Academic journal article Journal of Applied Management and Entrepreneurship

Leadership Lessons from an OCS Infantry Hall of Fame Member: A Conversation with Lt. General (Retired) James Ronald Helmly

Academic journal article Journal of Applied Management and Entrepreneurship

Leadership Lessons from an OCS Infantry Hall of Fame Member: A Conversation with Lt. General (Retired) James Ronald Helmly

Article excerpt

Executive Summary

An effective leader must have integrity and inspire. The importance of the character trait of integrity is epitomized in the words of President Dwight D. Eisenhower: "The supreme quality for leadership is unquestionably integrity. Without it, no real success is possible, no matter whether it is on a section gang, a football field, in an army, or in an office." Organization success is best promoted when both individuals and groups are inspired to be and do their best. According to Ralph Waldo Emerson, "our chief want is someone who will inspire us to be what we know we could be." Throughout his more than 40 year career in the US Army and the Department of Defense, Lieutenant General (retired) James Ronald Helmly led with integrity and was an inspiration to those with whom he served.

General Helmly was Chief of the United States Army Reserve (USAR), and Commander, US Army Reserve Command from May, 2002 to May, 2006. In that position, he commanded over 200,000 United States Army Reserve troops. From 2006 through 2008, he served as the US Defense Department Representative to Pakistan. General Helmly entered the Army in 1968 as an enlisted soldier and received his officer's commission through the Officer Candidate School (OCS). He served two tours of duty in Vietnam and is the recipient of numerous awards for service and valor. He was inducted into the OCS Infantry Hall of Fame in 1996. General Helmly has had considerable experience in leading both small and large groups of men and women.

Authors: Could you relate the major lessons that you learned during your service in Vietnam?

General Helmly: In November 1967, I was barely 20 years old when I deployed to Vietnam leading a rifle platoon of about 30 men. I had served almost 15 months in the Army and most of that time had been spent in some form of training; I had served only two months with my platoon before deployment. Most of my platoon were 19-20 year old draftee soldiers.

We were engaged daily in infantry combat. We were constantly dirty, tired, scared, and fatigued. What little sleep we got was on the ground. Our uniforms would literally rot offour backs after 10 days or so and boots lasted 3-4 weeks. In this kind of environment one learns basic leadership. The value of building trust: leader to led, led to leader, and leader to leader. One learns that accuracy is sometimes as important as truth: know what you are doing and talking about and ensure that you are accurate. One learns the value of human life when daily confronted by death. My first tour in Vietnam shaped and defined my entire life. I grew "comfortable being constantly uncomfortable" as I would later tell young officers: not just physically uncomfortable but mentally and psychologically as well. While I would not wish that anyone should be subjected to such an experience, I profited both as a person and as a leader from my service in Vietnam.

Authors: How would you describe your leadership and management styles? Do you see or perceive a difference between leadership and management?

Helmly: I have always believed that one cannot be a successful leader without devoting time and attention to management. When in a staffposition, one may be considered to be managing more than leading; but when elevated to a supervisory management position one leads and manages, usually simultaneously. I also find that many "managers" fail at leadership, which becomes their failure at managing. Private enterprise seems too often to dwell on management at the expense of leadership.

The military services have, over the past couple of decades, devoted a fair amount of effort in trying to learn management techniques and lessons from the private business world. The single sector of our society, which seems to me poorest in leadership and management is the political sector, and it has the most to gain from both.

I have always tried to see and understand the big picture while simultaneously understanding the challenging details. …

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