On Dec. 2, the day after President Barack Obama’s major speech on the war in Afghanistan, the “Leadership Challenges in the Military” Reader’s College course had a live, teleconference visit from U.S. Army Col. Daniel Hampton, who is stationed at the Kandahar Air Base.
Col. Hampton, “in theater,” discussed the complexities of leadership, in this learning experience co-sponsored by the HWS Centennial Center for Leadership. As one of leaders of the mission to train the Afghan army, police and security forces, Hampton, a friend of an HWS staff member, spoke from personal experience and theoretical perspectives about many themes of the course.
According to the course instructor, Chip Capraro, Associate Dean of Hobart and Assistant Professor of History, the course brought together his own “expertise in history and theory and the HWS leadership paradigm.”
Featuring a series of historical and theoretical readings on leadership in the world of warfare, stretching from the Middle Ages to the present and across cultures and the varieties of military action, the syllabus integrated a variety of perspectives on leadership, as class readings were interpreted from the point of view of the HWS Centennial Center for Leadership‘s curriculum.
“Having spent a semester reading about other experiences of leadership in the military-including Clausewitz’s classic, On War, Seneca Indian war chief Chainbreaker’s memoir of fighting with the British against the Continentals in the American Revolution, and Mae Tse-tung’s On Guerilla Warfare-students prepared questions for Col. Hampton,” says Capraro.
“The assigned text for the day was The Armed Forces Officer (2007 edition), authored by the U.S. Department of Defense,” says Capraro, “so falling, coincidentally, the day after Obama’s major speech on the Afghan war, there was extra energy and buzz among the students.”
During the exchange, Hampton focused on everything from the struggles of training troops-American and Afghan-to the critical thinking required both in the military as a whole and in combat and training situations, from evaluating information to communication to argumentation. He also emphasized how key elements of the HWS leadership paradigm-trust, integrity, ethics-are common to many arenas of leadership, including the military.
Hampton stressed that in combat, things happen quickly and lives are at stake, so the consequences of effective leadership are immediate. “In keeping with texts and goal of the course,” Capraro says, “students were most interested in what Col. Hampton had to say about what it’s like commanding troops in the theater and how emotional reality connects with the requisites of leadership; and Col. Hampton gave thoughtful answers-more than just boilerplate responses. He drew from his experience and reflected on his years in the military.”
Other texts in the course were John Keegan’s The Face of Battle: A Study of Agincourt, Waterloo and the Somme and Edward Campion Vaughn’s Some Desperate Glory: The World War I Diary of A British Officer, describing trench warfare and the way officers managed their emotions and interpersonal relations with troops in their command and civilians.
Adding a concrete component to the reading, the dialogue with Col. Hampton, as Capraro says, “brought home the reality that what we’ve been reading aren’t just abstractions but ideas and behaviors that have a place and consequence in the real world. It reinforced that we have to think critically about what it means to be a leader.”