Ruinous empathy, manipulative insincerity, and command performance

Illustration of the Anabase by Xenophon

I became a fan of the FTGN podcast last year when they launched season 2. I like it because the questions that Joe asks are usually questions I really want the answers to.

I don’t want to know about General Votel’s career highlights – I want to know how he finds time to reflect.

I don’t want to know about General McChrystal’s running routine – I want to know how he dealt with the fallout of the Rolling Stone article.

And I don’t want to know what it felt like for Diamond Dallas Page to lead a successful wrestling career – I want to know how he dealt with his life crumbling around him.

Season 3 of the podcast recently launched. I’m already a couple of episodes behind, but I just finished episode 1 with author Kim Scott.

Kim Scott is the author of Just Work: Get Sh*t Done Fast and Fair and Radical Candor: Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity and co-founder of the company Radical Candor. Kim was a CEO coach at Dropbox, Qualtrics, Twitter, and other tech companies. She was a member of the faculty at Apple University and before that led AdSense, YouTube, and DoubleClick teams at Google. Kim managed a pediatric clinic in Kosovo and started a diamond-cutting factory in Moscow. She lives with her family in Silicon Valley. (Bio courtesy of Kim’s Website)

S3, E1: Kim Scott, From The Green Notebook Podcast

I have not read the books yet, but like my ever-expanding podcast queue, they’re on my book list.

It’s a fascinating episode to lead off with. I love Joe’s podcasts with military personnel, but I prefer his episodes with folks from outside of the profession. This one was no different.

Things that stood out to me in this episode:

  • Ruinous empathy and Maniplative Insincerity. These are concepts from Scott’s book Radical Candor. And they’re the type of frames that instantly ascribe an idea you may have been thinking about but have a hard time putting a name to. We’ve hammered the importance of empathy to death in military circles over the past few years – and for good reason. It’s a skill that was missing for a long time among many military leaders. But it comes with two edges to the blade. There is such a thing as being too empathetic where it gets in the way of giving the advice or feedback that is necessary to make a person better or accomplish a given mission. Manipulative insincerity is related, but different. It’s when we heap praise on someone or something without actually caring – we’re doing it because we think it’s the right thing to do. Everyone – especially soldiers – sniff this out pretty quickly and it doesn’t actually contribute to positive outcomes.
  • Xenophon. Joe made reference to Xenophon, the ancient Greek scholar/military leader. This is only interesting to me because over the past year I’ve done some deep-dive research on Xenophon in relation to a much bigger research project I’m working on. A year ago I didn’t know who he is – now I know way too much. Once you start digging, you realize that his profiles of the “two Cyruses” is the inspiration to a wide range of thought leaders, from Machiavelli to Thomas Jefferson. The genesis of my interest in Xenophon comes from an exploration of T. E. Lawrence’s Greek education and his reference to Xenophon in the Seven Pillars of Wisdom:

There remained the psychological element to build up into an apt shape. I went to Xenophon and stole, to name it, his word diathetics, which had been the art of Cyrus before he struck.

T. E. Lawrence, Seven Pillars of Wisdom
  • The importance of handwritten notes. Joe and Kim have a short discussion on the power of handwritten notes. It feels good to be told you’re doing well, it feels great to get an email that you’re doing well (with your chain of command cc’d), and it is something special to get a handwritten note out of the blue. Remember, everything old is new again. Dale Carnegie famously writes in How to Win Friends… “Be hearty in approbation and lavish in praise.”
  • Sitting in awkward silence. When asking for feedback, state your request, and then shut your mouth. Count to six. It’s not easy. But if you can just keep quiet for a second longer, you can often compel the other to fill the silence. In our hyper-distracted world, this is a tough challenge. Try it. And practice it over time.
  • The assumption of the 20 year career. Too often when we counsel others in the military, if we are career-minded ourselves, we tend to assume the other has similar aspirations. The “20 year career” seems like the gold standard. With the termination of the 20 year retirement, this will likely change over time. The point is, aspirations of military service are not uniform. Most service-members will not stay in until retirement. It is a calling, a service, and a duty. There is more to get out of life. There is absolutely nothing wrong with meeting people where they are and helping them achieve their goals – not yours.
  • Command Performance. There’s a short discussion towards the end about the things peers and subordinates (and sometimes superiors) may do or say in front of others, and the importance of responding. This often takes the form of either controversial, subversive, or “envelope-pushing” speech/behavior. It’s often done subconciusly, I think, as a way to see how people will respond. I’ve written about this before and labeled it “command performance.” How is the PL going to react when I say or do this thing that goes against the grain? If she does nothing, then isn’t that tacit approval of the behavior/speech?

A good conversation with lots to think about.

Glad to have the podcast refreshing again in my queue and I look forward to the rest of the season!

