07 Mar Leadership: A lesson in caring
As I continue to write about leadership, I want to share the stories that impacted me and were either good or bad examples of leadership. I prefer to stay mostly positive, so here’s another great example for you.
I had the privilege of serving in Bravo Company, 2nd Battalion 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade of the 82nd Airborne Division. During my time there I got to serve with some amazing Americans. The time I want to write about today was during our Iraq deployment in 2004. We had just returned from Afghanistan a few months prior to going to Iraq, so we were a seasoned bunch. Probably a tired bunch as well, but we wouldn’t admit it. I remember we landed in a certain country on our way to Iraq and just looking around with everyone back in the standard desert uniform during that time and thinking that it felt like we had never even gone home.
In the midst of coming home and then redeploying, we had changed company commanders. A fellow by the rank/name of CPT Hardman had come in to take over the company. We were all cautiously optimistic about how he would do as commander because he was replacing a commander that we extremely respected and loved by the men of Bravo Company. It would have been tough shoes for anyone to follow. I admittedly had my doubts and even a few differences I’m sure about how things were changing under his command. Still, things were not bad…..at work anyway.
On the home-front, I was going through a pretty rough divorce that hit me hard upon returning from Afghanistan. I won’t get too personal here except to say I had married one person, but the person I married was not who I thought she was. At the top of the list was financial infidelity, but the list of reasons for the divorce continued from there. I knew it was taking place while I was in Afghanistan and in hindsight I should have requested to return stateside, but at the time that never even entered my mind as an option. Here I was deploying again to Iraq this time all the while trying to get my divorce completed.
While deployed to Iraq, my lawyer basically quit on me. He was not responding to either myself or my parents. As you can imagine this was pretty frustrating and kind of hard to deal with from that far away. We were assigned to a Forward Operating Base that wasn’t easy to get to and we didn’t exactly have great communications or Wifi like most places do now. FOB Kalsu was the name for those curious and we were only the second unit to have occupied it.
So where does the leadership story come in here? My parents were concerned about how the troubles with the divorce were affecting me and probably knowing how hard-headed I am thought they needed to reach out to ensure it was known what I was going through. They got through to my company commander CPT Hardman and let him know what was going on. One day when we returned from a patrol I was called up to see CPT Hardman at the company headquarters, which is fairly odd for a squad leader. CPT Hardman pulled me aside and we sat down alone at a spot away from the headquarters commotion. He mentioned the communication with my parents and wanted to see how I was doing and find out what was going on. I let him know things were frustrating, but I was ok. He also offered me the option to stay back from going out on patrols if I needed to because of the stress.
Now, if you know me, you know that staying back and letting my men go out was not an option. However, it was something I truly appreciated. CPT Hardman had demonstrated a level of care and concern for my personal situation not often shown during my time in the infantry. At that point, I’m not sure I had formed my opinion of him as company commander, but I had decided right then that he was a good leader.
When someone in your charge has something going on in their personal lives or you think they might, it’s always the right answer to lend them your ear. In the process, you’re going to let them talk and get their situation in the open as well as gain an understanding of why their performance may be affected or how you can help them. The caveat here is that they have to be willing to share their situation with you. Obviously, you don’t want to force someone to talk about things they’re not comfortable with.
I still remember, over a decade later, the impact that had on me and what it taught me as a leader. It was lending an ear, letting me know my situation mattered and an offer of a way to cope with the stress that showed me something. That something was that real leaders care. Of course, I bounced right back up after that talk and went back to my duties as squad leader and going out leading my men, but it’s the thought that counts right?