“Regard your Soldiers as your children, and they will follow you into the deepest valleys; look on them as your own beloved sons and they will stand by you even into death. If, however, you are indulgent, but unable to make your authority felt, kind-hearted but unable to enforce your commands; and incapable, moreover, of quelling disorder, then your Soldiers must be likened to spoiled children; they are useless for any practical purpose.” – Sun Tzu, The Art of War
Recently, this quote has lingered in my mind. Each interaction with my Soldiers, peers, and superiors elicits the question “Am I being indulgent?”
The quote came to the forefront of my thoughts a few weeks ago. One of my NCOs was moving to a new duty assignment and was preparing to leave within the next couple days. I pushed him hard and he had made remarkable improvements over the last few months and I was proud.
Then when I least expected the wind was knocked out of my sails. The night before he left he lost his mind! I approached him about unfinished evaluations he needed to complete and he lost all professionalism.
I was crushed and simultaneously filled with anger. His behavior was so shocking I was speechless. I just wanted to remove myself from the situation. I was so shocked and disappointed.
After a lot of reflection I realized I had created a spoiled Soldier. He had made a lot of progress but I failed him. In the last few weeks of his tour I spoiled him. I failed to recognized behavioral warning signs and promptly deal with the issue.
In all reality I stopped caring for him. When you care for someone you teach them the skills necessary to become successful and when they mess up you hold them accountable for their actions. In the weeks before his departure I failed to hold him accountable for his actions. His behavior on his last night in Korea made it clear.
So yes I have been an over indulgent leader at times. Too often I have spared the rod and spoiled the Soldier. In sparring the rod I thought I was caring for them. In fact, I was doing the exact opposite!
What would you suggest that I do that would prevent this incident from happening again? Have you experienced similar circumstances? What actions did you take to fix yourself or the situation?