Enjoy these posts? Follow me on Twitter and sign up for the monthly newsletter.

Watching it happen

I’ve written about this before.

And it’s happening again.

We’re living in a very strange time, where events are beamed to our televisions, computers, and phones as they happen.

Real people are out there – in the arena – doing incredible things and experiencing real trauma.

And we watch – in real time – and critique, scowl, and gossip.

The flash-to-bang is getting shorter and shorter. 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina were the opening acts.

January 6th and the fall of Kabul are the most recent manifestations of this phenomena.

Things used to happen and then you’d read about it, dispassionately, in a newspaer the morning after. If you were lucky, there was a picture that accompanied the article.

Today it’s all reaction and little reflection.

Emotion and absence of mind.

Enjoy these posts? Follow me on Twitter and sign up for the monthly newsletter.

Everyday resistance

It doesn’t have to be protests, armed conflict, or war. It can be the little things. And often, it is.

When Jim Scott mentions ‘resistance,’ this recovering political scientist isn’t usually talking about grand symbolic statements or large-scale synchronized actions by thousands or more battling an oppressive state. He’s often referring to daily actions by average people, often not acting in concert and perhaps not even seeing themselves as ‘resisting’ at all.

Jim Scott on Resistance – Social Science Space

Related: 198 methods on nonviolent action.

Enjoy these posts? Follow me on Twitter and sign up for the monthly newsletter.

Institutionalizing Irregular Warfare: Introducing IWI

Very excited to see this initiative.

To help bridge this gap, the Empirical Studies of Conflict Project and the Modern War Institute at West Point are proud to announce the launch of the Irregular Warfare Initiative (IWI). IWI is designed to support the community of irregular warfare professionals, to include military and interagency practitioners, scholarly researchers, and policymakers, by providing a space for accessible, practically grounded discussions of irregular warfare policy and strategy.

Introducing the Irregular Warfare Initiative – Modern War Institute

The Irregular Warfare Podcast has quickly become one of my favorite. Like many of you, my podcast queue is infinite. I never get to anything, but their podcast aligns perfectly with with my interests – and it is actually good. It bumps everything out of the way and becomes a “listen to now” podcast.

Looking forward to seeing how this shapes up over the next year.

Enjoy these posts? Follow me on Twitter and sign up for the monthly newsletter.

This is going to end my career

I’m a new subscriber to the Jumo Brief. In the most recent newsletter, Brennan recounts a time he left his flight jacket in his office and thought it would end his career.

Of course, it didn’t end my career. It didn’t even matter a week later. I was just a dumb lieutenant doing dumb lieutenant things. But it didn’t feel like it at the time.

Jumo Brief

This is such a common thought in the Army. Some miniscule mistake is going to be the thing that ends it all.

I’ve thought that before, and I know most others have.

When I actually think back on it, I can’t really think of any specific instances where this was true. In fact, the opposite is mostly true. I see plenty of leaders making small mistakes and things working out okay.

A mistake is made, there may be some consequence (or not), and learning occurs (hopefully).

Of course, there is a difference between small mistakes (forgetting a flight jacket) and catastrophic mistakes – the types of things that gets people hurt or killed, due to negligence.

A lot of mental energy is wasted in the Army worrying about small mistakes and their potential to be the thing that derails a career. The more I reflect on it though, the more I realize I haven’t actually seen it much.

Enjoy these posts? Follow me on Twitter and sign up for the monthly newsletter.

Sometimes, you really don’t understand

Good article over at CJO on empathy and understanding for leaders.

The first thing I learned from this experience is that unless you’ve personally experienced a problem, it is unlikely you fully understand the issue. We can listen, we can learn, and we can empathize, but we’ll never have the same perspective as someone who has been on the receiving end of racism, sexual harassment and assault, or any of the other serious issues facing our formations.

Do We Really Understand?. By: James McLaughlin | by CoCMD & PLT LDR | Leadership Counts! | Mar, 2021 | Medium

When brought a problem, many leaders have a tendency to rush to demonstrate understanding.

“Ah yes, I understand,” often replying with some similar (but potentially off the mark) anecdote in an attempt to build rapport.

Better, is to admit when this is something you haven’t experienced, and to try to listen and find where your gaps are, and then use your experience to marshall resources where appropriate.

Instead of “I understand how that must feel,” maybe “That must be really hard.”

Squishy? Yes. But it can go a long way.

There’s also some good anecdotes in this piece about failing to salute, which can be embarrassing.

Enjoy these posts? Follow me on Twitter and sign up for the monthly newsletter.

Work Ethic = Results: Diamond Dallas Page on FTGN

The one thing I do know is that The Rock, Tom Brady, LeBron James, Oprah, everyone of those power people, go down! They just don’t stay there. They feel it, and then they let it go and they start figuring out ‘how am I going to fix this?’

