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Three Meter Zone | JD's Bunker | Poetry | Chapel | American Journal


Leading in the Three-Meter Zone

J. D. Pendry

Also published in the Field Artillery Journal. May-June 99
The choice of non-commissioned officers is an object of the greatest importance: The order and discipline of a regiment depends so much upon their behaviour, that too much care cannot be taken in preferring none to that trust but those who by their merit and good conduct are entitled to it. Honesty, sobriety, and a remarkable attention to every point of duty, with a neatness in their dress, are indispensable requisites; a spirit to command respect and obedience from the men, an expertness in performing every part of the exercise, and an ability to teach it, are absolutely necessary, nor can a sergeant or corporal be said to be qualified who does not write and read in a tolerable manner."-Major General Friedrich Baron von Steuben, Baron Von Steuben's Revolutionary War Drill Manual: A Facsimile Reprint of the 1794 Edition (Dover Military History, Weapons, Armor)

In the beginning, standing between independence and the superpower of the day, we were an Army of citizen soldiers in desperate need of professional leadership, discipline, and training. Today, we're the world's best trained, most powerful, and professionally led Army. We owe our strength to a willingness to change when necessary and the good sense to understand and leave alone the enduring things that must never change. Ours has been a dramatic evolution from a collection of citizen soldier militia units to the force of Desert Storm.

While you think of that evolution, consider this. Of all the necessary change that's kept us powerful, one thing has never and can never change if we are to remain so. That enduring thing is the on-the-ground leadership embraced by von Steuben's expectations and carried out daily by noncommissioned leaders.

The choice of non-commissioned officers is an object of the greatest importance...

The most important leadership in the Army is that which occurs closest to soldiers. Soldiers are molded, good and bad, by the leadership events that happen within three meters of them. The leader having the most impact on your life, past or present, has always been the leader closest to you. When you think of it like that, noncommissioned leadership easily becomes the most important level of leadership to our Army.

The expectations for noncommissioned leaders today remain virtually unchanged since von Steuben penned them in 1779.

...too much care cannot be taken in preferring none to that trust...

The first leader a soldier meets in the process of becoming a soldier is noncommissioned. The soldier - noncommissioned leader relationship begins immediately. We model standards, maintain discipline, train and care for soldiers, provide them with answers, and lead them. Noncommissioned leaders must understand the influence we have on the Army because of our close relationships with soldiers. Consciously or not we lead by example (LBE). Or, as a friend of mine puts it, we wear our LBE every minute of every day. Soldiers learn how to lead and take care of soldiers by copying the model provided to them by us - their three-meter zone noncommissioned leader.

What we do is enduring. The enduring nature of our trade requires us to focus on the enduring things that make us good leaders. We have to master and model them to soldiers.

Those who by their merit and good conduct...Honesty, sobriety...

We must internalize and model the values. It's nice that we've fashioned for ourselves values reminders to hang around our necks. The values "credit" card for our wallets is nice too. But those things are just reminders. Soldiers do not learn the values from a list on a tag or credit card; they learn the values modeled by noncommissioned leaders. It's easy to memorize the book definitions of our core values - Loyalty, Duty, Respect, Selfless-service, Honor, Integrity, and Personal Courage. The same can be said about the personal values of candor, courage, compassion, commitment, and competence. The difficult task is internalizing what each value means and coming to understand how we must model them for soldiers. Our values are the Army's foundation, they endure, and soldiers learn them from us - noncommissioned leaders.

...an expertness in performing every part of the exercise...

We must master and model the leadership competencies. We all have to overcome the challenge of completing a soul-searching, honest self-assessment of our knowledge, skills, and abilities. Everything important to a noncommissioned leader's proficiency is found beneath the umbrella of the leadership competencies described in FM 22-100, Military Leadership: communications, supervision, teaching and counseling, soldier-team development, technical and tactical proficiency, decision making, planning, use of available systems, and professional ethics. Whether we are a high-tech, low-tech or no-tech army, the competencies endure. We must master and model them for our soldiers.

...a spirit to command respect...

We must gain the trust and confidence of our soldiers. A noncommissioned leader who does not hold their trust and confidence cannot lead soldiers. We gain their trust and confidence by showing them we're worthy of it. To do that we consistently model the values and demonstrate our proficiency by mastering the leadership competencies. When we've demonstrated high character and the competence to perform our duties, soldiers will trust us and have confidence in our ability to lead them.

...a remarkable attention to every point of duty, with a neatness in their dress...

We are the standard. Select a subject, anything from physical fitness to equipment maintenance to wear of the uniform, and you can find published standards for it. The subject is not important. What's important is that soldiers do not go to a book to look up a standard for something. Instead, they look to their closest noncommissioned leader who they expect to model the standard. We are watched every minute of everyday (LBE) whether at the Shoppette or on the firing line. Soldiers observe us and copy us because what we model is the standard. Every noncommissioned leader's three-meter zone is a mirror image of the standard he or she models.

The order and discipline of a regiment depends so much upon their behaviour...

We create the environment for discipline. Discipline comes from self-discipline. Noncommissioned leaders who model good self-discipline habits build well-disciplined soldiers and units. We must enforce published rules, regulations, and what we know to be moral and legal. Selectively choosing to disobey or disregard a regulation or standard, no matter how insignificant it seems at the time, cannot be done. If we make that choice, we demonstrate poor self-discipline and raise soldiers, future leaders, and units with poor discipline habits.

We must have purpose and direction. All good leaders know where they are going and when they get there. They have personal priorities based on their knowledge of our Army, past and present. They use that knowledge to establish the right direction for themselves and their soldiers. Noncommissioned leaders apply personal battle focus to their lives.

