Fort Leavenworth, Kansas (Feb. 25, 2016) — Between the two of them Gen. George Casey and Gen. Peter Schoomaker, both retired former Chiefs of Staff of the Army, have more than 75 years of experience as officers in the Army, and Cadets attending the George C. Marshall Awards and Leadership Seminar took advantage of all of that experience during a panel discussion with the former CSAs Feb. 23.
Casey’s first piece of advice to the Cadets was the traits he views as necessary in any good leader.
“Courage, commitment, candor and competence — as a company grade and field grade officer, those were the four traits I tried to model myself on,” he said. “You need to be competent – the best thing you should do when you get to your unit is to learn your job and every aspect of your job as quick as you can. You get that noncommissioned officer to teach you everything you need to know about your job because until you feel that you are competent you won’t have the confidence to lead and it will be apparent.
“It takes commitment when you raise your right hand – you are committing to something larger than yourself. It’s not about you anymore — it’s about the United States of America, it’s about the United States Army, and it’s about everything down to your platoon — the men and women who will rely on you for their lives,” said Casey.
“I like candor at the beginning stages of an officer’s career because it’s about openness. I’ve always found that you aren’t helping anyone if you aren’t honest about your strengths and your weaknesses,” he said. “It also takes courage to act in the face of uncertainty and risk, but you have to act if you’re going to succeed. And when you act, you’re going to make mistakes, but it’s not the mistake that’s the problem. The problem is if you don’t learn from it, fix it and go on to something else.”
Schoomaker added that being flexible is also essential.
“In life, you’re going to run up against some hard things — you’re going to have failures, you’re going to have setbacks, you’re going to have successes. Both have their challenges in how to deal with them,” he said. “So I would be careful in thinking in too straight of a line on things because that’s not how life is going to be issued to you.”
Casey went on to say that being agile and adaptive in today’s global society is also necessary.
“Today things are volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. That’s the world you live in — things will change quickly, they will change for reasons beyond your control. Things are getting more and more complex because you have to integrate multiple and sometimes competing variables,” said Casey. “That’s why you have to have an agile mind and you have to be willing to adapt to lead. But in the end, you have to act. And that takes courage.”
Schoomaker said one of the pitfalls he’s seen in junior and senior officers is trying to personally manage all aspects of the mission.
“The biggest mistake I see in the officer corps is they try to run stuff, they try to micromanage and they get in the way. Noncommissioned officers run stuff, officers command stuff,” he said. “As an officer you have to be able to bring context to things and tell people what the bigger picture looks like — why you are doing what you’re doing and how it fits into the bigger picture.
“Don’t get in the way of an NCO who is loyal and doing his job. It’s a marriage made in heaven when you have a great NCO and a great young commissioned officer together leading Soldiers — it is a thing of beauty,” added Schoomaker.
He went on to add that communication and taking time to know your Soldiers is how to build a cohesive team.
“Communication is so important. You need to get out amongst your Soldiers and ask the right kinds of questions. You have to get out and touch people to find out what’s coming out the other end of the pipe,” said Schoomaker. “You might be thinking everything is great until you hear what’s coming out at the other end of the pipe that’s you’ve been yelling down. If you demonstrate to Soldiers that you really care, they’ll do anything for you.”
Photo credit: Gen. George Casey (left) and Gen. Peter Schoomaker, both retired former Chiefs of Staff of the Army, answer questions from Cadets during a panel discussion at the George C. Marshall Awards and Leadership Seminar at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, Feb. 23.