The Deputy Commanding General of U.S. Army Central, Maj. Gen. Dana J. H. Pittard, addressed a class of Kuwaiti and international students at the Mubarak Al-Abdullah Joint Command and Staff College in Kuwait, Dec. 9.
During his speech, he laid out his tenets for successful leadership and the recipe for cohesive coalition partnerships. He began his remarks by discussing his military experience and the conflicts which shaped both himself and his contemporaries.
In the post-Vietnam military, the Cold War paradigm still remained. Training revolved around potential conflict with the Soviet Union. But the threat evolved, and Pittard and other military leaders learned valuable lessons from engagements in Grenada, Panama, Haiti, Bosnia, Kosovo, Desert Storm and eventually in Afghanistan and Iraq. What remains true, he said, is that the world is dangerous and there are those who would do the United States and its allies harm; therefore, there must be strong coalitions going forward.
“We make mistakes, that is a given, but it’s what you do about those mistakes, what you learn from those mistakes,” said Pittard. “Which is the importance of leading an organization that can be introspective, where you have after active reviews – so that you can constantly be learning, considering, ‘how can we do it better?’”
Pittard described six tenets of strong leadership: provide vision, ensure mission focus, discover and utilize the talents of your subordinates, lead adaptable and innovative units, lead by example and don’t be afraid to make tough decisions.
He provided personal leadership anecdotes for each tenet, spanning the length of his career. From his time as tank commander during Desert Storm under Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, to his experiences as brigade commander in Iraq, a military adviser to President Bill Clinton, the Commanding General of 1st Armored Division and his current role with USARCENT. One constant that he stressed, was reaching out and touching the units and subordinates under his command.
“Make yourself available; make yourself available in many different forms, so you can receive that critical feedback or those important ideas,” he said, describing a private who pointed out the best way to mark tanks during Desert Storm. “Constantly have an environment where critical thinking is what you’re asking for. You want your subordinates and the people in your command to think.”
As a strong leadership example, he pointed to Gen. David Petraeus in Iraq in 2006. He said Petreaeus had the vision, energy and fortitude to introduce the counterinsurgency method on the large scale and said it was absolutely the right call. It helped restore the country after sectarian violence threatened to tear it apart. Taking that step couldn’t have been easy, he said, but that is what leaders must expect as they advance through their careers.
“If it is an easy decision, it is made at the platoon level or the squad level. That’s why it’s so difficult as you become more senior, the decisions get harder and harder, or they wouldn’t be coming up to your level,” said Pittard.
The general also outlined his basic principles for successful coalition partnerships: respect, rapport, knowledge, mission focus, patience and trust. It is important to recognize what each partnership nation brings to the fight, to respect their national identity and to foster a relationship of mutual respect, he said.
At the conclusion of the speech, he answered questions from the students on mentorship, how to lead by example at senior positions and the role of the United States as a leader in the world going forward. On the last topic, he assured the students that the U.S. would not shrink from its role in the world, but that the U.S. was looking to expand the partnership piece.
“Coalitions are the way we believe we will be fighting in the future, very few times will we be fighting unilaterally ever again,” he said. He compared the students to actors in a Broadway play, and instructed them that each must be on top of their craft and represent the consummate professional. “I am looking at the future leaders of our world’s armed forces. Please remember that.”