General Malcolm Frost's Final Interview in the Army
I had the honor of interviewing Major General Frost as part of my Lessons in Leadership series in Thrive Global. The interview with General Frost was the last interview he gave as a general in the U.S. Army, as he prepares for retirement after 31 years of service.
Here are some of the highlights:
Adam: What is the biggest misconception people have about the military, the Army and military leaders?
Major General Frost: That we are dissimilar from them. Nothing could be farther from the truth. I like to say, “I wasn’t born a General” when people start treating me, well, like they think a General should or wants to be treated. I was born Malcolm and grew up as an average American in Torrance, California. I’m still that person today. We are from your communities and love the same things you love. We also swore an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States and its ideas as outlined for the people, by the people. In essence, we work for the citizens of this great nation. I’d also offer that Army and military leaders are perceived as only understanding the military and are pro-conflict. In fact, the reverse is true. We must practice diplomacy, be versed in economics, know the information environment, and understand legal, financial, intelligence, and educational aspects of national power. Lastly, we train to deter and prevent conflict first. The last person that wants conflict is one who has served in war. However, if necessary, we must be prepared to deploy, fight and win for our national interests.
Adam: How did you get here? What experiences have been most instrumental to your growth as a leader?
Major General Frost: I was put on my path to the Army when the father of a fellow youth soccer player identified me to my father as a candidate for one of our military academies. I did not know that for 20-years the foundation of my success as a leader was playing team sports in high school and at West Point. Through my teammates, parents and coaches, I learned leadership, teamwork, communication, relationship building, competition and the drive to win. Once in the Army, I stayed because of the people, culture, leadership, and pride gained serving and defending our nation. My growth as a leader was shaped by several inflection points throughout my career in the Army. These include serving in the mid-90’s as a young leader in an elite airborne unit in Vicenza, Italy. The quality of leadership and soldiers was exceptional, our mission was exciting and fulfilling, and the ability to travel Europe was incredible. Serving in arduous conditions in Iraq and Afghanistan after 9/11, including being responsible for complex missions and 800 to 5,000 soldiers, has a way of etching leadership lessons into one’s soul. Lastly, I’ve been fortunate the past seven years to serve in a variety of unique enterprise leadership positions for our Army and military that are rare for an officer who grew up as an infantryman.
Adam: What is the best advice you have on building, managing and leading teams?
Major General Frost: Leadership starts with having an organizational vision that accounts for the environment and its changes over time. Leaders must inspire followers, develop strategic plans underpinned by operational milestones, and execute effective and efficient management processes that facilitate achievement of the vision over time. Throughout, you must treat people as your organization’s center of gravity, follow the golden rule, and put them first. If you do that, the mission will take care of itself.
Adam: How can leaders and aspiring leaders take their leadership skills to the next level?
Major General Frost: You must make a concerted effort to continually improve. Rate yourself from A to F on leadership traits and seek feedback from superiors, peers, and subordinates. Then re-calibrate your grade. Analyze to figure out if they see you differently. Are they correct or is it a misperception? Should you work on why they perceive you that way (another trait)? Rank your leadership skills and identify the top three and bottom three. Develop a path for improvement for your bottom traits. This could mean self-study, exposure, repetition, seeking mentorship, developing new techniques, or harnessing emotional control. It doesn’t just happen – you must commit and work on it. No matter who you are, communications is an art form we can all improve on as leaders. Verbal and written, briefing, tone, body language, intonation, and knowing what to say, when to say it, and who else is in the room when you say it. The path to mastery of communications will only make you a more effective leader over time.
Adam: Who are the greatest leaders you have been around and why do you admire them? What did you learn from them?
Major General Frost: There are three leaders throughout my life that have had the greatest impact on me. The first are my soccer teammates and classmates from West Point. They taught me to see myself through their eyes. I learned patience, humility, followership, teamwork, grit and resilience from this incredible group of leaders and Americans. They are friends for life. The second is Mayor (Major General) Najim Abed Al-Jabouri, the mayor of Tal Afar during my deployment to Iraq during the Surge in 2006-2007. He taught me the importance of relationships, compassion amid war, diplomacy and patience. I admire him for his leadership in the face of extraordinary hardship, risking his family and his life for his fellow countryman and the idea of what Iraq could be. He is a modern Iraqi founding father in my mind. The last is General Dennis J. Reimer, the 33rd Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army. I served as his aide as a junior officer over twenty years ago. He taught me the importance of hard work, dedication, values, compassion, being a gentleman and strategic vision. I also learned the importance of mentorship across generations and how passing lessons deep into an organization can have a profound effect on leaders of the future.
The full interview can be found at https://thriveglobal.com/stories/lessons-in-leadership-one-on-one-with-major-general-malcolm-frost/