Leadership involves thinking outside the box

| May 11, 2017 | 0 Comments

Photo by Cpl. Jung Han Soh (Daegu) This board shows how Sears sets up her game.

This board shows how Sears sets up her game. (Photo by Cpl. Jung Han Soh [Daegu])

Staff Sgt. Jessica Sears
Army News Service

Often times we are asked what is a leader? What sets you apart from everyone else? What motivates you to do better? There are numerous answers to these questions, but only one truly defines an individual as a leader.

As a young Soldier, I always believed that everyone was a leader. I believed this because I had an understanding that everyone else had something they are good at. If I were to pay attention, I would be able to learn something from everyone.

To this day, I still believe that everyone knows something or is better at something than I am, but the question is, does that make them a leader?

What makes a leader

Throughout my military career, I have come across some amazing individuals who were placed in a leadership position above me. Many, to this day, I would still call a leader.

Some I would not recognize as a leader, not because they are not amazing individuals, but because they are leaders in their “own way.” For example, I have come across individuals who were about helping themselves rather than the whole team. Some examples are people who will help someone if there is something in it for them, for an outstanding NCO Evaluation Report bullet, or for a chance to participate in the Audie Murphy board. The latter things make an individual stand out among their peers on paper. However, is this the definition of a leader? I think not.

I believe I found the true definition of a leader in an individual by his actions. He did not act to gain anything or to make himself well known. He is not a part of the Audie Murphy Club, and he didn’t care what his NCOER bullets read, although I am sure they were outstanding.

This individual taught me the meaning of leadership by being a platoon sergeant and putting himself in the place of each and every one of his Soldiers. For example, as Military Police, there were times when the platoon was tasked out with a road commitment. He would randomly show up at weapons draw and choose a well-deserving Soldier to go home without notice. He would then grab his duty belt and his MP brassard and take the place of that Soldier.

Most times the Soldier was an E4 or below. This individual could have easily taken the position of the patrol supervisor and been in charge, but he did not. He would leave the NCO in place, and he would take the place of a normal patrol taking all commands from his patrol supervisor. He would do the same when it came to other tasks such as CQ, staff duty or other minute missions.

I asked one day why he did this and his answer was simple.

“I do this because I don’t want to forget where I came from,” he said. “I want to know everything that my Soldiers are going through, and I want to be kept up on everything that is changing. The best way to do this is by not looking at the rank of an individual, but by being the rank of that individual.”

He continued, “I know what my Soldiers are doing because I am doing it, too. In the same aspect, our Soldiers work hard, and this is my way of repaying them for their hard work and the dedication they have shown. I give a well-deserving Soldier a day off to go spend time with their family or friends, and I get reminded of what it is like to be the workforce in the military. Without our Soldiers we are nothing.”

To this day, I keep these words with me always because these are not the words that motivate me, but my actions as well.

Final thoughts

I am not a platoon sergeant, and I am not in charge of a lot of Soldiers. Or am I?

My Soldiers are not just those who have been assigned to me through my leadership, but each and every Soldier in the Army. I say this because I know that I am always being watched and others are always looking at me for guidance – even it is just through my actions.

I recently asked myself how I could do something to influence everyone to do better. I found myself helping Soldiers study for a promotion board, though I am one who is not fond of searching for the right question and answer. I believe that getting knowledge from a book is boring, and I personally learn very little from doing so.

The question in my head now is how do I make learning fun and not have to look for the “right question”? I decided to make a board game.

My board game

I gathered an MOI and decided I could have four stacks of cards (one stack for different members on a board). For each member on the board, the cards are color coded. The most junior Soldier starts the game with their BIO, which has more than one purpose.

First, you state your bio letting other players get to know you. Once you are on the board, you begin answering questions from which ever board member you land on.

Most are worth 1 point each, and there are others that are worth a few more, such as reciting The Creed of The Noncommissioned Officer. You win the game by being the first to collect 50 points, which isn’t easy as there are cards that could be drawn that could cost you points, such as an Article 15.


Leadership comes in many forms and often times I believe that we forget to think outside the box. Everything must be dress right dress and by the book. These are the things that make learning boring.

Sometimes as a leader, we have to think of unique ways to reach out to our Soldiers, to let them know that we are there for them. With this game, I am not only reaching out to my Soldiers, but to every Soldier in the area who is asking for help. I was simply trying to make learning fun in a way that I am able to participate alongside of them.

Often times as our career progresses, we forget things as well. With this game learning opportunity, we as leaders are able to sit down with our Soldiers and participate, reminding ourselves that we were all once in the same position that our Soldiers are in now. We are giving ourselves a refresher and a reminder that none of us are perfect.

In order to lead, we must reflect and acknowledge our own weaknesses. If we cannot do this, then we cannot effectively lead.

I encourage all leaders to start thinking outside the box in ways to lead our Soldiers. A true leader will always look for the challenge without wondering what’s in it for me. Every Soldier is different; every Soldier is unique.

What are common grounds that each and every one of our Soldiers have in common? They want to (and will) progress, learn and have fun. It is our jobs as leaders to accept the challenge and make it happen.

Make it fun, so our Soldiers are motivated and want to take part in something. After all, our most junior Soldiers are our future. If we cannot motivate them and teach them to think outside the box, we have all failed and have become toxic in our ways.

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