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Maybe It's Time to Refocus

 

J. D. Pendry

 

I was glad to see SMA Tilley and the major command CSMs working on a vision for the NCO Corps. I was not displeased with their product, but I was somewhat curious about it. In case you didn't read about it yet here are the five points to the vision.

 

        Lead by example.

        Train from experience.

        Maintain and enforce standards.

        Take care of soldiers.

        Adapt to a changing world.

 

A vision is a destination. It's where you want to be at the end of your journey. These points represent where the SMA and other senior command sergeants major want the NCO Corps to be - someday. That is what I find curious about the vision. How can these points represent a vision when noncommissioned officers already profess to do them? Maybe that's the point.

 

I don't speak for the SMA or anyone. I'm just offering an old retired guy's perspective. I believe the SMA and others gave the NCO Corps a needed performance counseling. Maybe their consensus is that it's time to refocus the NCO Corps on the basics of being noncommissioned leaders. Whether it's what they intended or not that is what this vision does.

 

One only has to read the letters section of the Army Times or follow ongoing Internet discussions to figure out that many NCOs spend much time discussing things that they have no control over or with which they can affect no change. NCOs, as anyone, should be knowledgeable of what's going on around them and should have educated opinions to share. The discussions one might observe, however, focus on aspects of current events that are outside a NCO's scope to do anything about. There is not much discussion within the boundaries of the lane defined by the points of the vision.

 

I've wondered what may have brought about this phenomenon. The world is changing now faster than any time in history. As the world changes, so do people, so do soldiers and so do noncommissioned officers. Noncommissioned officers are better educated in the sense of civilian education than their predecessors were. They have infinitely more information available to them than their predecessors did. Leaders repeatedly told them in recent years that they are the best the Army and world has ever seen and that they are able to take on increasingly larger responsibility because of it. Maybe these things contributed in some way to some NCOs drifting away from the basics. The basic responsibility of NCOs never changed, however, and it never can. Maybe it's time to have a self-chat to see how close you are to living up to the points of the vision.

 

Lead by example. NCOs do lead by example. Those who are not conscious of that basic leadership truth are the problem. The soldiers he or she leads mimic whatever a NCO does. Whenever NCOs expend energy and effort publicly debating or questioning the validity of deployments, the decisions of leaders, or the significance of the hat that's worn they're leading by example. The example they're leading by is that preparing soldiers for the challenges of a deployment, the importance of carrying out legal decisions of leaders or the standards for wearing a particular type of headgear are all secondary in importance to debating the politics surrounding those things. Not only do NCOs lead by example, they teach their followers by example also. Determine where you want the soldiers who will be your replacements to focus and you'll know which example to provide to them.

 

Train from experience. NCOs are the glue that holds our Army together. Much of their unrecorded wisdom passed to soldiers helps them be better and in many cases survive. These are lessons existing only in the experiences of NCOs and passed to them by the NCOs who trained them. I followed a discussion recently on a NCO Internet discussion group. An ROTC cadet asked the group for some tips on packing for the field. The response was interesting. NCOs literally lined up to share their valuable tips - it was like a feeding frenzy of knowledge. The cadet got many tips, as did anyone else following the discussion, about the best items to pack in a rucksack. These were items of necessity and comfort along with suggestions on which things to discard because their value does not justify the extra weight. This is a perfect example of training from experience. It's what NCOs do best and it's where their time is best spent.

 

Maintain and enforce standards. In the few years before I left the Army, the frequency with which I encountered NCOs walking in the other direction rather than making on the spot corrections on soldier's uniform violations was increasing. There was also a willingness of too many NCOs to accept a soldier's performance when it was close enough to the standard or argue for retaining them when they consistently failed to meet standards. Even one NCO doing this is too many because one NCO can influence the conduct of many soldiers. I refer you to the first point of the vision.

 

Taking care of soldiers. This is a phrase too often tossed around and its definition is as varied as those doing the tossing are. What constitutes taking care of soldiers? Or more importantly, what is the NCO's role in taking care of soldiers? Training to standard [Training from experience], disciplining [Maintain and enforce standards], rewarding, motivating, counseling, leading [By example]... Taking care of soldiers means preparing them. The realization of what you are preparing them for tells you what taking care of them means. Fulfilling the basic NCO responsibilities outlined by this vision is what defines taking care of soldiers.

 

Adapting to a changing world. NCOs need to adapt to the new challenges faced by them and their soldiers such as preparing to meet an unorthodox and unconventional enemy for example. What must never change, however, is the approach to the other four points of this vision. This is what NCOs do.

 

The points of this vision define well the NCOs lane. Or if you'll allow, their three meter zone. Maybe it is time to refocus the NCO corps on what's important for NCOs and soldiers.