Over our military careers we contemplated the question, "what makes a person an effective or good leader?" Today, we still ask of ourselves, "how can I become a better leader?" Focused on purely legal and technical missions, one might reasonably ask whether leadership is important to fulfill the duties of Army lawyer or paralegal. While Army doctrine answers "yes" in the maxim that "[e]very Soldier and Army civilian has the duty to be a leader, follower, and steward of the Army profession,"1 the "how do I become a better leader" part of the equation is less clear.
Our collective experience is that leadership is only partly about achieving or completing a task or mission. Leaders communicate; and they continuously "read about, write about, and practice their profession."2 Together, we read—and now write—about two pivotal works on leadership: Leaders: Myth and Reality3 and Army Leadership and the Profession.4 Excellent leadership and excellent followership in our Regiment is fundamentally concerned with influencing, charting the courses, and leading the way on ethical paths.
Leaders: Myth and Reality
The first captivating read is Leaders: Myth and Reality by General (Retired) Stanley McChrystal, Jeff Eggers, and Jason Mangone.5 General McChrystal et al. masterfully challenge the concept of leaders as being singularly legendary and engagingly pull apart leadership myths. The authors take us back to river crossings, such as Julius Caesar’s crossing of the Rubicon and Washington’s crossing of the Delaware, and forward to the brutal reality of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s leadership journey in the 2000s.
In Leaders, General McChrystal sets aside the usual framework of leader-centric biographies and opens the aperture to show why these figures emerged as leaders, how they led, and how the ecosystem in which they lived contributed to their effectiveness. The text brings to life leaders you will both admire and reject. In it, you will find robust and probing accounts of founders (Walt Disney and Coco Chanel), geniuses (Albert Einstein and Leonard Bernstein), zealots (Maximilien Robespierre and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi), reformers (Zheng He and Harriet Tubman), power brokers (William "Boss" Tweed and Margaret Thatcher), and reformers (Martin Luther and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.). We encourage you to study it for yourselves and measure its content and lessons against your own experiences.
Published in 2018, Leaders does not analyze military leadership in the present day, but it does adeptly describe a full spectrum of leadership realities that can be seen today, identifies several myths about it, and concludes with a new definition of leadership that hits the mark. As opposed to being about specific moments or achieved missions, leadership is: 1) dynamic and contextual; 2) a reiterative directional process that accounts for complex systems and feedback from followers; 3) symbolic; and 4) critical to the selection of the next generation of leaders. Leaders helps us to understand why we tend to emphasize and focus on leaders, and yet, it also encourages us to analyze the role of followers, systems, context, and culture. We commend Leaders and believe it will pique your interest in leadership and followership theory, as well as enable your practice of it.
Army Leadership and the Profession
When serving as the Deputy Judge Advocate General, then-Major General Stuart Risch’s reading list included our paired reading, Army Doctrine Publication (ADP) 6-22, Army Leadership and the Profession. It captures a plethora of lessons that are critical and inspiring. Army Doctrine Publication 6-22 defines the context in which we lead and follow (the Army profession) as the "trusted vocation of Soldiers and Army civilians whose collective expertise is the ethical design, generation, support, and application of land power; serving under civilian authority; and entrusted to defend the Constitution and the rights and interests of the American people." 6
The ethical component of our leadership and followership cannot be overemphasized. One of the twelve principles of joint operations, "legitimacy" is "maintain[ed by] the legal and moral authority in the conduct of operations."7 The commanders that we serve study ADP 6-22 and are directed to engage in ethical reasoning and give lawful, ethical orders. If the questions and decisions our commanders face are complex, they are encouraged to seek legal counsel. Our brand of leadership may be less direct, but our role as ethical influencers—or ethical pathfinders—is vital to our practice. Our Army profession, our Regiment’s role in the Army, and the legal and moral application of land power depends on our courageous and selfless service as ethical pathfinders.
