned the previous Friday—the just assigned platoon leader viewed the training program for the day which included an assault in the late morning on a hill some 5 kilometers from the laager. The platoon executed its scheduled training and the planned assault. It was a hot day in the 90s—the platoons tracks came on line from column and from the best covered positions dismounted its “four” man assault element to conduct the assault as a helicopter landed and the ADC(M) sprang angrily from the aircraft on landing and demanded to know where the rest of the platoon was. Before the platoon leader was able to respond, a vehicle raced from around the hill and the platoon’s battalion commander, a lieutenant colonel, had a “discussion” with the ADC(M) a brigadier general.

The platoon continued on its training schedule, returning to its laager for a noon meal and preparation to conduct another assault of an objective per training scenario in the late afternoon. As the very small platoon finished it preparation early in the afternoon to move to the attack line of departure (LD) from its wooded hill top laager, trucks could be heard approaching up the rough, winding dirt track to the laager. Two 2 ½ ton trucks labored ups the rough track into the laager dismounting close to 30 soldiers. They were not happy and a number did not have complete field gear—some were even in low quarters, not boots. Many of these soldiers were national service men who had recently returned from the war and had only months remaining on their two year service obligation. The morale of these men was not good.

The brand new platoon leader and platoon sergeant found themselves organizing a mechanized rifle platoon over the next 25 minutes sufficient to move to the LD. The training schedule not having any flexibility, at the designated time the newly “organized” mechanized platoon crossed the start point, crossed the LD, dismounted its infantry and assaulted the objective under a very hot sun. Many of the soldiers were angry and still whirling at their sudden removal from garrison and injection into a hot dusty maneuver exercise some barely equipped for field duty. Leaders didn’t know their people and squads being literally organized on the run had not yet developed any cohesion or sense of team. The platoon leader called the exercise and assembled to platoon.

In short—a mini disaster was potentially in the making. The obvious, no proper preliminary work had been done to organize and man the platoon. A critical Army activity with a hard schedule was dependent on the platoon’s success. With no time to waste, the platoon leader had to act.

The platoon leader addressed the assembled platoon. He outlined and emphasized the platoon’s critical mission and the need for the platoon to get behind it and do its part. He said he was not discounting the day’s situation. Than he said he wanted the soldiers to openly comment. Individual soldiers spoke up and stated their views. The platoon leader listened.

When the soldiers who desired to speak had finished, the platoon leader said the following. “Again we have an important mission for our Army. I have heard your concerns and I will do everything I am able to do to address them. For every soldier that does his duty and supports the mission I will ensure that that soldier receives all recognition, promotion and awards due. I want every soldier to reach his end of term of service in good standing. We will train hard, we will support each other and we will get the job done as a team. Everyone on this team is important and needed.”

Over the next few days additional soldiers by grade and specialty filled out the platoon. The platoon continued its tough field training program and during the short periods in garrison trained aggressively on other necessary skills, maintained its equipment and conducted a demanding physical training program.

The platoon performed exceptionally at its field validation and was accepted into the test. A grueling 6 months of almost continuous field maneuver followed. The platoon became perhaps one of the highest performing platoons in the Army in mounted maneuver. It had no disciplinary issues and its individual soldiers had high rates of promotion, many to non-commissioned officer rank and one to commissioned rank, and award recognition. All soldiers who reached the expiration of their term of service left service with honor. This was a remarkable feat given the racial unrest being experienced in the Army at the time.

The platoon leader’s message at a time of crisis that the platoon would as a team take on a tough important mission following suit with tough training and honoring his promise to the soldiers that he would do all in his power to obtain what was due them produced an outstanding result. The platoon came together and performed its difficult mission so well that the test succeeded in establishing a basis for significant reorganization and equipping of the Army maneuver force. As well the platoon was selected to train other platoons in the battalion prior to initiation of the Phase 2 Test. Every soldier who departed the platoon did so in good standing, typically with an award and many with a promotion.

This case demonstrates the effectiveness of involved hands on leadership that engages the troops or workforce. The leadership approach focuses on team building, delegation and open communication. The result tends to be all team members feeling engaged and part of the team, even when the mission is a tough uncomfortable one.