Developing tomorrow’s leaders is a critical part of any successful organization. In the United States Army, one way to do this is through a military tradition known as the “Staff Ride.”
Staff rides are where a senior leader, like the unit commander, takes subordinates on a battlefield tour to discuss what types of leadership lessons can be learned from a given battle. Sometimes that involves strategy and tactics, but it can also involve studying the traits and performance of the leaders involved.
The US Army Corps of Engineers Transatlantic Middle East District (TAM) Commander COL Philip Secrist, along with several other senior staff members, recently participated in this tradition as part of the first level of the district’s leadership development program. The program’s participants walked the battlefield with the leaders and briefed them on what they’d learned from studying the 3rd Battle of Winchester. The battle took place in September of 1864 during the Civil War.
Daniel Terbilcox, a program manager with the district who helps facilitate the program, said that although staff rides are traditionally geared towards the military, he saw a lot of benefit in Army civilians taking part.
“Leadership is Leadership and the principles needed to be an effective leader do not change. It could be a combat scenario or trying to manage a large project. Things such as communication, courage, and the ability to face adversity are still important,” said Terbilcox.
Secrist agreed with him saying, “We’re not trying to teach military tactics, we’re trying to teach them how to take the character traits that may have made a particular leader successful and apply that in a given situation.”
Stephanie Gates, a TAM structural engineer and LDP participant said one of her key takeaways was how you deliver a message can be just as important as the message itself.
“All of my projects are in Kuwait,” said Gates. “When you have that distance between you, it’s important to show the team that you are engaged and believe in what you’re doing. Another thing I learned from this exercise was that even when the circumstances are negative, it’s still possible to approach the way you frame a situation positively which can make a difference in how a team performs.”
Secrist said that one of the reasons he saw the LDP program as important was that it’s an investment in the future.
“One of the best ways we can continue to be a strong organization is to retain good people. We do that by giving them internal opportunities to grow as leaders progress within TAM. The people going through this program today may very well be leading it as supervisors in a few years,” said Secrist.
The leadership development program is facilitated by supervisors within the organization such as Terbilcox and this session had six participants in total. After completing level one, participants are also eligible for levels two and three which are more intensive.