While our operating environment and context is in a time of cultural and social change, our ethic is timeless. Army Doctrine Publication 6-22 explains that the Army motto—"This We’ll Defend"—is grounded in our Constitution and all that comes with it.8 To defend and advance the Army on an ethical path, as a part of the Judge Advocate General’s (JAG) Corps, we put people, selfless service, and principled counsel first. "Principled counsel" is also grounded in the Army ethic.9 Army Doctrine Publication 6-22 defines the Army Ethic as "the set of enduring moral principles, values, beliefs, and laws that guide the Army profession and create the culture of trust essential to Army professionals in the conduct of missions, performance of duty, and all aspects of life."10 Putting people first means we "protect the constitutional rights of every American and the basic human rights of all people."11 As ethical pathfinders, this is our core mission.
Without studying leadership formally through self-study and obtaining leadership experience, one might maintain a false confidence that "achieving" in one’s technical work—or meeting deadlines, or completing missions—is all that is required to be an effective leader. Army Doctrine Publication 6-22’s definition of leadership as "the activity of influencing people by providing purpose, direction, and motivation to accomplish the mission and improve the organization"12 could be used to partially support that view; however, leadership goals like "improving the organization," or defining what gives us "purpose," or "the desire to serve," are relative concepts that cannot necessarily be measured objectively by unit metrics.
Not all will agree with what gives us "purpose," and an "improvement" in an organization may not be universally viewed as an improvement by all within the organization or by those on the outside. While helpful, the Army’s definition of leadership arguably misses an essence of what leaders do. In Leaders, General McChrystal explains that "leadership is a complex system of relationships between leaders and followers and, in a particular context, that provides meaning to its members."13 For us as a JAG Corps, meaning comes from the development of ethics-based decisions and the respectful relationships with peers, supported commanders and subordinates (people first), and stewardship of our trusted profession.
Our organization, our context, our measures of success include the Four Constants.14 Our JAG Corps mission embodies ethical pathfinding in its charge to "[p]rovide principled counsel and premier legal services as committed members and leaders in the Army and legal professions, in support of a ready, globally responsive, and regionally engaged Army."15 To fulfill this mission (and ourselves) we need to master the law, provide principled counsel, be good stewards of our resources and personnel, and practice servant leadership. To practice servant leadership, we must study it. The two resources we touch upon, Leaders and ADP 6-22, can help in leadership development.
The ethical leader must do more than be effective and ethical; they must also positively impact the unit’s climate and culture consistent with the Army ethic. A leader can be effective in getting a mission accomplished but, at the same time, engage in counter-productive,16 tyrannical, and unethical conduct while serving in a leadership position. In the long run, the ethical leaders in our organization will be more effective because the ethical leader does not cut corners, nor do they use Machiavellian tactics—where the ends justify the means. The end state is important, but how one achieves it is equally important to the ethical leader. Ethical leadership and followership is more than a duty—it is a vital privilege. No matter your component, grade, or position, your leadership matters a great deal to your supported clients and subordinates.17
While as a Regiment we continue to identify our formal "leaders,"18 all of us simultaneously support commanders and peers through decision-making on complex legal, moral, and ethical issues. Our Regiment is organized in such a way that most of our formal leadership positions are at the direct level of leadership.19 In this way, judge advocates at all levels fill the critical leadership role of being the ethical pathfinder for our Soldiers, peers, supported commanders, and those who command our Nation.
For the follower who seeks to be a more ethical and effective leader, General McChrystal suggests that both leaders and followers encourage the "whole organization to become great together."20 While our Regiment’s narrower context includes legal sections, offices, divisions, and commands, as ethical pathfinders, our reach routinely extends well into the organizations we serve—charting new courses along the way. Your positive attitude and ethical pathfinding encourage those who follow you to become more than they envisioned possible.
All of us lead and follow at the same time in a particular era, place, and time. The "how, where, and when" of our leadership and followership frames our mindsets and contributes to how we lead today and shape tomorrow’s leaders. It is the people that have led us, the people we have followed, and the people that followed us in a certain place and time that made a large impact on our lives. Books broadened our understanding of leaders, followers, and leadership theory, and they help us to shape ourselves as leaders.
