Introspection and Emotional Vulnerability as Leader Development and Team Building Tools

Introspection and Emotional Vulnerability as Leader Development and Team Building Tools

by Steven Rotkoff

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All of us have gone through the process of changing stations and being confronted with the question "tell me a little about you". Invariably our answer revolves around some form of our military resume, "I've served here, had these jobs, worked for these bosses, have this education and by the way I'm married, have 2.1 kids and a dog named fluffy." While this approach conveys a lot of information in reality it tells someone almost nothing about what you believe, how you lead, or who you truly are. There is another more effective way of having this conversation. It is called 'Who am I?' (WAI).

WAI is a tool designed to help leaders and small groups to first raise individual member's self-awareness through introspection, and then increase group-level trust through the intentional practice of emotional vulnerability. FM 6-22, Army Leadership describes self-awareness as a meta-competency that supports all other leadership competencies. Self --awareness requires serious introspection. It provides a single reference point for you about one's own system of beliefs and values. The more confident you are of your reference point, the easier it is to "step outside yourself" and examine another's frame of reference. This allows you to take another's perspective long enough to begin to understand them and potentially trust and respect them more easily. Knowing your own culture, reflecting on your own experiences and understanding why you believe and value what you do, provides for an easier "compare and contrast" that enables one to better accept alternative perspectives. This short article describes what WAI is, how it evolved, how to run one, and what you can expect from this simple, leader facilitated exercise.

Six years ago the Army started a Red Team program to train and educate leaders who would be charged with providing alternative perspectives inside their organizations. The program leaders struggled with finding an 'ice-breaking' exercise that would create an atmosphere where participants would not only know each other better but also be more open to different ways of looking at problems. The complexity underlying the operational environment requires leaders who can look at problems through different lenses and understand the inter-relationship among people and things effecting that environment. The exercise that evolved from this search was WAI. This exercise has proved to be an enormously powerful leader development and group networking tool because it allows participants to connect very quickly in a more meaningful way. It has migrated from the Red team program into the Army's Starfish Program and informally into some sections within the Intermediate Leadership Education program, and is spreading to many organizations which Red Team or Starfish graduates have since moved on to.

Introspection and emotional vulnerability are fundamentally leader development tools. Admittedly, when we speak about leader development we don't generally think of people sharing personal stories of deep challenges or emotionally trying experiences with those with whom they will subsequently work or even lead. Simply put, fully-evolved leadership requires knowing oneself and connecting with others to inspire and motivate. WAI enables this development. The basic premise of the exercise is that each participant share 'watershed events' in their life that shaped how they engage with the world.

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COL (Ret.) Steven Rotkoff served as an S-2 or G-2 at every level from Infantry Battalion through Army G2 and commanded both Military Intelligence battalion and brigade as part of III Corps. His final position on active service was as the Deputy CFLCC G-2 for OIF 1. Upon retirement, Steven served as the lead for intelligence transformation efforts for the then Army G2, LTG Alexander. The University of Foreign Military and Cultural Studies (UFMCS), and integration of red team capability in the Army grew out of this transformation effort. Now, he serves as the deputy director of that program. In August 2009 Mr. Rotkoff was selected by GEN Dempsey then the TRADOC CDR to serve as the action officer to develop a course of instruction based upon The Starfish and Spider in conjunction with the author Ori Brafman.

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Charles,
I'm not advocating tears and Oprah. What I do advocate is there is nothing wrong with what knowing what motivates your peers, superiors and subordinates. Knowing where someone comes from is very useful. How you get to that point or what method is largely irrelevant- this is a tool.
I'm not sure what you mean by doctrinalizing morality. I don't believe thats the intent.

Jason....that all sounds great. But when was the last speech made by the CSA or similar entity where he really showed us some emotional vulnerability?

I don't recall GEN Dempsey doing much introspection or crying or declaring his emotional vulnerabilities when he spoke to the cadets or issued his initial guidance as the CSA.

When the top brass stand up there and do that, in pubic, in a large forum, then you'll see others get on board. Until then, this ridiculous crap needs to disappear.

Educational and training rigor is one thing - but this new desire to uncover emotions, discover and doctrinalize morality, etc - is a recipe for disaster. It will spur a total collapse of discipline and inefficiency.

Know your enemy and know yourself and you can fight a hundred battles without disaster.
- Sun Tzu

Leadership in the field is more than systems, data and technology. All of these have their place but war is essentially a human endeavor. If you are really going to know the people on you left and right you had better understand what makes them tick.

If you are going to be a leader you had better know where you come from and what you are about- especially your personal shortcomings.

You can present whatever persona you wish but in my experience that facade is quickly torn away on the battlefield and true personalities emerge.

Why is it wrong to be introspective about yourself so that you may become a more effective leader and team builder?

In August 2009 Mr. Rotkoff was selected by GEN Dempsey then the TRADOC CDR to serve as the action officer to develop a course of instruction based upon The Starfish and Spider in conjunction with the author Ori Brafman.

What the hell is that?

What is going on up at Army HQ?

This stuff is embarrassing.

If the Army ever admitted (through institutional self-awareness) that it was too programmatic, it would develop a program to reduce programs. I guess it would be titled: "The Army Strategy to Become Less Programmatic" consisting of several concepts, experiments, and eventually-funded programs.

So, here we are developing a program for self-awareness. Gosh.

Note how the author cites FM 6-22 as a source for the social science of "self-awareness" as a "meta-competency." This is exactly the type of pop-scholarship that is plaguing the Army.

The Army has a very poorly developed science other than forms of doctrine that address systems engineering-type problems (design and use of weapons systems, helicopter flight, etc.) I have not found one Army doctrinal manual that uses footnotes or endnotes. You cannot reduce social science (which is very "iffy" anyway) to a doctrinal manual or a program/training package. It is just plain nonsense and denegrates the profession.

So where is the sources of our professional knowledge coming from? Unfortunately it comes from the stroke of a pen when a general officer signs a doctrinal manual (or a voucher to pay for a program to develop a program such as this). What we have is essentially "pop doctrine," "pop concepts" and a disappointing affinity to chase after these sorts of fads. I am continually bummed out.

Hmmm... perhaps as a team building and ice breaker this WAI exercise has utility however, Im skeptical of any self-introspection exercise.
You state, "Self -awareness requires serious introspection." If psychologists are right, this is easier said than done. Why -- we all have a great, big, fat ego. Same problem exists with Meyers-Briggs, WAI, or any of the hundreds of "self" introspective tools out there. Its why 90% of the drivers on the road think that they are above average drivers? You may think you can get past your ego, you are dreaming.
We have all heard of cultural, tribal, religious and a host of other biases but all of them are in the little league. The really big-daddy-rabbit bias resides between your ears and its called your ego. Nothing personal here, it's just how we are all wired.
Certainly Soldiers are better at assessing the personality of their leader than any self-assessment. Bring on the 360!