Lt. Gen. Robert L. Caslen, former U.S. Army Combined Arms Center commanding general and current superintendent of the United States Military Academy, was the guest lecturer for this month’s Army Leadership Exchange in the Lewis and Clark Center on Fort Leavenworth. As the Army’s longest serving commissioned officer, Caslen was able to share more than 43 years of leadership experience with U.S. Army Command and General Staff College students and other attendees during the event. The title of his presentation was “Leadership in Today’s Profession of Arms.”
“The Army you’re going into in this is environment is challenging,” Caslen said. “You’re familiar with the complex weapon systems and complex environments that are out there. Twenty-first Century warfare is different from 20th Century warfare. In my opinion, you spending time and investing it in your intellectual development here at the Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth will do more for your ability to be an effective S-3 or XO more than anything else you do.”
Caslen went on to discuss his top 10 list of things all leaders should consider when moving forward in their careers in the Army. This list included integrity, balance, fitness, teamwork, courage, training, pride, leader development, accountability and unit ties. Balance was a continuing theme throughout Caslen’s speech to the students.
“An officer is not going to impress me by staying late at work every night,” Caslen said. “There will be night’s you have to stay and finish a briefing, but not all the time. There will be times when you need to go into the field to train, but not all the time. It’s important to spend time with your families. I’ve seen too many majors and lieutenant colonials’ marriages fall apart because they didn’t find balance in their lives.”
Caslen also spoke of teams and the three positions officers will hold in the work dynamic: team leader, teammate and dynamic follower. With the latter, he said it is extremely important to be able to tell when your superior officer has commenced collecting feedback and has made a decision on an issue you are presenting.
“Phase 1 is when the boss is looking for information, looking for facts and information, looking for a recommendation,” Caslen said. “He’s open to an open, candid discussion. But at some point the subordinates must recognize when the boss has transitioned from Phase 1 to Phase 2, because that is when the decision is made and the boss expects two things: that you understand the guidance and intent, and that you take ownership of it.
“The challenge that subordinates have at this point is to recognizing in the midst of being tired and emotionally tied to this that the decision was made,” Caslen continued. “They may still think that the boss is under Phase 1 under dialogue and has not made the decision… Staffs, and subordinate commands in some case, may not like decision. It doesn’t matter. As long as it’s ethically and morally correct, it’s time to execute.”
Caslen gave the students some tips on how to be a staff officer including; bring simplicity to complex problems when explaining issues to peers who may not have as much knowledge in the subject. He also recommended having good oral and written communication. He said it’s important to anticipate arising issues and be thorough in everything to do. Additionally, he said it’s vital to never “drop problems on the boss’ desk.”
“If I have a problem and I walk into my boss’s office, I’m not going to take the monkey off my back and drop it on his desk,” Caslen said. “What I will say is ‘Hey sir/ma’am, here are some of the challenges that are out there, this is one that just came up, these are some of the facts you ought to know about it, in my opinion, these are some of the ways we can address it, and this is my recommendation of how we should handle it’ or… ‘let me do some more research and I’ll get back with you ASAP about recommendations on how we can deal with it.’ If you just drop the monkeys off your back onto the boss’ desk, then the boss doesn’t really need you.”
The Army Leader Exchange (ALx) is a community of practice dedicated to enabling professional conversation on all things leadership and leader development.