Military Review English Edition September-October 2014 - Page 64

as easy as holding your brief immediately following an esprit-de-corps unit run. Simple, unexpected, concrete, credible, emotional, and finally, “stories”—we were born to remember a narrative, but humans must work to remember a list.31 Professional competitive “memory champions” actually convert anything they want to remember (even random lists of numbers or decks of playing cards) into a “memory palace,” a kind of story, in order to remember so many inane details.32 When we hear a well-told narrative, there is a part of our brain that walks through the story with the teller, and doing that aids understanding and retention.33 It is through this last point, through the telling of stories, that we are making the major success-driving change in our weekend safety brief format. The story and the object lesson become our starting point for engaging subordinates in a common vision of the Army values. Telling Transformational Stories Going back to the beginning of this article, imagine a new Friday. The unit finishes a motivational morning run and while soldiers’ hearts are still pumping hard the commander calls them all into an informal “horseshoe” formation. He tells them he is not going to insult their intelligence by lecturing them to do the right thing over the weekend. They already know what the right thing is, and he expects them to do it. Instead, he wants to talk to them about respect. It is simple because they already have a foundation for what respect is. Discussing respect is also credible because it is an Army value. He tells them about his neighbor who is a blind man with a service dog. That is unexpected, and because the soldiers realize there is a gap in their knowledge, their natural curiosity is piqued. “The other day I saw him leave home to go for a walk, and when he got about 100 meters from his house, there was a car parked across the sidewalk in someone’s driveway.” He is drawing them in to the challenge his neighbor is about to face. “The dog stopped him short of the car but, having no idea why, my neighbor tried to keep the dog moving. The dog stopped him three times and he ended up yelling at the poor dog before running into the car himself.”34 Soldiers might be wondering where this is going, but none of them have tuned out. The commander continues, “I think there’s a lesson about respect we can learn 62 from what happened to my neighbor.” He goes on to make a connection between the lack of trust the blind man had for his service dog when something unexpected happened and a young soldier who disregards the advice of a wise friend or an NCO. “I want you to imagine your friend is trying to steer you clear from a bad decision this weekend. What are you going to do? Are you going to do the right thing? Or, are you going to walk smack-dab into a parked car?” He has placed them inside the narrative now, and he starts to shift them toward commitment. “If you think respect is simply giving your NCOs what’s due, you are just beginning to uncover the Army values … .” This commander has successfully initiated a dialogue through a transformational story. When he finishes the discussion after a few more points about respect, he has not told them not to drink and drive because they already know not to. On a very personal level, he has reminded them that their off-duty behavior is part of who they are and that he has high expectations of that behavior.35 Every soldier will not walk away from that formation instantly transformed and completely committed to the Army values, but they will walk away shifted a little bit more to the right on the spectrum from compliance to commitment. Soldiers who are engaged through a SUCCESs-based series of transformational stories may still occasionally hit the blotter report, but, despite that, leaders will instill in their soldiers something the old-style weekend safety brief does not: the emotionally based personal drive to act. Those soldiers will be more likely to become committed to the professional military ethic sooner in their careers than others will. The simplest thing about this concept is that leaders who have themselves shifted from compliance to commitment to the PME carry with them the stories that brought them to that point. Without seeking out a cleverly contrived anecdote or object lesson, most leaders are capable of relaying to soldiers what it means to be a practitioner of the Army values from their own experience and the experiences of those around them. Additionally, leaders who choose to adopt this method will find themselves approached by soldiers who are in the process of shifting to the right with their own stories to tell. Changing the weekend safety brief into a weekly forum to discuss the PME will build the organization September-October 2014  MILITARY REVIEW