S2, E11: Diamond Dallas Page- The Power of Work Ethic – From the Green Notebook

When I first saw the graphic announcing that Diamond Dallas Page was going to be on an episode of the From The Green Notebook podcast, I literally laughed out loud because it seemed so outside of the norm of the folks who had been on the podcast previously – leaders like General (Ret) Votel and McChyrstal who spoke about leadership and Major General McGee who spoke about the Battalion Commander Assesment Program.

This seemed like a sudden departure – one that I fully welcomed. There is a tendency for military-themed sites and podcasts to become their own echo-chambers or an extended mouthpiece of “big army messaging” – this site not excluded. This was summed up nicely below:

The professionialization of military-themed sites (I don’t want to call it the military “blogosphere” anymore – because I think that era has passed) is a good thing. Sure there are things we are missing – like the raw experiences of soldiers that we saw in the last decade. But that stuff is still there, if you want it (Twitter/Instagram/Tik-Tok).

Going back to the podcast, it is absolutely a good thing to bring in folks outside of the military bubble. Different perspectives and experiences will keep us honest, and often offer insights we won’t get from hearing the same polished talking points from the same polished leaders, influencers, or thought leaders.

Like Joe, I was a wrestling fan growing up (huge NWO fan) and I knew DDP’s story. I also remember watching the Jake the Snake documentary years ago and being taken by the sadness of the wrestling industry and the way its superstars can fall into cycles of addiction and depression.

While this episode isn’t about DDP’s wrestling career, I found the parts describing the reality of that life fascinating. There’s what we see on TV – a well-lit, choreographed dance – and what happens in reality; broken bones, brutal work-schedules, all-day travel in a bus, petty professional jealousies.

Not very glamorous.

Below are the key take-aways and nuggets I got from the episode.

The central theme was the importance of work ethic. Joe and DDP talk about it on a few different occasions. DDP didn’t even get started in wrestling until he was in his thirties and he didn’t “make-it” until he had crested forty. I remember watching as a kid and thinking he seemed older than his peers. DDP credits his work ethic, stating “work ethic equals results” and later “work ethic equals dreams.”

This is something I’ve picked up on more and more over the years. There is a place for raw talent and genius, but for the rest of us, most success comes from hard work and consistency over time, with a little bit of luck and timing thrown in there as well. There’s simply no alternative to grinding through, happily.

On identity: there is a portion early in the episode where DDP and Joe discuss the fact that “this is all going to end.” If you’re a wrestler, you are going to get too old and hurt to keep going. Every soldier eventually takes off the uniform. There is a tendency in both professions to wrap ourselves up in the identity that comes with the profession. When that ends (which it will), it can lead to depression or a fall. As Colin Powell put in his famous rules – “Avoid having your ego so close to your position that when your position falls, your ego goes with it.” Easy to say, harder to do.

“Don’t just think it, ink it.”

I’ve never heard this before, but it resonates instantly – and as a rhyming phrase, artificially holds more truth. Still,the practice of writing can be reflective and help bound you to your goals. Writing it down – somewhere – reinforces accountability and intention.

“It’s not about who you know, or who knows you, it’s about who’s willing to say they know you.”

Here, DDP is talking about people willing to put their names on the line for you. Mentors and mentorship relationships are great. But when things are going poorly, or you actually need some help, is there someone out there that is willing to put their name on the line? To pick up the phone and make that phone call? That is much more rare, and special.

On going to Iraq/Afghanistan: Nothing deep here, but as someone who has been in and around the military since the start of the GWOT, I’ve been fascinated by celebrity trips overseas. During the height of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, it was a pretty common occurrence. What has struck me is how impactful those trips are, not for the soldiers (although that is important), but to the celebrities themselves.

Even though they may only spend a few days in a location, these trips seem to have a huge impact on them personally and you will often here it recounted in interviews as one of the most important things they have ever done. It’s a consistent theme I’ve heard over the years. It’s easy to be cynical, as some are, and chalk it up as self-serving, but I don’t think it is. Once you’re in the service, you can’t unknow it. For celebrities that make the trip, they really don’t know what to expect.

Lastly, I’ll close with the quote that opened the piece. DDP talks about the fact that everyone goes down at some point. “Going down” is different for everyone. It could be your job, your relationship, your mental health, your financial situation – whatever. There is going to be hardship. The important thing is to accept it, and as he says, “feel it,” and then begin moving on. This reminded me of Joe’s interview with Stanley McChyrstal where he talks about bouncing back from the Rolling Stone article – same story.

I got a lot more out of this episode than I thought I would. It’s short and worth the listen. It really doesn’t matter if you’re a wrestling fan or not – it’s a human story.

Lastly, FTGN is running a short essay contest (details here). The prompt is to write about the three lessons you’ve learned from any one of their podcasts. One of the key lessons I’ve learned from listening over the past few months is the importance of this writing practice (writing after listening) as a way of reflecting.

