What My Time at Fort Dix Taught Me About Leadership

So its been about a month and a half since my last post (I have to admit the hiatus from the blog was much needed), for those of you who have been following me on Instagram and Facebook, you’re probably well aware that I was at Fort Dix (which is actually called Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst now) in New Jersey for my annual training session with my Army Reserve unit. It was a long three weeks of outdoor missions (my unit had been tasked with an OPFOR mission for other training units participating in joint training exercise), trudging through what seemed like a persistent layer of snow and ice that just wouldn’t go away:

There was always a persistent layer of snow and ice during our stay.

There was always a persistent layer of snow and ice during our stay.

My third day in, I slipped on some ice and strained my ankle, the infantry in me told me to “soldier the f*ck up,” the HR in me couldn’t help but wonder about possible OSHA violations.

All in all, I really enjoyed my time at Fort Dix, I ran into some unexpected, yet invaluable lessons and I was also glad for the time I had to make new friends with other members of my unit that were from different geographic areas (i.e PA & WV).

The soldiers of the 444th HRC enjoy a family style dinner after a successful completion of their AT.

The soldiers of the 444th HRC enjoy a family style dinner after a successful completion of their AT.IMG_0633

So here’s what I picked up that wasn’t on our training schedule:

Leadership Lesson #1 – Servant Leadership (and the effect of Culture)

During my first week at Dix, I was assigned to the E&E cell for the exercise that was being conducted. This particular group was responsible for coordinating the OPFOR missions during the exercise to ensure that they were in line with meeting the training needs of the other units going through the exercise. It was a great experience being able to see a somewhat smaller scaled version of battle tracking (and yes, this was not an HR mission). During my time there, I had the opportunity to talk to one of the lieutenants who was serving as the battle captain for the first week of the exercise. One evening, when the training units had not posted their movement tables, which hindered the E&E cell from being able to coordinate their mission times; this lieutenant took it upon herself to put in the extra work and complete the movement tables for the other units (this ended up in what was close to anywhere between a 14 to 16 hour day for her). As we were talking about the situation, she mentioned that had this occurred in the civilian world, she probably would have said “f*ck it!” and let the other components worry about it, but then she said that in the end the training was for the soldiers and the work needed to be done regardless.

If that wasn’t a leader’s mindset, I don’t know what would be a better example of it. This lieutenant embodied the characteristics of a servant leader by taking it upon herself to ensure that others got what they needed in order to make this a successful training mission. Her actions were truly selfless. I can only hope that she gets the recognition she deserves, although in keeping with a servant leader, she didn’t really do what she did for any recognition at all.

The second take away from my conversation with this officer that night was the effect that an organizational culture can have on a person’s productivity. In the Army, from the time you are in basic training, it’s drilled into your mindset that the mission is always first. While on the civilian side, you don’t necessarily have to instill that same mindset in your employees, keep in mind that the type of culture that you create within your organization will have an effect on the overall productivity of your employee population. Building upon shared experiences and their outcomes is crucial for your employees and will set the tone for similar experiences in the future.

Leadership Lesson #2 – Build Up Your Team

Throughout the course of the training exercise, I was able to observe how the commanding officer for the unit that we had been attached to interacted with some of the officers from my unit. Personally, I think that he could have gone about differently (in other words…without being such a prick) when taking the opportunity to enhance junior officer’s knowledge of the operations occurring, but hey; everyone has their own management style.

Regardless of how he accomplished his goal, this particular officer took it upon himself to share his knowledge and build the team he had been tasked to work with. As a leader, you are only as strong as your team, take the time to invest in their development and you will see better results in the work they produce.

Aside from the opportunity of playing in the woods, I really did enjoy this particular AT more so than the many others during my time military. While some of the unintended take aways seem pretty elemental for those of us who have been managing others for quite some time, its surprising to find how often we fail to adhere to them or move away from them. I hope you can apply these take aways I’ve shared within your own organizations and/or management styles.

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