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Col. Michael E. Haith (Ret.)
Military leader

Col. Michael E. Haith (Ret.)

Colonel Mike Haith (U.S. Army, Retired) currently works for the Army at Ft. Monroe as a Human Dimension Integrator.

Want trust? Try duty

To answer this important question, I would like to recount a timeless anecdote relayed to me by General Fred Franks, a close personal mentor who led the VII Corps in Desert Shield/Desert Storm. It is taken from the forward of one of the most thoughtful works on this question, "The Future of the Army Profession," edited by Don M. Snider and Lloyd J Matthews. Gen. Franks wrote:

"As we were making our final preparations in VII Corps before attacking into Iraq in February 1991, I was visiting one of our divisions. As I was explaining our attack plan to a group of soldiers, one of them stopped me and said, 'Don't worry, general, we trust you.' I was humbled by that statement and vowed to do everything I could as corps commander to continue to earn that trust in battle. I also realized that in an instant that soldier had captured the essence of what we do as professionals: We gain and maintain our soldier's trust by executing our duties to the highest levels of professionalism. We owe nothing less to our soldiers, to our nation, to ourselves, and to our profession."

In this brief paragraph, General Franks provides the answer to why military leaders habitually enjoy the trust and confidence of our citizens and senior civilian leadership. It is contained in the concept of "duty." Leaders in all the military services define their service to the nation, soldiers and their families by the concept of duty. Within this concept is the voluntary obligation contained in the oaths of enlistment and commissioning to be competent men and women of character dedicated to service above self. The character of military men and women is shaped as they internalize these service values over a career, be it four years or 30.

Leaders must always do their duty, subordinating personal interest to complete the mission, which may require the sacrifice of their lives and the lives of those entrusted to them. This is a tremendous burden, but it is one that the current generation of leaders understands and accepts as willingly as their predecessors. It is a heritage of service and loyalty not only to the principle of subordination to civilian authority but also to the act of serving soldiers and their families. It is about servant leadership.

One of the great sources of pride within the U.S. military is that it is among a small minority that has never contemplated, much less participated in, a military coup. The thought of a coup violates the tenets of our profession.

Duty also requires competence. Competence is a moral imperative because of the enormous consequences of failure -- both to the nation and to fellow soldiers. It requires a lifelong commitment to continuous study and reflection to master the moral and responsible use of force in the nation's service. It also requires leaders to lead by example.

One of the earliest lessons of effective leadership is to share the dangers and hardships of subordinates; never to ask them to take risks you are unwilling to share. At the end of the day when others are tired, cold, wet, hungry and possibly dispirited and near defeat, tend to their needs before your own, prepare for the challenges of the next day, and provide inspiration and hope when there may be little reason for hope.

These are not "either/or" propositions. You must be both competent and honorable to gain the trust of subordinates and seniors alike. Collectively, these qualities require the professional practice of sound, discretionary judgment while bearing ultimate responsibility and accountability for your actions and decisions.

Also essential is a collective professional self-concept shared by all leaders in the military profession that consists of four identities: warrior, servant of the nation, member of a time-honored profession, and a leader of character. Grounded in service values, this shared concept inspires and shapes the leaders of the military profession.

These qualities are demonstrated daily by junior and senior leaders in today's military. Their performance in the current conflicts attests to the continuity of the military profession; defined by a heritage of honorable service. Engage in a discussion, if only briefly, with a junior NCO or Generals Petraeus and McChrystal on the qualities essential in a good leader, and you will discover remarkable continuity in how they define themselves as leaders.

What can leaders in other sectors learn from today's military? Trust must be earned, and the corporate bottom line and integrity are mutually supporting, not mutually exclusive.

By Col. Michael E. Haith (Ret.)

 |  November 2, 2009; 3:14 PM ET
Category:  Military Leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Great post Col. Haith. I have the hope that the future civil leaders of your nation follow the examples of the many Military leaders who have made the biggest contribution for the great America leadership. Military leaders has an advantage : The common language and the sistematic training on the field. In the civilian fields there are millions of languages like in the Babel Tower. This lead to me to define MBS as a language for the civilian leaders. MBS in www.fivestarmanager.com

Posted by: lgjaramillo | November 2, 2009 8:12 PM
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Great post Col. Haith. I have the hope that the future civil leaders of your nation follow the examples of the many Military leaders who have made the biggest contribution for the great America leadership. Military leaders has an advantage : The common language and the sistematic training on the field. In the civilian fields there are millions of languages like in the Babel Tower. This lead to me to define MBS as a language for the civilian leaders. MBS in www.fivestarmanager.com

Posted by: lgjaramillo | November 2, 2009 8:10 PM
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Good day Sir: I can appreciate your loyalty and the directness in your message that each have a responsibility to perform at others behest and aside from our own. I could not agree with you more, except you always answer to the ultimate command leader, as it should be.

However, I too am a good soldier and answer to only one authority and unfortunately He doesn't reside here on earth. As a Christian I guess you could label me a conscientious objector because I do not believe in the random killing of people in the absence of no threat to my person.

Good luck to you Colonel, I hope you enjoy the retirement you so rightly deserve.

Posted by: jakesfriend1 | November 2, 2009 4:49 PM
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Thank you, Colonel Haith.

Posted by: ruari | November 2, 2009 3:45 PM
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