Above: 6th Infantry Regiment 

The Captain who would be the “Senior Captain”—the General’s Reverie

Article by A170 Tom Rozman 

A senior general officer after a busy early morning meeting schedule, has a few moments of down time at his desk in the Pentagon.  A situation had developed earlier in that morning that as he leaned back in his chair and gazed out the window keyed a memory of years before.  The situation encountered earlier that morning concerned one of the dramas that occasionally developed where a colleague of equal rank played on his seniority to ostensibly put other colleagues on notice that seniority existed and would be respected even when in a collegial atmosphere.  The ploy had been a bit clumsy and really unnecessary as most if not all those at that rank level in the gathering played well together.  Nevertheless, the tendency to play the seniority card struck a nerve.

The general recalled a situation that had occurred 30 years earlier.  The situation developed in a mechanized battalion he had been assigned to on a large divisional troop installation in Kansas.

One of the company commanders in the battalion was an older and more senior captain than the other four company commanders in the battalion.  The other commanders, being newly promoted to captain or senior lieutenants, frequently found themselves being remonstrated with by the senior captain concerning how and what was to be done at company level and too frequently prodding the battalion commander for real or perceived advantage based on his seniority.

The senior captain’s manner and behavior were becoming increasingly imperious and annoying to the other commanders. The behavior was having an increasingly negative effect on the teamwork occurring on the battalion’s company commander team. To some degree the behavior was tolerated because the captain was senior and reasonably competent.

But there was an additional wrinkle. The senior captain’s father was a senior general officer and whether real or perceived, there was an influence factor.  This aspect of the situation resulted in perhaps more toleration of his behavior then was warranted.

Adding to the discomfiture of his fellow company commanders, the senior captain’s attitude was not as apparent to senior officers as it was to his company commander colleagues so the behavior had been ongoing for a time and worsened.  This aspect had reinforced the senior captain in his unwanted behavior. The captain was becoming insufferable to his fellow commanders.

The other commanders made efforts to signal their dissatisfaction to the senior captain regarding his behavior but to no avail.  He proceeded to play at being the “top dog” and demanding his due.

Eventually a particularly egregious situation relative to the other company commanders developed regarding priority of assignment of new replacements to the battalion’s companies.  The senior captain used his seniority blatantly at the expense of the other four commanders to gain advantage in the assigning of the replacements, a major issue given the strength returns of the companies, all suffering key shortfalls.

It happened that one of the company commanders routine at the end of the duty day was to religiously walk the parked line of his company’s M-113 Armored Personnel carriers in the motor pool checking to insure that the rear ramp hatch doors and driver’s hatches were secured.  It was Friday and no one was in the motor pool.  The company’s track line was adjacent to the senior captain’s company’s track line.

It happened shortly afterward that a significant readiness pacing item was reported as missing in the senior captain’s company…the command track radio.  Investigation indicated that the track had not been broken into.  The investigation determined that the track had not been secured at the end of the duty day which had allowed the unobstructed removal of the critical item of equipment.

This development was a major embarrassment to the senior captain and lessened his stature significantly with the battalion commander.  The development also had the gratifying effect of greatly reducing the captain’s arrogant behavior in relation to his fellow commanders.  He quieted down and became a little more of a team player.

Months later, the missing radio was found on post.  The extended absence of the command track’s radio had kept the senior captain in a more constrained behavior mode during the last few months of his company command tour.  His unappreciated by his fellow company commanders tendency to overplay his experience and seniority, too often at their expense, had, as noted. curiously abated with the strange disappearance of the command track radio.

As the general switched gears and phased out of his reverie to prepare for his next appointment on a busy Pentagon schedule for the day, one could detect the slight hint of a smile.  He remembered well being one of the junior company commanders.

Every leader has their personal style.  Most leaders have a reasonable sense of awareness regarding how they affect or impact their subordinates, colleagues, and superiors.  Certainly, where leaders have been exposed to versions of a 360 degree personality analysis/assessment, they have become even more aware of the impression their style of leadership makes on others.

In this case a leader was far too engaged in exalting himself at the expense of fellow leaders and the organizations these fellow leaders were responsible for.  The behavior became increasingly irritating and unappreciated by those leaders, increasingly putting those leaders at unwarranted disadvantage.

As the unappreciated behavior worsened, an untoward incident occurred that greatly compromised the senior captain as an exemplar of the highly competent and able senior captain.  The effect was a dramatic lessening of the senior captain’s offensive behavior…the captain mellowed quickly and ceased being the irritant he had been to his fellow company commanders.

In many ways this is a cautionary tale to all of us in leadership roles who let our egos run away with us, especially when our exhibited behavior compromises our colleagues.  There is always that potential “radio readiness pacing item moment” that may occur where the command track radio comes up missing at a critical time.  Such a development will likely bring the offending individual to earth and with a painful crash.

In this case, regardless of the high level of competence of the arrogant senior captain, the command track had been left unsecured as the investigation findings determined.  A critical high visibility pacing item was then temporarily misplaced.  Had the captain been perceived by his more junior company commander colleagues as the “grand old man” and a “valued supportive mentor “it is unlikely the radio would have gotten misplaced as it did.  This may very much be considered a self-inflicted wound on the part of the senior captain.

It is a wise leader that takes care to foster and nurture positive relationships with junior leaders and  colleagues at the same level of organization as well as with the leader reported to.  If these relationships are what they should be…the other leaders will tend to support a “respected” superior, colleague, and subordinate even when the situation is dire…they are conditioned to support a “loyal” comrade they sense would do the same for them.  In the alternative, they will likely leave the less respected individual to their just deserts.  Worse, an attitude among colleagues of “don’t get mad, just get even” may be fostered that may compromise the organization.

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