News: Senior leader shares lessons learned in 37-year career with 1st Inf. Div. Soldiers
Story by Staff Sgt. John Johnson
FORT RILEY, Kan. - Character counts – that’s the message that Lt. Gen. Robert L. Caslen, United States Military Academy superintendent, delivered to more than 400 senior “Big Red One” noncommissioned officers and officers March 27 at Fort Riley.
Caslen, a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy in 1975, began by thanking the leaders who have fought 13 years of war but got straight to his lesson of trust between Soldiers and leaders.
“If your Soldiers get on that air plane to go overseas and they look you in your eye, they have to know that you did everything you could to set them up for success so that they have the greatest chance of a percentage to come home to their families,” Caslen said.
He explained that trust is created by explaining high moral character.
The Army has a set of values that they live by: I will always place the mission first, I will never accept defeat, I will never quit and I will never leave a fallen comrade, he continued.
More than gaining trust of subordinates Caslen said that senior leaders must gain the trust of the American people.
“Our relationship with the American people is built upon trust,” Caslen said. “You have to say ‘America if you throw me into a mission with boots on the ground I will not let you down.’”
He said the last 13 years of war has stressed the morale and welfare, which can lead to a breakdown of ethical behavior even in senior leaders.
“When I was a division commander, we had 78 senior ranking misconduct cases down range,” Caslen said.
He explained the negative impact senior leader misconduct has on a unit.
When a unit goes through a disciplinary problem with one of its senior leaders, it doesn’t just affect the leaders it can have an effect on the entire unit, he said.
“The unit goes through a crisis of identity and moral recourse because their senior leader is no longer involved with them,” Caslen said. “Some cases we had to pull a unit out of contact to replace their senior leader so we can train them up again. “
A strong and cohesive unit starts with leader who gives power to their subordinates feel valued and respected.
“I remember I was an OC (observer controller) at JROTC (Joint Readiness Training Center) I used to walk down to the battalion and brigade TOCs (Tactical Operation Commands) and you could tell right away which organizations had their act together because they had great command climates,” said Caslen.
“Soldiers were running around talking to the sergeants and they were not intimidated, so when it came down to briefing the commander, even the sergeants in sections wanted to brief because they wanted to show off their stuff,” Caslen said.
Caslen said this eagerness was the result of commanders underwriting risks so Soldiers were not afraid to make mistakes.
Soldiers under the fear of zero defects do not have the opportunity to learn from their mistakes, he said.
“Those of you who will only allow zero defects will have your Soldiers sitting by the computer afraid; they will not volunteer for anything; they will not exercise initiative because if they did they will be cut off at the knees or they will be publically humiliated in front of everybody,” Caslen said.
Recognizing which type of Soldiers need help, which does not and when they need direction is key, he explained.
“As leaders we have to recognize when you have thoroughbred subordinates you can just give him his orders and let him go,” Caslen said. “Not all subordinates are thorough breads, some are mules and you’ll have to just get in front grab them and pull forward.”
Leaders must know which are which and adjust fire accordingly Caslen said.
Caslen also spoke about teamwork.
“As a commander I would look down to all those I used to senior rate and if I saw that you weren’t getting along with others or you took advantage of your unit at the expense of another, that was the last time you would command again,” Caslen said.
Caslen closed with a life lesson he learned over his long career.
“Every great leader is also a great follower,” Calen said.
He went on to explain a great follower is a dynamic follower.
Dynamic followership is the ability to understand guidance without being yes men and women, then executing with the intent discussed from your candor recommendations as the subject matter expert, he said.
This work, Senior leader shares lessons learned in 37-year career with 1st Inf. Div. Soldiers, by SSG John Johnson, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.