Going forward in your studies and reflection on leadership, you may want to ponder the three myths about leadership advanced by General McChrystal:
Myth #1: The "Formulaic Myth"21—that leadership can be reduced to a set of traits, or a prescription that once filled, yields a leader. Put simply, it is "the desire to tame leadership into a static checklist."22 We make leaders of those we believe possess the traits or "do" the checklists.
Myth #2: The "Attribution Myth"23—this view of leadership sees the leader as a director and the outcomes as causally related to them. It deemphasizes the importance of systems, context, and followers. All successes and failures belong to the leader.
Myth #3: The "Results Myth"—in this equation, "the objective results of the leader’s activity are more important than her words or style or appearance."24 This myth de-emphasizes the art of leadership and overlooks oral and written communication skills. It also disregards the potential impact of a leader on the psyche or climate of the organization.
You may also want to contemplate whether "[w]hen you lead and where you lead has a lot to do with how you lead."25
Excellent, effective, ethical leadership can and must be developed. Part of being a leader is learning how to be an effective follower and how to be reflective when time allows. We did not start out with this perspective—once upon a time we were young Soldiers, who were taught that leadership was unwavering, courageous, audacious, brash, bold, and always decisive. We brought our own concept of leadership and tendencies to service at the small unit level, and then gradually learned more about the myths and realities of leadership along our unique paths.
- Every leader you have had is a role model of either what you want to avoid, or to what you aspire. Keep the good and discard the bad on your "how-to list."
- As a judge advocate or paralegal, you are an ethical pathfinder for others. You live in a glass house where everyone can see your actions. You set the tone for your unit as the "keeper of the law." Leaders will come to you. Be Ready!
- Formal leadership courses (officer, civilian, and enlisted) are only part of the process of exposing you to leadership principles. You must also read about leaders and history to help expand your library of skills. The reading lists of The Judge Advocate General and Deputy Judge Advocate General, the Chief of Staff of the Army, and other senior leaders are always great places to start.
- Expand your experiences in different types of units, in different locations, and in different environments. Leading a unit in a hostile theater presents significantly different challenges than in garrison. Similarly, serving different types of units, combat, combat support, and combat service support, give you a different view of the Army and the challenges of leadership. This will help give you adaptability.
- Understand yourself. In various leadership courses, you may have taken the Myers-Briggs type indicator test to help you understand why you approach problems a certain way and to help you understand others. Beyond understanding your own tendencies, understanding what you do not know is as helpful in knowing what you do know. Everyone has blind spots; understanding some of yours will help you develop strategies to compensate for them.
- Empower your team to help make the unit a success. This requires you to train them, trust them to make good decisions, and then give them some ownership in finding solutions. As a leader, especially a senior leader, all the easy problems should be solved long before you even know about them.
- At some point "[y]our job will not always be to build the ships and steer the wheels. Eventually you must chart the courses to ensure those you lead know where they are headed."26 In other words, there are times to come when you must lead and direct the mission. Be bold and be ethical.
- Develop others. "Leader development of others involves recruiting, assessing, developing, assigning, promoting, and retaining the leaders with the potential for levels of greater responsibility . . . . It is the individual professional responsibility of all leaders to develop their subordinates as leaders."27 Excellent leaders and followers are present, actively listen, effectively communicate, timely counsel, and equitably develop one another. Be the leader that learns from subordinates.
- Both followers and leaders are in constant evolution. Be an ethical and positive influence on others. Avoid the trap of defining yourself or altering your destiny by overweighting one leader or moment in time.
- Excellent leadership begins with excellent followership.28 "There is a tendency to think of people as either leader or subordinate but leading and following are simultaneous responsibilities."29 You can build trust within your team by being ethical and maintaining a "can-do" attitude. Communicate in every word and action and understand that Character, Presence, and Intellect (our core leader attributes) and Leads, Develops, and Achieves (our core leader competencies) are critical at every level of leadership: Direct, Organizational, and Strategic.
- If you do not know, ask a noncommissioned officer, civilian leader, or warrant officer. They are expert leaders, trainers, counselors, developers, and will always accomplish the mission. Empower them.