Congrats to Joe on the episode and I look forward to more surprises!

Enjoy these posts? Follow me on Twitter and sign up for the monthly newsletter.

FICINT: Imagining our own destruction

This blog is becoming a shill for great podcasts.

During this episode, Mr. August Cole discusses fictional intelligence (or FICINT) and how it can help leaders understand emerging concepts such as the cognitive warfighting domain. August observes that plausible fictionalized future scenarios which are rooted in academic research communicate to leaders and decision makers better than do white papers and powerpoint slides. He also emphasizes the importance of experimentation and stress testing ideas. One of August’s primary goals with his writing is to use FICINT and narrative to prevent strategic surprise.

The Cognitive Crucible Episode #33 Cole on FICINT and the Cognitive Warfighting Domain

When I read Ghost Fleet, it scared me. Future war is terrifying.

But it also motivated me to work, and to keep working to get ahead of some of the challenges it prophesizes.

Ghost Fleet is a work of “FICINT” or “fictional intelligence,” a play on the other “INTs” of the intelligence community (SIGINT, HUMINT, etc.).

One of the key findings of the 9/11 Commission Report is that we suffered from a failure of imagination. FICINT offers a way to imagine future threats, and then, hopefully, prepare for them.

This was a great episode. Things that stuck out below:

On writing about a “Crimea-like” unconventional warfare campaign waged by the US (Underbelly).

“What rules would US and allied forces break in wartime? When you go back in history, it’s quite clear that norms and rules are broken in every single conflict, like unrestricted submarine warfare in the 20th century – so what’s the equivalent of the 21st century? Is it going to be breaking down all the barriers of data access?”

Returning to the idea of “what rules are we going to break,” Cole empahsises the point that we can use FICINT to start thinking through these problems now.

“The more time we can invest in understanding the ethical, legal, operational, and doctrinal implications now, the better chance we have to make those decisions as carefully as a country like ours needs to during a large scale conflict.”

The podcast wraps up with Cole recommending listeners read Agency by William Gibson. Gibson, for the uninitiated is the author of Neuromancer, which is the inspiration for much of the “cyberpunk” genre of fiction.

I haven’t read either (yet), but Cyberpunk 2077 is up next.

Enjoy these posts? Follow me on Twitter and sign up for the monthly newsletter.


Company grade work versus field grade work

I’m really enjoying this series on broadening over at FTGN.

I had a friend who was just promoted to LTC say: “I just pinned two weeks ago….when I turned in work as a major, people said “This is incredible,” but now they look at the same quality of work and say ‘Seriously?’”

The Responsibility of Preparedness: Choosing Broadening Assignments That Will Make You a Better Officer – From the Green Notebook

I’m becoming more interested in understanding the traits that distinguish good company grade officers (Lieutenants and Captains) from field grade officers (Majors and Lieutenant Colonels). I’ve heard it said that if you do the things that made you successful as a Captain when you’re a Major, you’ll distinguish yourself as the best Captain in your unit.

Yikes.

The linked post discusses how choosing a good broadening assignement can help build out some of those skills to better prepare you for the next job.

Consistent through the post was the important role of mentors in this regard. Mentors (to include those in your chain of command) will likely have a better idea of what you need to work on than you will.

It’s rare (in my experience) to see officers who want to take that OC/T assignment at Fort Irwin or Fort Polk – but that really might be the absolute best thing based on their current skill set and development needs. When choosing assigments, we all tend to focus on what we want versus what we need. Mentors can help cut through that.

Looking forward to the rest of the posts. Check it out.

Enjoy these posts? Follow me on Twitter and sign up for the monthly newsletter.

WAR ROOM: Words must align with actions

Yes to this.

…the most important thing that the United States does in terms of its foreign policy is what it does in the world. You can’t just talk about it in nice ways if it’s inconsistent with what your actions are.

THE INTERIM NSS: A TOUCHSTONE – War Room – U.S. Army War College

This episode of WAR ROOM is about the interim National Security Strategy, but the above quote from Dr. Jacqueline Whitt struck me because it resonates so true to something a little smaller in scale – information operations. Good IO is not something you “do” after the fact or something you “sprinkle” onto a well-baked plan. It’s not something you crowbar in, either.

We all know the saying “actions speak louder than words,” and it’s true in this regard too. If our words are inconsistent with our actions, well then it just looks like classic propaganda.

I’m a new listener of the US Army War College’s podcast but – like so many other recent additions to the podcast world – is quickly becoming a must listen.

I know everyone thinks they should have a podcast (they shouldn’t) but there are so many insitutions where it absolutely makes sense.

This is one of them.

Enjoy these posts? Follow me on Twitter and sign up for the monthly newsletter.