Leaving Korea and My Exiting Thoughts on Leadership
Bangpodae-gyo Bridge in Seoul
Intro. A while ago, well, almost 2 years ago on July 2011 I arrived in Korea to start my brand new career in the real military. Coming to Korea was just almost a full year of U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC), the mandatory Army Basic Training, Officer Candidate School, and by chance selection, Airborne training. My knowledge base was theoretical and my military experience pool shallow. What I did have with me, (2 years later I consider this indispensable) was my common sense, morals and values, and real world living experience from my early teenager years through college graduation. What further developed me was the year I spent after college graduation as an frictionally unemployed young adult working as a per diem Emergency Medical Technician in the inner city of Newark and the less gangsta West Orange suburb. The close contact I had with individuals experiencing real pain and suffering gave me a real lens with which to view life on earth and awoken my own sense of empathy.
Empathy. Standing For What’s Right. Taking Care of Soldiers. Building Positive and Productive Interpersonal Relationships.
The above would describe the main concepts experienced and reinforced during my 2 years in this awesome country. These are now deeply ingrained in my mental psyche as necessary concepts to be grasped in order to be not only a positive, but EFFECTIVE leader.
Empathy. I responded to 911 emergency calls from when I was 16 until I turned 23 and saw real people experiencing real pain during their weakest moments. I held a 1-month old baby and felt his heart stop beating when died in my arms while performing infant CPR. I caught myself wondering what his eyes would have looked like if he ever had the chance to open them. I watched jocks cry after splinting their arm, leg, and popping back a dislocated shoulder. I knelt over a young black male holding pressure over his chest wound and felt his sense of betrayal while he kept asking me how his daughter could stab her father and where that “bitch” was now. There was a 53 year old lady that I met once in passing at a nursing home only for me to return the following week and hold her hand as she passed from this world to the next because the doctors never fully evaluated her medication list for contraindications. Heart and liver failure that could have been prevented. Leadership failure. I asked myself how those entrusted as doctors could be so callous towards their patients and felt my trust in them dwindle away. I spent some time at Kessler, where Superman Christopher Reeves spent time rehabilitating and watched others with similar challenges conquer their new life without legs and arms while others failed and cried themselves to sleep in their hopelessness. These are but a fragment of my medical experiences that have shaped my understanding of others. To this day I am thankful for my medical background and continually find myself scrutinizing the actions of medical “professionals”.
Standing For What’s Right. I attribute a lot of this to my father. Growing up in the L. household was never easy, but it was also one of the greatest learning experiences I could have had (in hindsight). I had a Christian background, we attended church every Sunday which gave way to an establishment of a moral base. While I do not consider myself a fanatic, I do believe there are solid principles to live upon found in the Bible. It’s hard to know where the fence that divides the fields of right and wrong are when you don’t know where you stand. An early moral base gave me perspective to see what immorality looked like. As I grew up and different experiences shaped my perspectives, I still held onto a senseof what is generally right and what is absolutely wrong. This perspective helped me sort myself, and sometimes others out in my early career. We are provided with Army regulations and policies, sworn to uphold them as officers, and defy them when they are immoral, unjust, and unethical. For many as I have come to learn, without the proper lens of right and wrong, it is almost impossible to define what is immoral, unjust, or unethical. For many, their moral base was formed from a life of hardship and trying to get by, therefore their attitude is “do whatever is necessary” regardless of morals or ethics. On the other end of the spectrum, others have not lived life fully to this point and as a result have not yet established what side of the fence they stand and live to the letter of the law, never understanding the spirit of the law. As leaders, we must have a strong foundation based on morals and ethics from which to draw from. Only we as the individual can create the base, for without the base, experiences that are suppose to shape our perspectives will instead blow us east to west, north to south, and keep us disoriented when we are supposed to be the ones providing purpose, motivation, and direction.
Taking Care of Soldiers. More important than me were the lives of those I led. This encompassed their personal and professional life. A book I read back in OCS was the Mission, the Men, and Me by Pete Blaber.
After reading this book, I never forgot the principles presented in it and applied them towards my own leadership standards. I was inspired to take care of Soldier issues – unfair flagging of admin action, prolonged investigations that affect the Soldier’s DEROs. Why, for the love of God, keep Soldiers extended past their tour of duty away from their loved ones because of completely unsubstantiated erroneous accusations? Why chase after chapter packets on Soldiers who are about to ETS in 2 months? As not just a leader, but a resource manager, I find the allocation of manpower hours appalling and detrimental to the overall mission. Taking care of Soldiers leads directly into my last concept.
Building Positive and Productive Interpersonal Relationships. This is one of the most important, IMPORTANT concepts of life. This extends far past just the military. Everyone should have learned this while climbing or falling off the social ladder during middle and high school. Relationships matter, at all levels, regardless of rank, race, or position. I recognize that the military is a hierarchy and runs efficiently when properly executed as a result. It is not a surprise when all para-military organizations use the Army as a standard when shaping their own organizational culture. However, there are times to set rank aside and just be real with those you work with. I cannot count how many times I have had to rely on a vast network of friends and acquaintances to accomplish the mission. A few quick things that come to mind are my PSG expending volumes of his own personal gas in order to secure 10 signatures so my platoon can conduct high quality training, acquiring not just ammunition but all the pyrotechnics for field craft, and lastly one that I will always remember, the last minute coming together of a Black Hawk re-enlistment for my Air Assault Non Commissioned Officer. KCCO to that one 2LT D.H if you ever read this. The Army has a long list of regulations and policies for processes and rightfully so to establish accountability, but when email and paperwork get sucked into a black hole, its the relationships that remain. The list of last minute coming throughs extends for another mile or so but if I continued on it would end up in a black hole as well. So to save time and resources I’ll conclude with my real exiting thoughts.
Exiting Thoughts. In the two years I have had influential leaders above me, to the side, and under me. I’ve had my share of negative and toxic leadership as well. The Army provides a broad blanket description of toxic leaders, but I consider anyone who does not leave an organization or position better than when they left it (thanks Dad, you told me this since day 1 of my life) a toxic leader. If you just exist, then you are not productive. We are called to be far more than managers, as United States Army Officers we have volunteered to lead the young men and women of this country and as such must conform to higher standards than just the average corporate manager. We must excel at our position in everything from weapons proficiency, physical fitness, tactics, technical and intellectual understanding of equipment, to executing professional emails and memorandums. Anything we touch to the way we look and present ourselves has meaning. Some have forgotten that. I never look down on anyone that cannot meet the standard, but I have written those off that have stopped trying. Imagine if a Spartan had lost the will to fight in the phalanx; do you think his brothers would forgive him so easily for decaying the integrity of their corps? There are lives, careers, and lifelong development resting on our actions. I am tired after this 2 year run, I am looking forward to vacation with family and friends as a reset before I continue my career back at TRADOC. There I am determined to continue positively influencing leaders, peers, and subordinates. I am content with dropping the unfinished baggage here in Korea and taking my beautiful wife and my one 60″ TV with me back stateside.
Thank you to my fellow Lieutenants for your endless friendship and resource support, thank you to two of my previous commanding officers for continuing to set the standard and taking the time to develop me as a leader, but lastly and ultimately (now I can finally understand why every speech always ends with the wife) thank you to my wife for supporting me and my career even when the endstate isn’t clear, having faith in us, and always keeping a cold beer in the fridge for me when I get home at whatever time it may be.