Are Leaders Missing What’s Important?

The Army is a results-oriented organization:

How many pushups can you do in two minutes?

Fix that truck. We need it for mission.

Secure that supply route.

Do whatever it takes to take that hill.

Rebuild that police station.

Rebuild the Afghanistan National Army.

I can only assume that many civilian organizations are results-oriented as well.

I think sometimes folks get caught up in the results and forget what is important: the people that get you these results.

An incredibly smart man once told me, “Kevin, the Army will chew you up and spit you out.  It will forget about you the day you leave.  You’re replaceable and your accomplishments will be outdone by someone else eventually and thus forgotten.”

I was befuddled by the words spoken by a man from whom I deeply respected and thought was a career professional officer.

I asked, “What do you mean, Sir?”

He smiled and asked, “Do you know what the greatest impact you will have on the military will be?” He stared intently at me.

I rattled through my prior accomplishments in my mind but wasn’t sure if any merited mentioning.

He looked at me, knew I was unsure, and said, “My greatest accomplishment is you.  My greatest accomplishment will be the people I leave behind to run the Army after me.  You are the greatest gift I can leave the Army.”

The way I lead soldiers changed forever that day. That was almost ten years ago.

It was pretty sound advice and has guided me throughout my career.  My leadership strategy is to invest in people, empower them, and let them grow.  It’s okay if they falter and things aren’t perfect all the time.  It’s my job to pick them back up and guide them.  They are learning, growing, and will be stronger for it.

That wise man has been selected by the Army to Command a Brigade of 3,000 Soldiers.  I live by his creed and spread his theory to this day.

So what is missing when your organization is singularly results-oriented?

What happens if your boss is only results oriented?

How does that make you feel?U.S. Marine Lance Cpl. Evan Frickey, a 21-year-old improvised explosive device detection dog handler with 3rd Platoon, Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, and native of Idaho Falls, Idaho, plays with Cookie, an improvised explosive device detection dog, while providing security on the perimeter of the Safar School compound here, March 18. (Photo by Cpl. Reece Lodder)

U.S. Marine Lance Cpl. Evan Frickey, a 21-year-old improvised explosive device detection dog handler with 3rd Platoon, Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, and native of Idaho Falls, Idaho, plays with Cookie, an improvised explosive device detection dog, while providing security on the perimeter of the Safar School compound here, March 18. (Photo by Cpl. Reece Lodder)

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18 thoughts on “Are Leaders Missing What’s Important?

  1. Nikki Broadwell

    I really like what you said here, Kevin. That man was smart and what the army needs but like everything it seems that the focus can get skewed–just as in education and teaching to the test!
    My father was an army general when he retired–he had 2 stars but was forced into retirement relatively early–the blight on his career was being in prison camp for 3 and a half years in WW2 –he was one of the people MacArthur left out to dry in the Philippines (sorry if you’re a MacArthur fan!) Anyway, it sounds like you are a good leader and know what it takes to engender respect…

    1. Kevin Hanrahan Post author

      Wow Nikki! That is an amazing story….thx so much for sharing. I can only imagine the stories your dad had.

      I’ve been pretty lucky….my first boss, at my first duty station in Korea was a terrible leader. Since then I have been fortunate. I seek jobs not only for the professional development but also who I will work for. Life is too short to work for someone who will make you miserable. …. If I’m lucky enough to have a choice of course!

  2. aj Melnick

    Kevin, you are “right on.” It’s always people who make the difference. And the canines too. Loved the latest photo! Typical happy doggie.

    1. Kevin Hanrahan Post author

      I’m not big on sleeping on the ground, not showering or being shot at AJ. What makes it tolerable is the folks I am with. The military has the best people- hands down!

  3. Adriana Johnson

    Hi Kevin,

    I really, really benefit a lot learning about leadership roles in many different sectors. Thank you for sharing what drove you. I can understand why you would follow such a creed the commanding officer sounds like another true star of leadership. What drives my friends is something I always like to know about especially those in leadership. The topic can be spotted on all kinds of different areas . The private sector in my expereiences are results oriented too. However, somtimes, not all the time, it is who you know and know what you know. I admire government, city, military officals because there are a codes of ethics they are supposed to stand by. In a fire there is order in the team. If there is a person down you pick them back up, as you state. You don’t beat them down because they fumble or the fire is going to get both of them.

