Educating Leaders—A Cultural Expansion

Educating Leaders—A Cultural Expansion

Article by: Tom Rozman

Leader development in many ways starts early.  A seemingly blinding flash of the obvious, many who do take up the leadership cudgel at later points in life had some early exposures and experiences that contributed to their orientation and very likely, effectiveness, as later leaders.  These experiences well have predated their more formal training let’s say in a military leader development program like the Royal Military College of Canada and The U. S. Military Academy.  The array of possibilities is almost infinite with most any formative experience, even negative experiences, contributing to the shaping of a leader’s perspective.  The vignette that follows is one such experience.

The family was packing up their American Motors white Rambler station wagon.  The relatively smooth lined vehicle looked like it had grown warts.  The rack installed on top was likely at maximum load and the rear cargo area was full and solidly packed to the ceiling.   The costs of fuel on the European economy demanded the two jerry cans of gasoline loaded in the cargo area.  The rack area with its blue cloth cover had a light weight three room tent with built in ground cloth, tent frame, camp furniture, gas camp stove and camp lamps.  Food supplies and clothing for five people filled the rest of the space.

The car was parked on the parking stand directly in front of the first floor quarters unit the family occupied in the quadruplex quarters on Blutacker Strasse on the slope of a ridge above the German city of Kaiserslautern.  The quarters were sited below the east-west autobahn that ran near the top of the ridge.

The Army major had streamlined and engineered the load and packing. He had focused on the essentials to be able to travel and camp for two weeks through Germany,  France, Luxemburg, Belgium, Holland and Denmark.

He had also researched the route and camp platzes or cap grounds that would be used.  Everyone in the family had jobs or duties relative to the tent erection and take down, cooking, laundry and trash disposal.  In these times, to afford an extended trip through Northern Europe on the army pay of even a major, camping was a very affordable alternative.

But success for a family of five required planning, smart packing and very good logistics–and the family had to function as a team.  This would be the family’s first endeavor using the camping approach.  Previously family trips had been planned using the recreation support centers in places like Garmisch-Partenkirchen to the south and east in the Bavarian Alps.  But to go north, especially noting the cost of living, camping was an attractive means of affordably traveling further north in Europe.  And off the family went on the first of several adventures in Europe in the early and middle 1960s.  The family would spend four and a half years in Europe on this tour and had previously experienced Europe from 1951-54.

Whatever one thinks of the camping experience, and all was not bliss on this trip, weather and equipment, never mind other factors, combined to make some stops a challenge to patience and even reasonable comfort.  But on the whole, the experience was positive with the countries being visited becoming more known and understood by the family and its members.  There was a personal interface with the people, the culture, its towns and cities and the land that was very down to earth and real.

The family did have one advantage, the major’s wife was a fluent French speaker, that language having been her first language.  As well, the lands being visited were the ancient homelands of the major’s wife’s people.

And this latter comment strikes at one of the major’s objectives as a leadership development exercise.  Not only would the necessary organization and performance of assigned duties to properly conduct a successful extended camping expedition provide the two sons a good additional training ground in leadership as teenagers along with their athletics, school, scout and volunteer work, it would expand their sense of other cultures and peoples.  This cultural exposure to anyone contemplating a leader’s role was considered invaluable leader preparation by the major.

The major’s perspective was borne out by personal experience.  His parents had immigrated years before World War I to the United State from Eastern Europe.  He had spent four years during World War II in New Zealand, the Solomon Islands, New Guinea, and the Philippine Islands.  He had been previously deployed to Germany from 1951-54 and now again since 1961.  He had been deployed to Viet Nam for a year.  He firmly believed that any leader, especially one who may serve in the armed forces, was more effective with a good sense of other nations and peoples.

The family bid their neighbors in their quarters a good bye until their return and headed north.  The travel through France, Luxemburg, Belgium, Netherlands, and Denmark went well.  The weather proved accommodating with wet weather being in relatively short spells but it did add difficulty to some of the campsites used.

For the most part the pre-planning paid off but there were some changes that had to be made due to weather, a targeted camp ground being filled and some camp grounds not being considered a good place to spend the night.  Fellow campers from around Europe proved friendly and helpful, especially when engaged in French.  The camp grounds also proved well sited to the locations the family wanted to visit and the ferry trip from the Jutland Peninsula to Copenhagen and back had its own quality of adventure.

The family returned to their Army quarters in Kaiserslautern a little over two weeks later—safe and sound.  The tenting gear and equipment had done what was hoped and proved durable as well.  It would be cleaned,  maintained and packed.  It would be used in a following trip a year later to Southern Bavaria, Austria, Switzerland and into Northeastern Italy to Venice.

The major’s objective to provide his family a worthwhile vacation experience that took advantage of being located in Europe had been met.  But his leader training objective for his two sons had been met as well.  Both would commission after college into the United States Army.  Both would serve for extended careers to field grade status and both would serve overseas multiple times.  Following their military careers both would enjoy long civilian careers as well.  They would serve well as leaders.

This story is not unique. Many readers I am sure have similar or related stories to tell, stories that should be told.  The greater significance of the story is what might be called a leader development continuum that is virtually life long—this article speaks to one of the type of early leader development “way stations.”  This continuum is, I think, significant to those about to be or who are involved in that early phase of leader development.  On my part a suggestion, do all possible to optimize your work—done well and in a balanced way, it will pay off.  A sound foundation for tomorrow’s leaders will be built.