...nor can a sergeant or corporal be said to be qualified who does not write and read in a tolerable manner.

We have to model for soldiers a system of self-assessments that tells us where we are in our professional and personal lives. From those assessments, we develop a plan to get where we want and need to be. We execute our plan, reassess, and then make another plan. Much like the battle focused training management cycle, we model for soldiers a personal continuous improvement system - personal battle focus.

Those are just some of the enduring traits noncommissioned leaders must model for soldiers if we want to grow them into good three-meter zone leaders, but that is just half the story. Not only must we model for them how we work to make ourselves better leaders; we must also model for them how to take care of soldiers. They learn that from us too.

We have to know our soldiers. It's important to understand what knowing our soldiers means. Often we model that capturing as much information about a person as possible and recording it in our leader's notebook equals knowing them. There is much more to knowing a soldier than recording his or her weapon zero, PT score, and last counseling date in a notebook. What's just as important is to know things like the environment your soldier comes from. Was it a farm? The inner city? Large family? Only child? Knowing such things gives you insight to the person which is always more important than knowing their stats. Knowing where a soldier comes from may help you understand why the soldier acts or reacts in a certain manner. A soldier from a large family, for example, may not need much privacy and will readily adapt to a group whereas the opposite may be true for an only child. This insight may also help you understand the perceptions a soldier brings to the Army with him or her about you and the business of being a soldier. Perceptions you may have to counter by demonstrating that "no one is more professional." Make sure that the knowledge you have of your soldiers extends beyond the stats in your leader's notebook.

We must respect our soldiers. My son standing in front of me as a brand new army private caused my view of soldiers to take on a different hue. Every private is the son or daughter of someone. We have to treat them with the same dignity and respect as we treat our own sons and daughters. That does not imply that we relax a standard or are less firm when building discipline. It means if we train hard, enforce standards, and build discipline we give that son or daughter the best possible chance to survive. Treating soldiers with dignity and respect does not equal softening the environment. What's important and enduring is that the private you mold by example today is the noncommissioned leader who will be taking care of your son or daughter tomorrow.

...a spirit to command...obedience...

We must motivate our soldiers. How do we do that? We often model for soldiers that motivation is directly related to the muscles used for push-ups. So naturally, the more we exercise those muscles for our soldiers the more motivated we believe they will be. I could easily break into a sermon here about what motivation is or isn't, but I won't do that. Just trust me when I tell you it has little to do with push-ups. Caring leaders who are positive role models and out front leaders motivate soldiers. Motivating leaders also understand the importance of modeling for their soldiers and sharing the difficult times with them. Sergeant Major John G. Stepanek captured the spirit of motivating soldiers when he said this is a speech to graduating officer basic students that was printed in Army Digest, August 1967:"As a Senior NCO Sees It" (Pages 5 and 6):

From most of us you can expect... courage to match your courage, guts to match your guts, endurance to match your endurance, motivation to match your motivation, esprit to match your esprit, a desire for achievement to match your desire for achievement. You can expect a love of God, a love of country and a love of duty to match your love of God, your love of country and your love of duty. We won't mind the heat if you sweat with us, and we won't mind the cold if you shiver with us.

Any questions about motivation?

...and an ability to teach it...

We must train our soldiers. Noncommissioned leaders are the Army's principal trainers charged with its most important aspect - individual training. Individual training is the foundation for everything in the Army. No commander can complete a mission, training or real, without soldiers well trained in individual skills. Sometimes, for different reasons, we lose sight of that critical element of soldier care. We have to be intimately familiar with our role in training and understand our Battle Focused Training system. Remember this enduring element as well. How you teach and train your soldiers to keep them current in their job and basic soldier survival skills is how they will do it when they replace you.

It's your legacy. Every noncommissioned leader leaves a legacy, good or bad, with the piece of the Army he or she leads. Never forget the enduring nature of our business. If you have led a team, squad, platoon or any sized element since your time in the Army you have influenced many. Each member of that element has transferred some of your characteristics, good or bad, to another squad or platoon. By the nature of what we do, each of us stands to influence hundreds and if we stick around long enough maybe even thousands. A staggering thought isn't it? What we do in the Army as noncommissioned leaders today will stay with the Army long after we are gone. As you ponder the ramifications of that thought, and consider the legacy you may have already left, I'll leave you with another important and enduring aspect of leadership to mull over.

Chickenship. I heard a story once. It was about a couple of neighbors. They were old retired folks living alone. One was an old man, the other an old woman. Both loved gardening and both were quite good at it. The old man, however, always had the most beautiful roses you could imagine. No matter how hard the old woman worked at her roses they were never as good as his were. She tried very hard to find out what he was doing differently than she, but never could. One day, out of frustration she finally asked the old gentleman his secret. He walked into his garden shack and came back with a bucket. "Here's what I use," he said, as he passed her a bucket full of chicken droppings.

The old lady was surprised that he'd shared his secret with her. She was determined to have roses as good as his. Every couple of days she'd go out and put a generous helping of the droppings on her roses. Soon, however, her roses began to droop over and die. Right away she accused the old man of lying to her. She told him she'd been putting the droppings on every couple of days and now, thanks to him, her roses were dead. There's your problem", said the old man, "you've used too much. Too much will cause them to quit growing, might even kill'em. You just apply a little bit at the right time and they'll do fine."

Leadership is a lot like fertilizing roses. The right amount and type applied at the right time will get the job done. It will have a nurturing affect and allow those you are leading the opportunity to grow. Be careful about the amount you use. Because, too much will cause them to quit growing, might even kill'em. You don't want your leadership to turn into chickenship.

Copyright© 1999 J.D. Pendry