Women's combat roles are evolving

Over 100 women have graduated from the U.S. Army Ranger School since Col. Fivecoat began overseeing the gender integration program in 2013. 

Overcome resistance to change in your company

Company leaders should identify the active resisters, passive resisters, and passive supporters and move them closer to becoming active supporters of change. 

Grit is Essential in Any Leadership Position

From the battlefield to the boardroom, perseverance is key for leaders to enact necessary change to help any organization achieve its goals.  

Webinar Recap: Col. David Fivecoat shares his experience as the commander tasked with completing the gender integration of the U.S. Army’s elite Ranger School – and how to develop the grit required for effective leadership.

Design Lines

In the past, most board positions were held by older, white men. But with increased regulation – as well as a societal shift toward creating a more equitable society – increasing board diversity has become a top priority.

But achieving this goal isn’t always easy. Like any organizational change, it requires work – and it may be met with resistance from those comfortable with the way “things have always been.”

The success of such an initiative relies heavily on leadership. Courage and grit are top requirements of any leader.

Col. David Fivecoat, founder of Fivecoat Consulting Group, understands this well. Col. Fivecoat served 24 years as a U.S. Army infantry officer, leading troops in more than 41 months of combined combat operations. His service culminated when he was tapped to be the commander tasked with successfully completing the gender integration of the Army’s elite Ranger School in 2015.

Last week, Col. Fivecoat joined Jillian Walker, Customer Success Manager at OnBoard, for a chat discussing his experience and how it has shaped his leadership style. The conversation spanned topics including:

  • The unique challenges presented in the Army Ranger’s gender integration
  • How this experience shaped Col. Fivecoat and his leadership principles
  • How to develop the courage and grit required for effective leadership in any setting, including the boardroom

Read on for a recap of our key takeaways from this session.

The Evolving Role of Women in Combat

Many civilians may not be familiar with Ranger School, so Col. Fivecoat kicked things off by explaining what it is. Ranger School is the Army’s premier leadership training course. The 62-day program stresses participants and pushes their boundaries so they gain greater understanding of themselves and how to lead. It’s one of the Army’s toughest programs; while the top 5-10% of the military attend, only 40% graduate. Up until 2015, all participants were men.

In 1994, after the first Gulf War, the department of defense made a rule that women couldn’t serve in artillery, armor, infantry, and other combat roles. In addition, certain positions – including Army Ranger – were not available to women. The reality, however, was that women were serving in combat alongside men – especially post 9/11.

In 2013, Army officials decided the Ranger School would be used as a pilot program to decide how women should continue serving in the military. Col. Fivecoat was chosen to lead the charge.

In 2015, three women completed ranger training. Since then, there have been over 100 women who have graduated from Army Ranger school.

“I had served alongside women throughout my Army career and served alongside some amazingly talented women,” Col. Fivecoat said. “I didn’t start out as a crusader for women, but his experience shaped my drive to be more of an advocate for women.”

Throughout this experience, Col. Fivecoat learned many lessons that have shaped his leadership principles. These same lessons can be applied to a board of directors striving to lead organizational change – including a push toward greater diversity.

Transparency is Key

The gender integration pilot of the Army’s Ranger School was a major endeavor. As such, it was something many people were paying attention to – including members of Congress. Rather than keeping things under wraps, Col. Fivecoat felt transparency was key.

A key part of this transparency was keeping the lines of communication open with reporters. In addition, part of Fivecoat’s role as commander was to ensure the wider American audience knew what was happening. “It wasn’t just a ‘black box’ that women went to ranger school and either did or didn’t finish,” said Fivecoat.

Resistance is Inevitable. Be Prepared to Overcome It

Change is necessary. But it can also be tough moving away from the way things have been done. Fivecoat advised attendees to expect resistance to change – and rethink how they approach it.

We used to think the reaction to change was binary – someone is either for it or against it. Instead, Col. Fivecoat explained that in the midst of a change, there are 4 categories of people:

  1. Active resisters: These are the folks actively trying to undermine the change.
  2. Passive resisters: There include people who are waiting to see where it goes before they take any action.
  3. Passive supporters: These people are a little in favor of the change, but they aren’t going to help until they see where it’s going,
  4. Active supporters: People who take action to help the endeavor.

Fivecoat said “The goal should be to move 10% of these groups toward the active supporters group.”

Another piece of advice Fivecoat offered for overcoming change is to hold town hall meetings at the beginning, middle, and end of the process, project or initiative. “This was an opportunity to put out our message and hear the challenges and frustrations on a grassroots level,” said Fivecoat.

In addition, the places where resistance to change happens have changed. “In the old days, the resistance to change happened at the water cooler or the corner bar. Now, it’s going to happen on social media,” said Col. Fivecoat. “Companies have to be nimble enough to convince their workers that change is a good thing.”

A big part of this is finding where the resistance is happening and joining the conversation. For example, Col. Fivecoat said there were a lot of negative discussions happening about the gender integration of Ranger School on Facebook. Part of his strategy was identifying a change advocate who was an Army Ranger – and encouraging that person to join these conversations and “inject fact into emotion.”

Grit is Necessary – from the Army to the Boardroom

According to Fivecoat, there’s one key ingredient to facing and overcoming challenges: grit. In fact, Fivecoat wrote an entire book on the topic. “Grow Your Grit: Overcome Obstacles, Thrive, and Accomplish Your Goals.”

What exactly is grit? Fivecoat defines grit as “the will to persevere to accomplish long-term goals.”

He explained how grit has been essential in many areas of his life – from completing the Ranger School’s gender integration to completing a challenging 105-mile bike ride with 10,000 feet of climbing.

Grit is also necessary in the boardroom. All boards of directors, at some point, are trying to lead their companies in different directions than they already are. As Fivecoat put it, “No company is OK with the status quo.”

Having the grit to persevere is key when leading any change – especially when there are naysayers saying it can’t be done. “You have to persevere to get the rest of the company to come along.”

Looking for more insights for improving the effectiveness of your board? Save your seat for our next Atlas Leadership Webinar, Abandoning the Governance Status Quo, featuring Matt Fullbrook, board effectiveness researcher, educator, and consultant.

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