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SET YOUR COURSE Leadership. Transition tips. Professional advice. PATHFINDER: Lt. Col. Pete Kilner, USA (Ret)


How a Friend’s Wise Question Changed My Leadership Style


principle, or a lesson learned. Instead, it was a question that challenged me to reflect deeply on my values as a leader. When I was a captain, a peer


T


asked, “Would you rather be thought of as a great leader of an average unit, or an average lead- er of a great unit?” The either/or nature of his question forced me to examine and prioritize my underlying motives as a leader. Which was more important to me — my own reputation, or that of my subordinates and our unit? Both mattered greatly, but I wasn’t sure which carried more weight. I wasn’t even sure if the distinc- tion mattered.


His question spurred a habit


of reflection that produced a powerful new lens through which I could view and assess myself and other leaders. Keeping his question in mind, I began noticing troubling subtle indicators of my own values-in-action. For example, after my unit succeeded on a particularly challenging mis- sion, I was generous in giving my subordinates public recog- nition when I spoke to them, but heard myself using “I” much more often when briefing my superiors. I realized I wanted


he most valuable lead- ership advice I’ve ever received wasn’t a tip, a


HAVE A SIMILAR LESSON OR REFLECTION TO SHARE? Email it to editor@moaa .org.


my raters to note my role in the mission’s success, even if doing so diminished the credit given to the rest of my unit. I realized the best leaders


were those who seemed to care least about receiving credit. They were truly servant lead- ers, sacrificing not only for our country but also for their subor- dinates. One practical outcome of my


reflections has been that I strive to put as much effort into my final 90 days on a job as I do in the first 90 days. I want to be a leader who helps my successor and my organization succeed long after I’m gone. I am grateful that my friend had the courage and wisdom to ask me that challenging ques- tion. He catalyzed a process of self-reflection that has led to


20 | MILITARY OFFICER | January 2018


increased self-awareness, em- pathy, and effectiveness and has enabled me to discover things about myself that no one else could teach me. In appreciation of his price-


less gift, I want to pass it on. So now I ask you: “Would you rath- er be thought of as a great leader of an average unit, or an average leader of a great unit?”


Lt. Col. Pete Kilner, USA (Ret), served 27 years as an infantry officer and professor at the U.S. Military


Academy, West Point, N.Y., where he taught ethics and led the Center for the Advancement of Leader Development and Or- ganizational Learning.


PHOTOS: ABOVE, COURTESY LT. COL. PETE KILNER, USA (RET); TOP, MASTER SGT. ANDY DUNAWAY, USAF


‘I realized the best leaders were those who seemed to care


least about receiving credit.’


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