How Compassion Can Make or Break a Career
How Compassion Can Make or Break a Career

you might not have realized it, but there’s an important date in the lives of your Soldiers that you should pay attention to. You don’t know the exact time yet – it could be weeks, months, or years away – but it’s out there. And it’s a big day for them, and for the Army. I’m talking about the reenlistment date for every Soldier you lead and like it or not, everything you do influences whether or not the day will come.

Family & Army…Competing Priorities

Several years ago, while in the hospital after the birth of our second child, I observed a Private First Class in uniform wandering the halls of the Labor & Delivery Floor. I casually inquired about his situation and discovered that his wife had their first child the day before, yet he had reported to work that morning and was fortunately able to break away to visit. That’s right, his first child was born on a Wednesday and someone made him come into work on Thursday.

Leaders often make the mistake of measuring their unit’s importance based on it’s level of activity. The packed calendar, the stress of training events, and the surge of tasking make it easy to overlook the personal moments that matter most for the Soldiers involved. Leaders put the Army in conflict with their personal lives and leave it to them to sort it out. Soldiers do indeed sort it out, but too often it’s years down the road when it comes time to reenlist.

Who knows whether that new father had been told to come to work or if his supervisor was simply not aware. Regardless, situations like that can be immensely destructive to the family’s loyalty to the Service and continued commitment to serve. If we can send Soldiers back from overseas deployment to be home for childbirth (which I’ve coordinated many times), then there is not one reason to bring a Soldier back to work in the 5…7…or even 14 days afterwards.

Compassion Matters

If the intent is to cancel that reenlistment date years in the future, disregarding significant personal milestones is a good way to do it. The same goes for times of personal crisis. It’s tough to argue that the job can’t be filled by someone else while a Soldier deals with the situation. The unit might sacrifice a few days of efficiency, but we might earn years of devoted service.

Here are a few other situations that leaders should strongly consider showing compassion when responding to:

  • A complicated childbirth that will require numerous medical appointments
  • Illness or death of a family member, including extended family and grandparents
  • An unexpected financial hardship like a car crash or stolen identity
  • Times of spousal relationship difficulty or severe challenges with children
  • A Soldier’s move to a new duty station, where having adequate time to get settled sets the tone for the family’s time in the unit. (Come on, leaders, you do not need that Soldier at work the day after he signs-in to post. Figure out a way to manage without him for 10 days of Permissive TDY.)
  • During scheduled leave, when Soldiers and families have been planning and looking forward to the time for themselves
  • After an unexpected career shift, like not being selected for promotion, receiving individual deployment orders, or being found medically unqualified for service.

Soldiers know that personal sacrifice is an inevitable part of military life…but everyone has a threshold. Leaders can go a long way towards keeping Soldiers and families away from that threshold by paying attention to the moments that matter, by being pragmatic about unit priorities, and by treating Soldiers with the same compassion the leaders themselves would hope to receive.