The “Phil-Osophy” of Life – The Military Leader

On December 17, 2014 I read a post by The Military Leader that outlined General Colin Powell’s Rules. I am no General Colin Powell. However, I do have my own list. I developed this list of principles based upon experiences as an Infantryman, Infantry Officer, and more specifically during deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan as an Intelligence Officer.

Once complete, I hung this list in my office and jokingly titled it “The Phil-Osophy.” Visitors would read the list, like what they saw, and ask for a copy. Though they may seem overly aggressive, or excessively pragmatic, they work for me and I do my best to hold myself to them during times of weakness.

U.S. Marines from the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit Battalion Landing Team transmit messages during an embassy reinforcement exercise at the Arta Range training area near Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, Oct. 26, 2013. U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Erik Cardenas.
Link to photo.

1.  Life isn’t fair.  Get over it.

Don’t waste time mourning the failure of your plan.  Adjust quickly and move forward.

2.  Life never gets easier, the challenges simply change.

In an action movie the hero saves the day and the credits roll.  It never shows the hero getting up the next day and going out again and again and again throughout a 12 month tour that got extended to 15 months.  Hollywood is not reality.  Real life is a struggle of some kind from birth to death and we are better for it.  Struggle makes us stronger both mentally and physically.  Without struggle we atrophy in every possible way.

3.  It’s not about you.  It’s about the mission.

It’s not about how you feel.  It’s not about your needs.  There is a mission that must be accomplished.  People are counting on you.  Put your own feelings and needs aside and get moving.  Timing is never perfect.  Conditions could always be better.  Don’t let perfect become the enemy of good enough.

4.  When indecisiveness is present, seize the initiative and dictate the terms.  When in doubt, lead!

Deciding upon a course of action and executing it enables you to maintain some control over the effort and outcome when indecisiveness rears its ugly head.  Unless you are comfortable surrendering the effort and outcome to others, you need to take charge and lead.  People want to be led.  People need a leader.  Make that leader you!

5.  What you’ve done in the past is great.  What have you done today?

Show me a certification that implies superior strength or mental ability and I can find someone with that same certification who has become weak or ignorant.  People with certifications have my respect.  There are many certifications that I know are beyond my abilities.  However, if we want to continue to improve we need to maximize the value of the present and make a plan to evolve in the future vice being obsessed with past victories.

6.  Whining is only acceptable when it is immediately followed by proposed solutions and you are willing to do what it takes to implement them.

If you work towards a solution vice whining you not only solve a problem but you engage with, understand, and learn to value other points of view.  In doing this, you will also become a person that others view in a positive light — a problem solver.

7.  No excuses.  It is your fault.

When you fail, don’t waste time with excuses.  Accept the failure immediately.  Analyze the entire course of events and determine what you could have been done better.  Apply what you have learned and you will lessen your chances of failure in the future.

8.  Two ears versus one mouth.  You should listen twice as much as you talk.

Do you listen to what other people are saying?  Or are you listening for the person talking to pause so you can talk?  While you are listening, are you actually paying attention or is your mind preoccupied with something else?  Instead of daydreaming you need to listen to every word spoken and pay attention to tempo, tone, and body language.  If not, you are missing an opportunity of some kind.  When you choose to talk, remember that you are doing so either to convey information or to make yourself feel good.  If you stay in the ‘convey information’ mode as much as possible your speech will likely be more succinct, less emotional, and the audience is more likely to listen to your message.

9.  Always maintain your professionalism and objectivity, and recognize quickly when you are losing either of them.

In the workplace, striving to be the consummate professional who makes objective judgments and decisions based upon the evidence presented will make you the person that others want to work with or for.  If your emotions start to get the best of you and your professionalism and objectivity begin to wane, go somewhere and recalibrate before you behave in an unprofessional manner.

10.  Someone will, in some way, find fault in your every action.  Learn what you can from them and move on.

Whether the criticism you receive is warranted or not, you can likely learn something from it.  Criticism can help you get better, but also show you who will never be pleased, which will help you better manage your time in the future.

11.  Nobody is above hard work or being corrected with vigor.

Nobody is above a certain type of work due to their status.  Mission first, status second.  Additionally, if someone is wrong it needs to be pointed out.  Sometime this should be done in a tactful Socratic way where the person is led to the answer through a series of questions.  Other times a vigorous on-the-spot correction is in order.  Know when to use each.

Phil Walter has served in the military, the intelligence community, and the inter-agency. The views expressed here are those of the author alone and do not contain information of an official nature. He tweets @philwalter1058 and blogs at


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