I great nation’s history. CPT Shawn F. Zima

I am honored to be able to leave a legacy to the next generation of soldiers.  I received a legacy from so many generations before me that span this great nation’s history.  CPT Shawn F. Zima bestowed upon me a set of attributes and competencies that I continuously use to develop myself and others.  I have gladly chosen to embrace these attributes and competencies to become a better steward of this profession.  If I can inspire at least one soldier to do the same, I will proud of my legacy.

My Legacy

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My leadership philosophy is founded upon the aspiration to always foster an environment for success.  Not just mission success, but to assist soldiers in achieving their own personal and professional goals.  My soldiers will always know that I truly have their best interests at heart.  I will show them this through my actions.  I will facilitate success by not letting anyone become complacent on yesterday’s victory.  We will constantly push forward.  When failures do happen, because they will happen, I will make it a point to meticulously dissect what caused the failure.  That will reduce the likelihood of the same mistake reoccurring.  When my time comes to step aside from this great organization, I hope I have inspired others to step up and facilitate the success of others.

Leadership Philosophy

My professional goals are few, but very critical to future successes.  First, I will always be a man of integrity.  I will own my actions, or lack thereof, no matter the consequences.  Second, I will strive to be a quiet professional.  I do not feel the need to be a constantly loud, over-bearing leader.  I will lead by example, never asking anyone to do anything I will not or have not done myself.  I will embrace each struggle with my soldiers and show them how to overcome.  Lastly, I want to ensure I share my knowledge with my soldiers.  My time in the Army is limited.  I desire to learn as much as possible and share that knowledge with the future leaders.  They are the ones that will ensure the profession’s safekeeping after I am gone. 

Professional Goals

CPT Zima successfully bridged the gap that is often present between officers and non-commissioned officers.  One way he did this was by building a cohesive team through mutual trust (HQDA, 2012, pp. 2-1).  He understood how important non-commissioned officers are and wanted each of us to seek self-improvement.  He never let us, nor himself, become complacent with our prior accomplishments.  He insisted we look forward and find new ways to better ourselves as non-commissioned officers.  In doing this, he not only strengthened the non-commissioned officer corps, but he strengthened the United States Army entirely. 

Impact on the NCO Corps

Getting results is the goal of leadership but leaders must remain mindful that leading people and creating positive conditions enable them to operate as successful leaders.  Getting results requires the right level of delegation, empowerment, and trust balanced against the mission (HQDA, 2012, p. 8).  CPT Zima delegated authority and truly empowered his non-commissioned officers.  He clearly provided his intent and desired end state and allowed his non-commissioned officers to determine the best way to get us there.  He was our commander, never seeking credit for achievements, just simply wanting to see his soldiers and the Army, flourish.


To create a positive environment inspires an organization’s climate and culture (HQDA, 2012, p. 8).  The inspiration of the climate and culture will foster the development of people within that organization.  CPT Zima was an advocate for further developing himself and others.  He constantly wanted to send his platoon sergeants to any available training course, whether it be SHARP, EO, Master Fitness Trainer, if we could get a slot he encouraged us to go.  He knew the knowledge we would gain from these courses would be brought back and disseminated to the soldiers within our company, which was a win for all.  CPT Zima also implemented leader professional development sessions for the cadre within our company.  We would often watch a video on a given subject or have an assigned reading.  We would then come together and have a thought-provoking discussion.  He did these things to help see the differences in each other’s perspectives and create productive dialogue amongst his cadre.  He wanted us to learn from one other.  Doing that helped us develop each other as leaders and in the end, we were able to help our soldiers achieve more than they ever thought possible.


Army Doctrine says, “actions can speak louder than words and excellent leaders use this to serve as a role model to set the standard” (HQDA, 2012, p. 7).  CPT Zima’s actions were always exemplary.  He conducted himself in a way that many leaders have turned away from.  He was never afraid to stand up for what he truly believed was fair and just.  I have had many leaders in the past that would not stand up for junior soldiers, even when they knew it was the right thing to do.  CPT Zima never hesitated. At DLI if soldiers failed to meet certain criteria they became subject for disenrollment, which had to be approved by the battalion commander and the Commandant.  Often, the battalion commander and commandant failed to see the all-encompassing situation that may be going on with a soldier and would rather hastily call for disenrollment of the soldier as opposed to trying to see all aspects of the situation and the total soldier concept.  For CPT Zima and the platoon sergeants at the company level, things weren’t so cut and dry.  I witnessed CPT Zima on several occasions tell the battalion commander that she was making a huge mistake and then explained the soldier’s situation.  With a little pondering, the battalion commander extended the soldier’s time and let him continue training.  His efforts weren’t successful each time, but I would not expect them to be.  The point is, he was willing to fight for his soldiers.  Little did CPT Zima know, his valiant efforts to fight for his soldiers were further developing my personal leadership style.


A leader will provide purpose, direction, and motivation to accomplish the mission and improve the organization (HQDA, 2012, p. 1).  Purpose gives soldiers the meaning behind their actions and gives them meaning to the sacrifice required to complete the mission.  A leader that can bind purpose with clear direction and motivation will provide outstanding leadership and certainly achieve the sought end state.  CPT Zima possessed these qualities and he also, knowingly or not, developed them within me.

