I’m 1st Sgt. Willie Ross, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command at Fort Eustis, Virginia. I’ve served as the first sergeant at a four-star headquarters for over a year now and wanted to share some lessons learned with you. The position is both challenging and rewarding, and I have the opportunity to serve with some of the best officers, senior noncommissioned officers and civilians the Army has to offer.
Like other first sergeants, one of my primary concerns is Army readiness. Supporting a diverse command presents multiple challenges in keeping Soldiers in a deployable status. The headquarters element of TRADOC alone consists of more than 400 Soldiers spread out over 18 locations, with 13 located outside the continental United States.
In this blog, I’ll be discussing different useful tools I believe are crucial for any leader seeking accountability and readiness.
Being an adaptive leader
Field Manual 5-0 addresses adaptation by focusing on creative thinking, a process that involves creating something new or original when facing old or unfamiliar problems requiring new solutions. Having a unique organization where your formation consists mainly of senior NCOs and field grade officers, you must first understand your audience.
When it comes to training, you have to come up with new ways to give the same training. I’ve learned having several qualified personnel to give training adds variety; no two Soldiers teach classes the same way. Soldiers will always attend training, but you must be able to captivate your audience with the limited time you have. An individual’s time is short and valuable so training should always be effective and to the point.
Giving leadership options
When presenting training requirements within the command, we always offer several options. Providing multiple training opportunities for face-to-face training is the standard. In a headquarters, understanding that each directorate you support may require additional time to complete mandatory training outlined in Army Regulation 350-1 benefits the organization’s overall success. Having just one day to train and no additional dates can erode the training process.
Every Soldier wants to train – it’s about time and opportunity. Predictability is key in such an environment. If Soldiers are aware of training dates in advance, they are able to plan accordingly. Our company has established a battle rhythm that covers the entire fiscal year.
Communication is always the key. I learned early on communicating with TRADOC senior enlisted leaders is vital to our success. As first sergeant, I’m responsible for Soldiers’ training requirements, but they belong to and work for the commander’s staff. Having the support and buy-in from the sergeants major, NCOs in charge and directors produces great results.
Sharing information as accurately and timely as possible creates open communication. Even in this electronic age, there is still nothing better when it comes to communicating than doing it in person. Face-to-face is my preferred method and gives me an opportunity to circulate the headquarters. I use this time to speak with leaders, and in return, receive excellent feedback. It’s very easy to send emails and make phone calls however, when your presence is known, you receive better support.
Understanding your structure
Understanding the organizational structure and what’s important to the command allows you to better support training requirements and goals of the command. Knowing who does what and why within your organization is key. When the definition is clear, you are able to tap into different resources within your organization to complete missions without reinventing the wheel. Having the opportunity to serve with such a diverse group of professionals is always a helpful resource to have.
Building credibility at the top and having command team support is crucial; it’s the greatest tool to have within a complex organization. The way to build this credibility is by keeping the command aware of current issues that may not be seen at their level. They are always available to provide extra support to ensure requirements are being met and accomplished.
These are just a few areas that I have learned and key to being a first sergeant in a four-star command – or really in any command. The one consistent piece that always remains is the need for communication. Having effective communication at every level ensures the greatest success in a complex organization.
Pictured above: Being an adaptive leader is one of the lessons 1st Sgt. Willie Ross describes as a key component to being a first sergeant in a four-star command. Ross is the first sergeant for Headquarters and Headquarters Company, U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command. (Army National Guard photo by Sgt. Harley Jelis)