Reflecting on his six years as an Army officer, Daniel Lennox-Choate says that he doesn't "fit the stereotypical image of the officer." In some respects, he is correct: For example, in November, 2013, he and his husband, Larry Choate III, became the first same-sex graduates to be married in West Point's Cadet Chapel.
But in at least one important way, Daniel is wrong—he exemplifies the courage expected from the archetypal officer. When asked to share a story from his military experience, Daniel is unafraid to tell one that, initially at least, does not cast him in the most glorious light.
"I went in blind," he says about his transition from platoon leadership in Afghanistan, to becoming the executive officer of a headquarters company, responsible for logistics and operations, stationed in Hawaii. "The company was a bit of a mess," Daniel says. "Supply systems were nonexistent. Key equipment was missing from the arms room."
Shedding bad advice to embrace good collaboration
"Everyone gave me the same advice: micromanage the crap out of everybody until it's fixed. That's what I did for a while; I didn't have the confidence to do anything else." Day after day, Daniel created step-by-step to-do lists that assigned specific tasks, to specific people, at exact times. "No strategy," says Daniel, "just putting out fires."
Unfortunately, his approach created new problems that came to a head when an important training event was scuttled because Daniel had neglected to order the crucial ammunition. "I had dropped the ball, and there wouldn't be another opportunity to do this training for another six months." His commanding officer called him to account. "I had thought highly of my ability. I had not had a failure like this before—it was tough to deal with," says Daniel.
But as a consequence of this failure, Daniel changed his leadership style. "I realized we were never going to micromanage our way out of our problems." He pulled in his three sergeants and solicited their input. Together, they hashed out a new plan that scrapped daily task lists in favor of mutual collaborations based on clearly defined priorities. To fulfill these priorities, they identified the skills their soldiers needed, and executed appropriate training.
In just four months, Daniel's company distinguished itself in a training exercise in which it maintained perfect accountability for $20 million in equipment. "By the end of the training rotation, my logistics company was recognized as the best in the brigade, the best of thirty teams—they had been the worst just a few months earlier."
Daniel chose HBS after a long period of reflection. For his post-military career, Daniel considered three very different paths: diplomacy, teaching literature, and pursuing a business career. "Being a professor would be about having an impact on students, and being a diplomat would mean having impact on policy,” Daniel says. "But I think getting an MBA gives me the opportunity to have a greater impact through the private sector."