Five questions for Lt. Col. Caroline N. Watson, S.C. Military Dept.’s Joint Services Detachment
By W. Thomas Smith Jr.
Attorney Caroline N. Watson, has spent nearly seven years as a volunteer military officer, serving in both the S.C. Military Dept's Joint Services Detachment and the S.C. State Guard (in addition to her 25-year career as a lawyer in the telecommunications industry), providing volunteer legal support to the military department as well as being directly involved in the national Medal of Honor convention held Sept.-Oct. 2010 in Charleston.
During that time, Watson has witnessed the wartime evolution of the military department – and the military overall – through a woman's eyes she contends may be more civilian than military. But through those eyes, she says she has developed a great appreciation for the military, its efficiency and unique brand of leadership, as well as its ability to adapt in an asymmetrical post-9/11 environment where security at home is as critical as it is abroad for our deployed forces.
Recently, Watson discussed with MidlandsBiz.com the differences between military and business leadership, women in the military, and her work with Medal of Honor recipients.
Based on your experiences serving as a member of the S.C. Military Dept. and observations, working with Medal of Honor recipients and other military veterans (particularly those who've served in combat arms branches), what do you believe to be the biggest differences between military and business leadership?
Lt. Col. Caroline N. Watson:
For centuries, the military has trained its leaders for combat and combat support, a longer history than the corporate environment. Although we can speak in generalities, different leaders are produced based on the particular branch of military service or the type of business. And, while much has been debated about whether military or non-military leaders are more effective, it is clear that differences exist. For instance, one of the core roles of a CEO is risk management. Military training and experience provides an immersion into risk, including risk of personal harm, whereas non-military leaders would have difficulty matching that amount of specific training. A second area of difference flows from a corporate leader's ultimate responsibility to create profit for its shareholders, which stands in stark contrast to the military leader's ultimate accountability for a nation's security. A final observation is that military leaders are equally trained in classroom and practical settings (exercises and physical experiences) whereas corporate leadership training focuses more on education and classroom learning.
What might military leaders learn from civilian leaders, and vice versa?
Military leaders do a phenomenal job of inspiring in spite of risk and in the face of danger. And although corporations and the military are both generally hierarchical, the goal to create profit forces a corporate leader into a more collaborative structure utilizing matrix communications across functional silos. This I see to be very effective in its own right.
What about women in the military? Are they an asset by virtue of being women? Or is it that they should have a right to serve just as a man serves?
Although there are, of course, physical strength and other differences, women and men in other countries have successfully served side by side throughout history. Statistics prove that women are now essential to the force strength of the U.S. military. Women fly attack helicopters, command military police companies, drive vehicles on main supply routes, and staff logistics bases far forward, or in the midst of, ground operations. Our military continues to change as the enemy landscape changes. For instance, the Marines have implemented female engagement teams, which are responsible for gathering critical data not available to their male counterparts by connecting with women of Afghanistan and Iraq.
What special skills and strengths do you personally bring to the S.C. Military Department?
I currently own and operate a legal consulting business. My background includes leadership roles in large, medium, and entrepreneurial firms. While with a Fortune 100 company, I worked in four different states and in Washington D.C. My experience in a regulated utility that was transitioning into competition gave me a sharply defined view of diametrically opposed business cultures. My experience as an officer of a $160-million software company gave me a broad view of corporate management. My experience as a litigator gave me insight into wealth redistribution and psychological warfare. I have practiced law for over 25 years and am involved in community service, including a safety task force for the City of Columbia and serve as a member of Claflin University's Board of Trustees. Perseverance, flexibility and decisiveness are my greatest strengths.
You've spent a lot a time with – getting to know and writing about – recipients of the Medal of Honor. What do you think makes them stand out from the pack, from say those also-courageous men who have received decorations like the Distinguished Service Cross (for the Army), the Navy Cross (for the Navy and Marines), and the Air Force Cross (for the Air Force)?
It was an honor for me to serve as editorial director for a recently published book about the Medal of Honor recipients. Those men that I know who have received the nation's highest military honor exhibit enormous inner faith and courage. Truly, they are America's heroes. The Medal of Honor award criterion includes active engagement in combat; courage and self-sacrifice creating a clear distinction from fellow comrades; and risk of life. Although different standards are used for different awards, all of the decorations that you mention represent unbelievable courage and bravery. However, each person in the military, no matter how courageous, is in an assigned role and not all assignments put an individual in a position to qualify for such an award. Each assignment is important, however, and whether or not a particular job creates the circumstance for decoration, it takes every member of our military to provide the high quality defense that Americans have come to expect.
Visit W. Thomas Smith Jr. at www.uswriter.com. Thomas also writes for Sandlapper Magazine. See Selflessness & Courage
Photo provided by John Powell