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5 Things I Learned Flying a Desk

November 22, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

Leadership staffMy first real job as an Army Aviator was as a junior staff officer in an Attack Helicopter Battalion. Instead of helicopters and soldiers I was given projects and paperwork. Instead of employing combat power, I was employing PowerPoint.

My turn in the cockpit would come—and it would go—but the lessons I learned in that first staff job have stuck with me to this day. Here are 5 things I learned early on:

1. The BLUF Principle. BLUF stands for “Bottom Line Up Front.” Every communication (e.g. memo, report, message, etc.) should start with what’s most important. Forget the structure they taught you in English class, get to the point, then—once you have their attention—share the pertinent background, analysis, and exposition.

2. Execution trumps planning. A poor plan executed brilliantly is always better than a brilliant plan executed poorly. As a planner, don’t go for a brilliant plan. Instead, set people up for brilliant execution. Often that means creating a simple, elegant plan that’s easy to understand, easy to communicate and easy to believe in.

3. Leaders are everywhere. Your best leaders aren’t necessarily the ones getting the most out of people on the front line. They may be the ones in the back room helping part-timers understand how the mundane and seemingly inconsequential tasks they perform everyday help ensure the success of the entire organization.

4. Don’t sit on information. The longer you take to process and pass on information—any information—the less time everyone down the line has to think, plan and act. Information is the fuel of informed decisions, do everything you can to maximize the time decision makers have with critical data.

5. Those bastards at Squad HQ. It doesn’t matter what level you’re at in an organization, the folks at the next higher level will seem like incompetent idiots who only exist to make your job—and life—miserable. Get over it. Assume positive intent and give them the benefit of the doubt. Make time with them face to face on a regular basis to have open and honest discussions.

What did you learn from working on a staff?

  1. Ray Kimball
    November 22, 2011 at 1:42 am

    How to inspire and motivate people that I had zero authority over. As a logistics officer, I had to make sure that the company first sergeants (the senior non-commissioned officers in the smaller units) were synchronizing their logistics plans with mine. I also freqeuently had to ask them for movement and security support. But I had no tasking authority over them – they worked for their commanders, not me. That meant that in order to get their assistance, I had to make sure I was looking out for their needs and not asking unreasonable things (or at least not asking too often).

    • November 22, 2011 at 8:17 am

      How’d I miss that one? Great catch, Ray! As a young lieutenant, learning how to earn trust, build relationships, and scrape together some influence was priceless later on.


  2. Anonymous
    November 22, 2011 at 8:45 am

    Who was that BN Commander you had. I heard he was very good?

    • November 22, 2011 at 10:11 am

      Must be John Kelly you’re thinking of. There was a guy after him…what was his name…Abernathy…Abrams…something like that.

  3. November 22, 2011 at 2:49 pm

    I particularly like the first one…get the big idea across first!

    • November 22, 2011 at 4:03 pm

      Me too. The storyteller in me always wants to “set it up” or “put it in context.” In reality, that can all wait!

  4. November 28, 2011 at 6:44 am

    I like #5. It’s useful to accept that fact, and get over it.

    On the other hand, I had to leave a position because “HQ” refused to meet with me and violated #4 — refused to share information I needed to be successful.

    • December 1, 2011 at 12:10 pm

      I agree, “assuming positive intent” only works for so long if there really is a problem. Sorry you had such a bad experience. Sounds like you’re not repeating their mistake though!

  1. December 1, 2011 at 12:15 am

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