My Toughest Leadership Experience

My Toughest Leadership Experience

There are four ways to become an Army Officer. An individual can go through West Point, Reserve Officer Training Corp (ROTC), Officer Candidate School (OCS), and in rare cases direct commission.  No matter the path you go, leadership is the forefront of each journey.  The Army puts you through a leadership gambit to earn a commission.  Once you have received a commission, you get placed into a field.  A mentor of mine asked me if I would talk to a Soldier who was going through OCS. The Soldier was looking to go into my field.  As soon as I said yes, my phone lit up with text messages.

As I sifted through the mountain of texts I arrived at a simple question “What can you tell me about leadership?”  If this were the Lord of the Rings, this would be the one question above them all. I reflected on this for a moment.  My voyage to the Army started in ROTC.  That question was posed to our instructors when I was a cadet (ROTC student).  The instructors are made up of officers and enlisted who all have served for multiple years.  Their responses as I remember varied.  Many of them used clichés. 

I have found people throw these cliché responses like candy.  What in the hell does “Good leadership style” mean?  As I kept reflecting on how to answer, a distinct experience came to mind.  I went overseas in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, Afghanistan in 2014.  I was a replacement Soldier for a unit in theater. Upon my arrival, the Soldiers had been in place for over a month.  These soldiers had created relationships and camaraderie.  I came into a delicate situation, for which I promptly screwed up.

The quickest way to describe the subtly of a deployment is imagining you’re on a crowded plane. You’re stuck in the middle seat with no way out.  Time deployed is relative; you spend only hours apart from the individuals you work with. This environment quickly exposes character flaws.  I miss handled the creation and maintaining of relationships.  Soon I found myself being ostracized.

After recognizing this, I had two options. I could change myself or continue down this path. Scary at first to admit you’re the common link in all your issues.  In the end, it is oddly refreshing.  Accepting this made the deployment one of my fondest memories.

I finally responded with “Spend time becoming the best you.  When YOU get better everything you do gets better.  You are the common denominator.  Leadership styles are like a thousand rivers weaving and waning.  No one path is perfect.  Work on your own style by leading yourself first.  There will be people you don’t get along with or don’t agree with.  You have to be comfortable in your own abilities.”

So, my toughest leadership experience is not leading any group of people, but leading myself.  We are bombarded by ads to develop leadership or be an improved worker.  Now, I ask you in all those areas what is the common link? We are!  When I chose to work on refining Sean Hughes like a rising tide, all facets of my life were enriched.  It has not been fun or easy.  People will move out of your life, habits will change, and it will be hard.  Is it worth all of that? Yes! The best part is you don’t need anything else but yourself.

Take a few minutes today, and take stock of where you are. Like me, you may need to admit you are the problem. A tool to help you evaluate, which I utilized while deployed, was the five by eight card.

Grab a pen and a five by eight card. Draw a line right down the middle of the card. On one-half write strengths, the other weakness. Take the card and ask at least five people (Friends, Family, Co-workers) what your strengths and weaknesses are. Don’t shy away from people you don’t get along with. They can offer some of the most insight. This honest feedback can be painful, but the pain you go through now is the key to the door of the future.

I hope to see you on the path….