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The Strategic Corporal: The New Empowerment

I often enjoy my talks with my brother Scott.  A retired Army, Lieutenant Colonel, Scott still doesn’t take himself too seriously, even after working at senior levels at the Pentagon and teaching at the prestigious Army Command Staff College.  Once in a while, we hit a note in our talks that brings about an “Aha” moment for me.  Earlier this week I mentioned how proud I am of the professionalism in the junior ranks of the U.S. military.  People of only 20-25 years of age taking on huge responsibility in the face of the enemy and the demands that go with their mission.  While I was expressing my impression, Scott, without missing a beat says, “This is the strategic corporal”, referencing General Charles C. Krulak’s, 1999 article on battlefield agility.  Scott continued by explaining how the military prepares these young people for such demands and unexpected leadership demands.

Being a veteran myself, I’ve noticed the expanding responsibility in the military for those considered to be at lower ranks far beyond what I remember.  The life and death decisions of the modern corporal, airman, sailor, or coastguardsman, can change policy and bring about greater success or traumatic failure on the battlefield or theater of operation.  But to trust one so very young and inexperienced has to first accompany a high degree of training, development, and empowerment in order for it to be effective.  There also must be high performance expectations that this young person will do the right thing when under dire stress and impossible circumstances when no one senior to them is available.

As business leaders, we love to talk about empowerment.  But are we preparing our folks the same way the strategic corporal is being prepared?  How much time are we really spending training, developing, and empowering our folks?  Are we setting and holding a high level of expectations upon these individuals to do what is right and letting them do it without our interruptions?  When they fail, do we as their leaders, take accountability or abandon them?  These are the questions that we must ask ourselves before we expect more from our folks.  It’s very easy to say that we give such responsibility to employees, but we need to adequately prepare them for what is expected.  We must be willing to be accountable with them when things go wrong and use mistakes as an opportunity to learn and grow.

In your workplace, you may not have life or death scenarios to face, but think about that corporal and then look at those you are leading and think about the opportunities for both them and your organization.  I think you will find surprising results when you do take the time to prepare and then for even the toughest challenges.   -Rick

Rick Baron, PHR, CPC, (http://www.rmbaron.net), is a Human Resources Leader, Teacher, and Career Coach based in the Sarasota, Florida area.

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