Over the years, as we looked back, analyzed, and self-critiqued our own leadership, we came to realize that, almost invariably, we had to charge others with obtaining certain results. The reality is that leaders must accomplish more than one mission contemporaneously while greatly concerning themselves with building and maintaining relationships with subordinates. As subordinates to others, whatever the mission, we recognized that following through on our duties was central to our leader’s success, as well as vital to our own success and meaning.
One of the finest points General McChrystal makes in Leaders is the importance of meaning and purpose in all that we do. "Sometimes that meaning may take the form of driving and achieving results. Other times it will take the form of achieving some sense of understanding, or hope, or identity."30 Being ethical and equitable in our stewardship, recruitment, assignments, developmental evaluations, and daily conduct defines and differentiates our organization from others. Whether serving as a formal or informal leader, being generous of spirit, graceful, and forgiving of mistakes empowers those you lead. It is critical to our Regiment’s future success and influence on ethical leadership that we continue to serve as ethical pathfinders who are true to our Army ethic and the Army profession. You are the future of the Army JAG Corps. The JAG Corps’s success is the Army’s success. Embrace the challenge of being an ethical pathfinder. TAL
1. U.S. Dep’t of Army, Doctrine Pub. 6-22, Army Leadership and the Profession para. 1-67 (31 July 2019) (C1, 25 Nov. 2019) [hereinafter ADP 6-22].
2. Id. para. 6-12.
3. General Stanley McChrystal et al., Leaders: Myth and Reality (2018).
4. ADP 6-22, supra note 1.
5. McChrystal et al., supra note 3.
6. ADP 6-22, supra note 1, para. 1-8.
7. U.S. Dep’t of Army, Doctrine Pub. 3-0, Operations tbl.2-1 (31 July 2019) (emphasis added).
8. ADP 6-22, supra note 1, para. 1-47.
9. The Judge Advoc. Gen. & Deputy Judge Advoc. Gen., TJAG and DJAG Sends 40-16, Principled Counsel—Our Mandate as Dual Professionals (9 Jan. 2020).
10. ADP 6-22, supra note 1, para. 1-44.
11. Id. para. 1-16.
12. Id. para. 1-74.
13. McChrystal et al., supra note 3, at 397.
14. The Judge Advoc. Gen.’s Corps, U.S. Dep’t of Army, Four Constants, at slide 2 (2021), https://www.jagcnet.army.mil/Sites/jagc.nsf/0/46DCA0CA1EE75266852586C5004A681F/$File/US%20Army%20JAG%20Corps%20Four%20Constants%20Smart%20Card.pdf.
16. ADP 6-22, supra note 1, paras. 8-45 to 8-50 (the former moniker "toxic," is now identified as broad "counterproductive leadership" behavior categories that include abusive behaviors, self-serving behaviors, erratic behaviors, leadership incompetence, and corrupt behaviors).
17. See Major Patrick R. Sandys, Assessing Leaders from the Bottom Up, Army Law., no. 4, 2020, at 60 (2019) (a survey conducted by Major Sandys between 24 October 2019 and 13 November 2019 showed that, "[n]inety percent of respondents agreed that leaders were an important factor when deciding whether to remain on active duty, and nearly two-thirds of respondents agreed that they thought about leaving active duty because of experiences with past or present leaders").
19. ADP 6-22, supra note 1, paras. 1-24 to 1-27 (the Army recognizes Direct, Organizational, and Strategic, as the three levels of leadership. The direct level leader’s span of direct influence may be just a few to several dozen people and the leader’s day-to-day involvement is important for climate and successful unit level performance).
20. McChrystal et al., supra note 3, at 395.
21. Id. at 371–73.
22. Id. at 371.
23. Id. at 375–76.
24. Id. at 378–80.
25. Major General Patrick J. Reinert, Charting the Courses: 35 Years of Army Life and Leadership, U.S. Army (Sept. 5, 2018), https://www.army.mil/article/210656.
27. ADP 6-22, supra note 1, para. 6-3.
28. See Colonel Walter D. Venneman, SJA Corner: Excellent Leadership Begins with Excellent Followership, Operation L.Q., no. 2, 2018, at 3.
29. ADP 6-22, supra note 1, para. 1-104.
30. McChrystal et al., supra note 3, at 397.