    It is completely true if you are only results oriented and not investing in people there is not much to shine for. The military, the company, the city government will go on after one is gone. The question to ask oneslelf is what is it that you left behind that shows your mark. Don’t be just a shark but a spark in the role you are placed in. For sparks light the fire not just taking chunks out of what people produce.

    If your company or boss is only results oriented then the people don’t have anything to want to try for. They are not behind the goal if you don’t know how to “talk in their ear” and rumble ‘get back up’, ‘you are doing a good job’, ‘lets try this etc.,’ ‘here is our direction’. If you do those types of things they are going to join together; and the approach does matter, the environment, boundaries etc. A boss is not going to get much respect if he/she trys to be everyones best friend; but you are not going to produce as much if you are as cold and dead as slate either. The people are the greatest accomplishment. Fabulous profound statemenet your commanding officer told you.

    When the company and boss is singularly results oriented what is missing is passion, drive, direction the intent. It would make me feel unappreciated and not part of a team, lost in what we are really accomplishing and asking the question why.

    As related to dogs it is like flipping a coin your trainers have to use their heads and make sure the military dogs are being a great asset. However, there is a tale side that wags and they must get their treats be motivated, head rubs, appreciated etc. Both roles are part of one coin:) Great pictures Kevin, and leadership topics are a favorite of mine.:)

    Adriana Villafane Johnson

    1. Kevin Hanrahan Post author

      Hi Adriana. The military is a little about who you know as well. That may be a good or bad thing. It is a small military so your reputation (at least at my level) precedes you. There is a lot of timing influence as well. Right time, right place and right boss. I imagine that is similar in the civilian world.

      I’ve always jokingly said that I surround myself with people that are smarter than me and let them do all my work. It is on partly a joke though. I believe in finding good people, protecting them from external BS, taking care of them and giving them the freedom to spread their wings. Your people want to know that you care about them as people. Care about them, their family and their careers….. it’s not all about you. I can sniff out a superficial, self-engrossed leader in seconds.

      Mistakes will happen….but the biggest mistake a leader can make is not allowing your people to learn and grow from them.

  4. RD Meyer

    The two most rewarding jobs I’ve had in the Army are rifle company command and MSIII Instructor at ROTC. The Soldiers that are still in and now training others truly let me know my impact. That nearly three dozen of my former cadets and 25-ish of my former Soldiers still keep in contact with me says more about my legacy in the Army than any OER will ever do.

    1. Kevin Hanrahan Post author

      Hi Russ. Isn’t it amazing to see your former Soldiers still carrying your message and transmitting it to their folks? I love that. Back in the old day when we were coming though the ranks they called that influence. I believe the ability to influence is the number one attribute of a leader…….

  5. yankeemom

    It can be frustrating when those above you do not have leadership abilities and lots of ego. Same in the civilian world. A good leader (or supervisor) who bolsters your strengths and helps you move through your weaknesses is gold.
    I sent this post to my soon-to-be-ssgt-daughter as she takes on more leadership. I’ve watched her become an amazing and accomplished person in the past 7 years of her being in the Army.

    1. Kevin Hanrahan Post author

      Hi Deb. As I move up in rank I watch as people who I had once deemed as incredible leaders fall to the waste side. They are still talented but they have yet to make the leap from direct to organization leadership. It is a shame that some just don’t get it. It’s not about what you can achieve….it is about how you get your organization to achieve.

      That is great about your daughters promotion… where is she stationed?

    1. Kevin Hanrahan Post author

      Hi Shawn. I think you have to be a good human before you can become a good leader! Thanks for your comment and sharing your thoughts.

  6. Gene @bigzigfitness

    Excellent post, and well written comments!
    My time in the military taught me to Leadership strategies that i try to employ at work as well as my personal life:
    The order of business should be Mission, Men, then Self;
    And to Lead from the Front.
    Thanks again for your post, and more importantly your Service.

  7. Kevin Hanrahan Post author

    Hi Gene. Thank you. It is great to hear that you were able to take those lessons from the military and apply them in the civilian world.

    The other thing I believe people forget is how to treat folks. They forget the golden rule as their own self-worth increases. Those people below you will notice. They will care a lot more about the mission if they know their superiors care about them.

