Our next article is from Andrew Lightsey, an Army Aviation officer. It explores the trap many junior officers fall into, using only numbers and data points to view their overall value and potential.
During the Officer Evaluation Report (OER) out brief for my first evaluation as a Captain (O-3), my Senior Rater began with words that shook me: “CPT Lightsey, the Army isn’t interested in how fast you run or if you are the best shooter in your company.” I was immediately taken back as this advice was opposite of everything that I learned as a cadet and had witnessed as a Lieutenant.
Coming from a competitive ROTC program and being in an operations branch, I equated my own performance and potential with how my quantitative data compared to my peers. This was a trap! Similar to other junior officers, it was instilled in me to remain hyper focused on my performance on physical fitness tests, marksmanship scores, maintenance percentages, and the deployability of my Troopers. I came to the realization, once I was placed in a Platoon Leadership role, that using these few hollow measures were not enough to create a cohesive combat-ready team.
Still in a state of shock, my Senior Rater continued the OER discussion (turned mentorship session) by asking me how I thought I ranked among my peers. Not wanting to seem boastful, I answered with a fairly lower number than I thought. I cited examples of my peers’ accomplishments planning the Squadron Field Exercise and mentioned the number of Soldiers they had successfully trained on the unit’s focus from the Mission Essential Tasks List. He listened attentively then let out a slight chuckle, before informing me that my answer was significantly lower than where he had rated me.
Of course, I had drunken the numbers Kool Aid and fallen into the trap. He explained his opening comments by saying, “the Army is not concerned with your scores and numbers because you are more than a few statistics. It is great to be good at the basic requirements and important that you strive to do the best you can at them, but it is more important that you are an agent of culture. Your job is to provide the highest level of leadership to your Soldiers and the Army is interested in your ability to create a culture that is consistent with its values." Again, I was stunned by his words.
Since that day, I have moved through a number of different jobs but have always remembered the lesson and managed to avoid the trap. In the era of hyper focus on talent management and LinkedIn, workers in private companies, nonprofit work, the government, and military alike have become increasingly dependent on numbers to tell their stories and have concentrated on improving them. Conversely, by focusing on the whole person rather than on tasks and events that only produce results in the form of simplistic numbers, I have found more success marketing myself and understanding my own role as an agent of culture.
By not falling into the trap, I have been able to secure better future opportunities, make stronger connections, and build a diverse network, all of which has provided tremendous benefits to the Army, thus increasing my value to the organization while also impacting the organization. I would advise any young leader to find what they uniquely bring to the military, become an agent of culture, and look beyond the comparative data trap.