I love the man that can smile in trouble, that can gather strength from distress, and grow brave by reflection. 'Tis the business of little minds to shrink; but he whose heart is firm, and whose conscience approves his conduct, will pursue his principles unto death.
--Thomas Paine (1)
Thomas Paine emphasizes several important concepts that leaders need to take to heart--"big minds" develop talents, skills, thoughts, and reasoning and devote time and effort to developing the competencies involved with leading. Leading involves pursuing self-development, seeking excellence, knowing one's strengths and weaknesses, and taking action.
The Army Training and Leader Development Model features three domains for leader development: institutional, operational, and self-development. Although the institutional domain is paramount to development, most leaders recognize that the bulk of their learning occurs on the job. (2) It is in the operational domain that the leader really hones his unique craft. Staff rides, professional development classes, tactical exercises without troops (TEWT), terrain walks, computer simulations, and myriad other programs develop leaders' competence in a profound manner. The operational domain is also the place where individual development action plans are produced jointly between leaders and supervisors.
The institutional and operational domains are well structured, well defined in doctrine, and generally well implemented. However, they do not offer enough to allow the leader to realize his full potential. Only by actively seeking self-development can a leader achieve his optimum potential. Yet, of the three domains, self-development is the least well structured, defined, or executed. According to the ATLDP Officer Study Report, "Army training and leadership doctrine does not adequately address it, Army leaders do not emphasize its value, and the Army does not provide the tools and support to enable its leaders to make self-development an effective component of lifelong learning." (3) This article looks at why leader self-development is so important and suggests a practical approach to implement and monitor a viable self-development program.
The Importance of Leader Self-Development
Army leaders are servants of the Nation. In times of war, they carry the primary burden for victory or defeat; in times of peace, they are the primary drivers to mission accomplishment. Consequently, Army leaders have an obligation to develop their leadership competencies to the utmost. They accomplish this through disciplined, daily study and reflection, and by seizing every opportunity to better themselves. As President Ronald Reagan once said: "The character that takes command in moments of crucial choices has already been determined by a thousand other choices made earlier in seemingly unimportant moments.... It has been determined by all the day-to-day decisions made when life seemed easy and crises seemed far away-the decisions that, piece-by-piece, bit-by-bit, developed habits of discipline or of laziness; habits of self-sacrifice or self-indulgence; habits of duty and honor and integrity-or dishonor and shame." (4)
A leader's daily life is full of opportunities and choices. What leaders do with these opportunities and choices can help either to optimize their leadership development or to let it languish. Army leaders should care about the daily decisions they make regarding self-development and the development of their subordinates.
Self-development involves introspective examination of one's strengths and weaknesses and includes a conscious effort--a choice--to improve certain areas of one's character and abilities. Leaders who pursue self-development in earnest become more confident, better able to solve complex problems, and more qualified to make decisions against a thinking, agile, and asymmetric enemy in times of uncertainty, fear, and chaos (5) Self-development empowers leaders, yields greater job satisfaction, develops competencies needed to accomplish missions, and broadens a leader's vision; thus, it prepares the leader to take on positions of increasing responsibility. …