  8. Lynda

    Off topic here, but I have to ask, I was wondering how you feel about the ever growing numbers of people being raped by our own military personnel and if it’s as chronic as reported? Having had generations of both Navy and Army family members, and a cousin in the marine’s now (female), this betrayal of our own just never came up before. Or, can it be the lowered standards under the last administration to raise recruiting numbers, that is to blame and what can be done?

    1. Kevin Hanrahan Post author

      I think sexual assault, rape certainly exists in our military… is a terrible, terrible black eye for our service. I honestly don’t know what is to blame but not that I’m back into the law enforcement side of the house I will definitely get smarter on this topic. I personally have zero tolerance for this crap.

  9. Melody

    Thanks for writing this Kevin, I am in the military and I share the same philosophy about growing people. I am a team lead for 10 in a larger unit; an organization that is results oriented. It is a unique situation–we are military; however, mostly have civilians and contractors–we produce analytic products for the field and provide info to senior leaders. We have a civilian director and deputy director–both are very results oriented. I can answer your questions from experience:

    So what is missing when your organization is singularly results-oriented? Life is missing–the environment is dreary, job gets done, but people aren’t happy. Work place bullying is allowed and there is a negative feel to the workplace (I’ve had my people tell me they want to stay in our “little bubble.” In addition, I gave a civilian a face-to-face feedback and he shared I was the first in 10 years to do that for him…heartbreaking). No one cares about others, people don’t even know everyone’s names. Candor–though critical for growth and improvement in any organization…is discouraged and non-existent.

    What happens if your boss is only results oriented? People will get the job done, but their heart won’t be in it; people will not be motivated and will easily feel discouraged. The boss plays favorites and will cater to toxic personalities because they are good at getting the job done in spite of being unprofessional and poor leaders. Creativity and innovation are stifled because the boss is very controlling and risk adverse. There is often a knee jerk reaction to individuals not complying w/standards and my pet peeve–vague group emails versus direct feedback. Fear is a motivator instead of a sense of accomplishment.

    How does that make you feel? Miserable, frustrated, rebellious; determined to find a way to stay positive. Compelled to comment on blogs such as this in the hopes to encourage others on the great importance of people first. Having said that…if you are the type to read articles on leadership, you are likely the type that cares and wants to improve. Results oriented managers (they are not leaders)…are busy just doing the job…

    I know there are a few other factors that influence my workplace, but I know a major reason our unit is so dysfunctional is because the tone and expectation set is results only (people nothing). I do my best to be positive and set a different tone within my team and we are improving all the time; however, it is such a challenge for me to go to work everyday to face my supervisor and the larger work environment. When you care about people and grow your replacement, everyone has a sense of purpose and will accomplish even more for the mission–better, stronger, faster results. It was reassuring to read this article to validate that I am not crazy for caring about people as I my philosophy is a minority in my unit (there’s a few of us, but the ‘boss’ sets the tone…).

    I look forward to reading more of your articles as I daydream about perhaps developing a blog myself…:)

    1. Kevin Hanrahan Post author

      Hi Melody, it was my pleasure and truly something I deeply believe in. The environment you work in sounds horrible and I can only imagine how much you loather heading to work everyday… watching the clock, hour by hour so you can get out of there. I’m so sorry to hear you going through this, thank you for sharing your experiences and impressions of your toxic environment.

      My very first assignment in Korea as a Second Lieutenant is still the worse environment I worked in, second only to the first six months I spent in Afghanistan as a major. Those are the type of experiences that shape one for a life time.

      It is funny you mention rebellious….that is exactly what happened to me in Afghanistan in 2010. I had an my Air Force Colonel boss tell me that Commander’s in the field didn’t really know what they needed and they weren’t getting any more military working dogs. He said a few more choice things but that was the jest. I spent the next few months behind his back doing exactly what he said would never happen…..and then I jammed it down his throat through his boss. My true intentions where to ensure the commander’s in the fight received the assets they needed but I secretly relished in the fact that the Colonel had to eat crow…. good times!

      People work harder when they know you care about them.. You care about them, they care about the mission.

      Again, thanks for your thoughtful comments. I hope you get a regime change soon


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