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Why You Might Need A Modern Sergeant Major

This article was based on work done by the McChrystal Group

I write this as I reflect on my Army career, finishing my time as Company Sergeant Major and Acting Regimental Sergeant Major.

I wanted to share my thoughts on why I think your organization might need a Sergeant Major – or at least somebody doing that work.

Gone are the days when the stereotypical Sergeant Major was someone with a large frame, large moustache and spent their time standing by the Commanding Officer and focused on guard, fire, discipline and shouting.

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I’m not sure that the stereotype was accurate, but a Sergeant Major must now add more value to their soldiers, unit, and Army.

Now, by no means was I the best Sergeant Major. I have made a lot of mistakes along the way that got me there. I believe I have added value to my soldiers, my unit, and the Army in a small way.

If I have done that, it has been by remembering that excellence is a habit. By relying on my team, not just myself. By understanding my role – the critical parts and the less glamourous parts. And by ensuring people are at the centre of what I have done, even though I always feel I could be doing more for them.

If I were to define the role of a Sergeant Major, it would simply be that a Sergeant Major is more similar to a Chief of Staff than the stereotype.

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Why?

Any organization of any size looks simultaneously like the traditional upside-down pyramid hierarchy and like a matrix-free-flowing organism.

 

 

The org chart model has been based on generations of management that put people in clear lines of authority and communications. In its best sense, it keeps the organization moving towards its goals.

 

 

The second model is structured on human networks that ebb and flow through the entire organization. With people and conversations happening all around the building, and now virtually.Conversations that span across the organization in ways that the org chart doesn’t reflect.

And quite frankly, most executives don’t understand and find it mysterious.

 

This is why you need a person in the role of Sergeant Major/Chief of Staff.

When performing at my highest value, I understood both operating systems: the intentional black line reporting network and the informal network.

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How?

Most senior executives do not have the time, are not positioned to work the hallways and keep an ear to the ground to understand the informal networks.

This is why you may need someone with an eye to these networks and bring value to the organization. Or where they may be taking away from your success. And Where there may be bottlenecks & logjams that need to be taken apart.

I would strongly suggest you not create a Sergeant Major position for fear that you freak out your people.

But If you have a team of more than 50 people, I suggest you carefully consider if you need a Chief of Staff or similar position.

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