In Between: The One Where I Ramble On About Professional Development

NOTE: Sometimes I don’t have anything particularly funny or snarky to write, and sometimes I’m in between more academically-aimed historical or other scholastic pieces. In those periods, I still have things I want to write about, they just fit somewhere in between, and oftentimes I want others to weigh in with their thoughts.

This is the first such post in a new category I call “In Between.” And because I like themes, I decided to borrow the title-naming convention they used on the sitcom “Friends” for so many seasons. This one is titled “The One Where I Ramble On About Professional Development.”  Again, please feel free to weigh in on the topic, and thanks for reading!

There are many scathing criticisms my peers and I could make about the climate of the organization I last served before coming to grad school.  I can say with certainty, however, that the culture of and passion for leadership development were the richest I’ve ever experienced in an operational unit.  Since I left, I’ve missed the discussions, formal and informal, and the energy put into not only improving ourselves, but our subordinates and the organization.  It’s probably why I’ve recently taken to writing and engaging with other professionals via social media.

The majors in our battalion cared immensely about the organization, and they were the impetus behind our efforts for professional discourse and development.  They structured the LPD program at the battalion level by framing its recurrence, developing battalion-wide engagements, and empowering company leaders to build their own programs.

As a battalion, our senior NCOs and officers gathered to watch and discuss “Twelve O’Clock High.”  We worked through a virtual staff ride and collectively mulled over the ethical implications of tough decisions.  We conducted leader PT sessions.  We listened to and asked questions of general officers.  (I take personal pride in making a one-star pause to think in silence for a full minute when I asked him what he felt the greatest problem was with officer talent management in the Army.)

There were also other battalion-level events aimed at trying to restore a sense of Army heritage (Right Arm Nights, dining ins, hail & farewells, and others), but the nexus of our development movement was at the company levels.

In my unit, I started by expanding the LPDs to every Sergeant and above when things like that were typically “for seniors.”  We read professional articles followed by discussion.  We watched an episode of “Band of Brothers” and discussed the characteristics of the Easy Company leadership.  We had a “beer call” off post at a local pizza joint where we had some drinks and collectively discussed leadership challenges and best practices.  (Read more about the concept of a “beer call” here and here.)  I had a staff ride to a local battlefield planned, but I never got to execute it (this was a headquarters unit command, where I quickly learned the pain associated with “competing priorities”).

My fellow commanders did the same and more.  Their branch-specific critical discussions led to a corps-wide explosion of professional discourse that, quite frankly, sets the example for what all the rest of us should be doing.

“The Profession of Arms” may no longer be the “flavor of the month” subject of discussion it was in recent years, but underneath that umbrella is a host of topics that are still immensely worthy of discussion–you can check out the Army’s White Paper on “The Profession of Arms” by clicking here.

I don’t pretend to be an expert here, or even the best at planning and executing LPDs, but I do see the value of professional development, discourse, and conversation, even if you do it on your own from Fort Living Room.

So pour a couple fingers of your favorite bourbon and get your development on.

I invite you to share your ideas, lessons, plans, and LPD experiences. You can comment on this article, on Facebook or Twitter, or write a guest column for Bourbon & Battles.


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