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Initiative through Standards --
Slaying the Mediocre Majority
by CPT Frederic A. Drummond, Jr.

The Choice is yours.

Many leaders today are satisfied with achieving minimum standards--good enough is good enough. These leaders are members of the "mediocre majority." They like the mediocre atmosphere and have no plans to change anything. There are a few exceptions, however--a few serious leaders who do not settle for "good enough." They are the leaders who move up to standards of excellence. The U.S. Army needs more of these serious leaders. Unfortunately, with the drawdown and tight budget constraints on training, the standards of excellence are declining, and far too many young soldiers and future leaders are falling into the minimum standards group. Overcoming this deficiency will require constant coaching, positive mentorship, and a strong belief in our military forces.

Military leaders are taught that initiative is the "saving grace" of the U. S. Army. In the most confused and austere combat situations, the U.S. combat soldier will step forward with bold initiative and take unyielding actions, which will ultimately result in victory. What is initiative? It is inventiveness, ingenuity -- enthusiasm.

Standards of excellence are a concept for action, and taking action means up-front leadership and initiative. Making the decision to strive for standards of excellence is difficult and admirable. It requires a strong faith in ones' self, unyielding persistence, and an abundance of activity, initiative, and self-motivation.

Understand however, that a mere display of these initiatives will threaten those soldiers who hold firmly to the philosophy of getting something for nothing. The minimum standards crowd has no intention of expending any additional effort to rise above the muck of mediocrity, and they would certainly prefer for you to remain at their level. Falling in line with the mediocre majority requires little initiative and virtually no effort, imagination, or direction. The mediocre majority is willing to settle for the minimum daily requirements and go with the flow. Soldiers who rise above this level and achieve standards of excellence will highlight the lack of initiative in the mediocre soldiers, or even worse, their inability to achieve better-than-minimum standards results.

How leaders manage their training philosophy and attempt to conceptualize how to do more with less will be a constant battle. But why would you waste your energy and talent on the attainment of mediocre results when you know you can accomplish much more? By maintaining and enforcing a rigid standard of excellence, Army leaders will ultimately produce soldiers that are proactive and willing to step forward and take charge in the most difficult training or combat environment.

A critical part of being a soldier, leader, and coach is to listen to language -- language in the sense of being reactive or proactive. Make a personal assessment of which category you fall into:

Reactive - There's nothing I can do Proactive - Let's look at our alternatives
Reactive - That's just the way it is Proactive - I can choose a different approach
Reactive - It's always been that way Proactive - I enjoy changes
Reactive - They won't allow that Proactive - I will accomplish the mission
Reactive - I can't Proactive - I will choose an appropriate response
Reactive - I must Proactive - I choose
Reactive - If only Proactive - I prefer

  • Don't wait for things to happen; make them happen.
  • Be affirmative, personal, positive, present tense, visual and emotional.
  • Be aggressive but loyal to the institution/comrades you work with on a daily basis.
  • Be proactive, not reactive. Create an atmosphere promoting a proactive winning team with unyielding self-motivation and initiative.

The choice is yours: A standard of excellence or the minimum daily requirements.

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