Former Senior NCOs Share Leadership Lessons

Former Senior NCOs Share Leadership Lessons

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Trust, attention to detail and leading by example are some of the top features of a successful leader, according to six former senior enlisted leaders who collaborated on a book in which they share leadership lessons learned over long careers.

In Breaching the Summit: Leadership Lessons from the U.S. Military’s Best, an official title in the Association of the U.S. Army Book Program, former senior enlisted leaders from each of the services drew upon their combined 200 years of service to write about the experiences that took them to the highest levels of the military.

The single highest point in leadership “is really about leading by example,” former Sgt. Maj. of the Army Kenneth Preston said Jan. 5 during a Thought Leaders webinar hosted by AUSA.

Preston, who is an AUSA senior fellow and former AUSA vice president, said that leading by example is not limited to “how you carry yourself, address your subordinates, your peers and your superiors.” It’s also how leaders carry themselves off-duty and away from a military installation, on social media, and in front of their troops with their families. 

“Leading by example is all-inclusive, and I think our young people today, as they join the military service, what they’re looking for is somebody to emulate, somebody to pattern their life after and follow that particular example,” Preston said.

Former Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force James Roy, one of Preston’s co-authors, said that trust is critical when giving people a chance to succeed.

“I have found in my career and into my civilian career that you’ve got to trust people,” he said. “You provide them an opportunity to take on different leadership roles within your organization, but you have to trust, to give them an opportunity to succeed or fail. When they do succeed, you acknowledge it, and when they fail, you help them.”

Roy and Preston were joined on the webinar by co-authors Micheal Barrett, former sergeant major of the Marine Corps; Denise Jelinek-Hall, former senior enlisted adviser to the chief of the National Guard Bureau; Charles Bowen, former master chief petty officer of the Coast Guard; and Rick West, former master chief petty officer of the Navy.

Attention to detail was something West said he learned as a young sailor, and he pointed to it as an important part of leadership.

“I’m a firm believer that as a leader, when you walk down a pier, walk across a quarter deck or into the field, wherever you may be, you can learn a lot and see a lot by the initial look,” West said. Paying attention to the details allows a leader to gauge the professionalism among the troops and even the command climate. “Once you walk into those spaces, if you see a lot of good, healthy banter going back and forth, that’s usually a sign of a pretty good command, they get it, they understand.”

Watch the webinar recording here.