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Developing future Army leaders requires flexibility

By Staff Sgt. Jennifer Milnes | 35th Infantry Division | Feb. 6, 2018

CAMP ARIFJAN, Kuwait – Like any great U.S. Army Sergeant Major, the 35th Infantry Division chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear sergeant major, Andre Lawhorn, is as serious as they come when the job needs to get done. However, anyone who has ever had the opportunity to meet, work or become friends with Lawhorn knows that it’s his ability to balance a professional approach and a personable demeanor that makes him such an incredible leader.

“Anytime I get new Soldiers I establish my tone with them,” Lawhorn explained. “Once the Soldiers start doing their jobs and I see that they’re working hard, then I lighten up.”

According to Lawhorn, leadership is different for everyone, and the only way of finding what works is to establish a rapport with Soldiers.

“Developing future leaders is all about leadership style,” stated Lawhorn. “Some leadership styles are far more effective than others.”

When he first enlisted, Lawhorn’s goal was someday to become a first sergeant. Seeing how influential first sergeants and drill sergeants were in their companies, he wanted to fulfill that role as a leader for others. As his career progressed, so did his ambitions and his own leadership style.

“I wanted to mold myself after the great leaders I had throughout my career,” Lawhorn said. “What I quickly learned as I moved through the ranks, was that you really do have to be able to walk-the-walk – not just talk it.”

According to Lawhorn, Soldiers learn from their leaders – growing and nurturing great leaders is far more involved than simply setting back and divvying out tasks. It involves teaching, mentoring and getting hands-on experience. It also involves asking questions and listening to the Soldiers that you lead.

“We tend to forget as senior leaders – especially as a division staff - the importance of being out of the office and actually doing the jobs that continue to develop our own soldiering skills,” Lawhorn said.

Lawhorn explained that even as Soldiers move up through the ranks and hold more responsibility, leaders do a better job of leading when they are out mentoring, guiding and providing purpose, direction and motivation to their Soldiers. He also stressed that a good leader should never take over their Soldiers’ responsibility to get the job done.

“Be where the Soldiers are and be available for questions and assistance, but don’t undermine what they’re doing,” said Lawhorn. “Trust that if you taught them, they’re going to get the job done right.”

He said leaders should be mindful that occasionally errors could occur while they accomplish their tasks. However, it’s through these instances, that further development and teaching points can be made.

“If Soldiers are too worried about messing up, they are probably going to end up messing up; that’s just the nature of the job,” said Lawhorn. “Back off, teach, and allow Soldiers to learn from their mistakes. Those learning moments are going to make for better Army leaders.”

Outside of learning from technical mistakes, Lawhorn emphasizes that situations like this also allow junior enlisted Soldiers to build confidence.

“Confidence is something you build slowly over time, through repetition and experience,” said Lawhorn. “Commitment is the ability to make decisions on your own, and is something that all Soldiers can do now, today – and that’s what helps build confidence. Your Soldiers will stumble at some point. Help lift them back up and keep moving forward.”

Lawhorn hopes that Soldiers at all levels take note of the leadership styles around them and use those lessons to build their own style and approach. Most importantly, Lawhorn says that whether leading or developing leadership style, every Soldier needs to practice patience.

“Patience goes a long way,” said Lawhorn. “If their leaders have patience, that trait will ultimately carry over when those individuals rise through the ranks and eventually have Soldiers of their own to teach.”