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Major Larry Bauguess on Leadership
Manas, Airbase, Kyrgyzstan- March 7, 2008

I was on my way to Afghanistan. My team and I got stuck at the Transit Center at Manas, Kyrgyzstan. Manas was the first and last stop for soldiers going to Afghanistan. Additionally, it was home to a logistics and refueling operation run by the United States Air Force for the war in Afghanistan.

I saw a tall man with brown hair, wearing an 82nd Airborne Division combat patch. I ran over to the man. “Hi,” I said. He turned around. I could see he was a captain.

He looked at me, then he looked at my rank. I was Captain, same as him.

“Yeah?” said the Captain, wondering why I was bothering him.

“I couldn’t help but see you had an 82nd patch. Were with the 4th Brigade?” I asked.

“Yeah… yeah, I am, so what?” said the Captain. His eyes narrowed and he looked at me wondering why I was wasting his time.

“By any chance did you know Major Larry Bauguess?” I asked.

The Captain’s eyes got round in recognition of Larry’s name.

“Yeah… yeah, I did. What’s it to you?” said the Captain. He was aggravated.

“Larry was my company commander for two years at Fort Polk,” I said.

The Captain’s eyes softened. “Really? I am sorry to tell you he died last May,” said the Captain.

“I know, I just wanted to talk to someone who knew him,” I said.

“Well, Major Bauguess was the best officer, I ever served with. He cared, really cared about the men, the mission and his family,” said the Captain. He continued, “You had Major Bauguess as your Company Commander for two years, huh?” asked the Captain.

“Yes, I did,” I said.

“Wow, then you learned how to be a leader from the best,” said the Captain.

“Yes, I did,” I said.

“Well, he’s missed,” said the somber Captain. He shook my hand and walked away.

“Yes, he is,” I said quietly.

The Best of the Best

Larry Bauguess was the best company commander and finest officer I know. What made Larry special was that he made everybody else feel special. His enthusiasm and “can do” attitude was infectious.

An Airborne Infantry Battalion is a tough place to soldier. The other company commanders in the battalion were competitive. They were always looking for an opportunity to shine in the eyes of our ultra-aggressive battalion commander. They were highly competent. Their records of performance were important to them.

You never got the feeling that you were a stepping stone on the path to Larry’s career advancement. His instructive nature and quiet self-confidence led you to believe that he seemed somehow enlightened and above all the petty games that the other company commanders.

Larry was an excellent leader and he knew how to build a winning team. This is how.

1. Feedback

baseball-metaphorsLarry loved baseball. He used baseball metaphors all the time. He once said, “It ain’t rocket science. Great players with a great coach means great performance.”

Larry knew that to build a winning a team you had to develop your leaders. Larry knew that winning was about leading.

The Officer Efficiency Report (OER) is a “report card” used by Army selection boards and assignment officers.

It rates performance, duty description and leadership potential. A good or bad OER can have a big impact on an officer’s future.

Larry’s most effective tool was his monthly counseling sessions with his platoon leaders. Larry saw the OER as a tool for leadership and development.

Larry’s focus was building his company through his platoon leaders.

His first secret was you always knew where you stood with Larry. Larry praised in public and corrected behavior in private.

I would enter Larry’s office for the counseling. After sitting down Larry would push a handwritten OER across the desk at me. “If I had to write your OER today, this is where you would stand.”

Larry shared his observations, good and bad, with me. His counseling sessions allowed me to know my strengths and weaknesses. The session was used to discuss how to improve on my weak traits and capitalize on my strong ones.

At the end of every session Larry would ask, “What can I do better?” or “How can ‘we’ make the company better?”
Larry expected his platoon leaders to be the eyes and ears of his command. Larry treated his platoon leaders like confidential advisors and co-commanders. Most important, he wanted honest criticism.

“It’s my job to run the company, and it’s your job to critique me,” he insisted. “I want you to give me a report card every month on how I’m doing.”

Before you left his office, he shredded the handwritten OER. Larry knew this was a powerful tool for leadership. By evaluating us monthly he gave us observations on what we could do better.

2. Share the Plan

Larry was all about sharing information. He saw himself as the coach of winning team. Larry knew baseball team never won a game without knowing the game winning plan.

He would hold “planning sessions” with all the platoon leaders once he got a mission. Larry would lay down a map and say, “What do you think?” Once you left the room, the plan was “our” plan. The time for bellyaching was over. Once we had a general plan and direction we executed like hell. Larry knew that’s what winning teams do.

These “planning sessions” developed his platoon leaders to be future company commanders. “Now you know how the sausage is made,” he said. “We plan, we figure out the direction, we charge towards the outcome. Can’t be afraid the change the plan if things are messed up. Adaptability is the key,” said Larry.

3. Integrity

Military LeadershipLarry preached over and over the most importance leadership quality was integrity. Larry was a simple man from a blue collar background. He was honest and hardworking.

Larry brought that work ethic to his company. He was the first man in the door in the morning and the last to leave.

Larry knew that integrity is the sincerity breeds trust. He knew a team infused with trust and direction is a team that shares ideas freely. What “we” do becomes the group’s success, not the individual’s.

Larry often said, “Being in the service, is being in the service of others.” He never worried about getting the credit for a big win. Larry’s promotion of integrity and honesty promoted an environment of risk-taking. “Try something new and bold. Those honest mistakes become lessons,” said Larry.

As a leader of a winning team he encouraged us to take on huge challenges. Larry let us know we were safe no matter what happens. Larry always made good on his word. His integrity was his best leadership asset.

Larry was a bold leader. His company became a bold team of winners. Larry made leading look easy. I could call it magic, but there was nothing mysterious about it. Larry’s three rules for building a winning a team works in every situation. The key is hard work and honesty.