Leadership Lessons of a New CO

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In 2015 I unexpectedly went from being the Deputy Commander of a Joint Medical Group to being a Commander and JTF Surgeon. Here is an article I wrote then that I still believe in:

I came to JTF GTMO on September 25th as the Deputy Commander of the Joint Medical Group (JMG), but in November I was named the permanent Commander due to a policy change. Leading the JMG for the last 7 months has been an amazing experience. Here are the top leadership lessons I learned as a first-time CO:

When making decisions, consider fairness above all other factors. You’ll never keep everyone happy, so you need to make sure your decisions follow policy and are fair. You should be able to explain the rationale behind your decisions to anyone that wants or needs to know why you made them. If you can’t, you need to re-evaluate those decisions.

The overwhelming majority of your people are competent, so empower them to do their job. When people come to me with problems, my common response is, “Well what do you want to do?” Sometimes they are surprised to be asked this question, but you don’t fix problems in the front office. Your people are competent, smart, and creative, and the people on the front lines who are close to the problem are the ones most likely to come up with the best and most efficient solution.

You don’t need to know it all. Because I’ve never done the majority of the jobs in the JMG, I clearly don’t know it all. As a leader, you should never be afraid to admit that you don’t know. When you admit to your people that you don’t know something and that you rely on their knowledge and expertise, it doesn’t make you look uninformed. It reinforces to them the value they provide to both you as a leader and the mission of your unit.

Little things can mean a lot. As a senior leader, small things get magnified in their importance. Inconsequential comments now become policy setting statements. Troopers and sailors notice small details, like how your uniform looks. Finally, something as small as holding a monthly athletic competition can become a command-wide morale booster with lasting impact.

M&Ms can kill morale. No, not the candy. I’m talking about micromanagers and meetings. Read #2 above, realize your people are competent, and let them do their jobs without feeling micromanaged. In addition, by their very nature meetings are collective and, if unnecessary, they can collectively waste a ton of time. Twelve people having a non-productive meeting for 1 hour is 12 wasted hours. Only have meetings when they are necessary, and always respect your people by starting on time, sticking to a pre-established agenda, and avoiding them when they aren’t required.

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