Competencies of a Leader

Army doctrine states that intellect relates to what abilities and knowledge the leader possesses to think and interact with others (HQDA, 2012, p. 7).  Furthermore, a leader’s intellect can directly affect mission command, specifically the art of command.  The art of command is the creative and skillful exercise of authority through timely decision-making and leadership.  As an art, command requires the use of judgment.  Commanders constantly use their judgment for such things as delegating authority, making decisions, determining the appropriate degree of control, and allocating resources.  Although certain facts like troop-to-task ratios may influence a commander, they do not account for the human aspects of command.  A commander’s experience and training also influence their decision-making.  Proficiency in the art of command stems from years of schooling, self-development, and operational and training experiences (HQDA, 2012, pp. 2-3).  CPT Zima’s intellect was like no other I had ever encountered, especially in that of a junior officer.  He reached out to his non-commissioned officers and drew from our experiences and knowledge.  He would couple our input with that of his own experiences to make sound decisions.  A leader will utilize his full intellect, and that of his subordinates to prosecute his mission.  CPT Zima taught me to bring to bear my skills, mind, determination, training, and purpose to complete our mission.


After having been at DLI for nearly one year I noticed there were a lot of soldiers that desired more physically demanding physical training opportunities.  Many of these soldiers wanted to pursue a career in Special Operations.  With this is mind myself and another Platoon Sergeant put together a Concept of Operations to form a company ruck team.  We presented the CONOP to CPT Zima and the Frist Sergeant.  They loved the idea.  My battle buddy and I would meet the highly motivated soldiers every other Saturday and go on ruck marches ranging from six to twelve miles.  The ruck team caught on like wildfire and soon it became a battalion ruck team.  Being that the soldiers enjoyed it so much I sent out an invitation to company and battalion level leadership to join us one Saturday.  When that Saturday morning rolled around, not one single senior leader showed up, except for CPT Zima.  Like everyone else he has a life outside the military, however, he made time for an activity he knew his young soldiers truly cared about.  He showed up when the First Sergeant, Command Sergeant Major, and Battalion Commander didn’t.  Not only did he show up that day, he asked us if he could attend more frequently, and he began coming on a regular basis.  He made his presence felt as he rucked mile after mile with these young soldiers gladly offering advice and sharing his knowledge with the soldiers of his company.  CPT Zima’s actions added to my repertoire of knowledge.  This knowledge positively affected my ability to evaluate my environment and my overall decision-making process. 

It can be quite difficult to work within the strict guidelines of a TRADOC unit.  There are what seems like countless rules and regulations on what you can and cannot do.  It is not uncommon to see leaders removed from their position due to breaking protocol.  As a new member of our cadre, CPT Zima had to integrate and become the Commander of this team.  His compassion, military bearing, competence and physical fitness were a great start to earn the respect and confidence of his cadre and soldiers within the company.  However, he earned our trust and respect because he applied these traits repeatedly without hesitation, on and off duty.  Army doctrine states that presence of a leader entails the projection of military and professional bearing, holistic fitness, confidence, and resilience.  A strong presence is important as a touchstone for subordinates, especially under duress. A leader who does not share the same risks could easily make a decision that could prove unworkable given the psychological state of soldiers and Civilians affected by stress (HQDA, 2012, p. 4).


Army doctrine states that character is the essence of who a person is, what a person believes, how a person acts.  Leaders of character who embrace the Army leader attributes and competencies will be authentic, positive leaders (HQDA, 2012, p. 6).  CPT Zima made me recognize how important it is to have empathy and truly attempt to relate to my soldiers and situations they are facing.  In his whole-hearted attempt to relate to me, he not only gained my full trust and respect he inspired me to make this type of effort with my soldiers.  The Army Values, compassion, and a desire to help make others better are all part of his character.  From day one, CPT Zima started a process of self-reflection in me that merged my personal beliefs with those of an Army Leader.  He showed me that it is not necessarily an easy process, but an important process regardless of its difficulties.  Soldiers know that personal sacrifice is an inevitable part of military life, but everyone has a threshold.  Leaders can go a long way towards keeping soldiers and families away from that threshold by paying attention to the moments that matter, by being pragmatic about unit priorities, and by treating soldiers with the same compassion the leaders themselves would hope to receive (The Military Leader, 2015).  CPT Zima taught me the importance of balancing mission and family.  While mission will always come first, we must make a conscious effort as leaders to ensure the well-being of not only our soldiers, but their families, as well.  To successfully complete any mission our soldiers must be mentally focused with minimal outside distractions.  CPT Zima demonstrated daily the desire for a well-balanced organization that was cohesive and could thrive in the face of adversity.  As I forged my character through adversity, CPT Zima began to alter my military presence.

The first time I met CPT Zima was upon his arrival to our company at the Defense Language Institute.  I was assigned there as an Advanced Individual Training Platoon Sergeant and had been there for about five months upon his arrival.  CPT Zima came through and introduced himself to each Platoon Sergeant and made a genuine effort to get to know us both professionally and personally.  Within the first two months of CPT Zima’s arrival, I found out my mother was battling breast cancer.  Obviously, this was something that I needed to share with my command.  My First Sergeant showed minimal remorse or empathy regarding the situation.  CPT Zima, however, showed more genuine concern not only for my mother but my well-being also.  He sat with me and shared some of his personal stories of situations he had dealt with in the past and ways he was able to pull strength from various places.  He instantly approved leave for me to go back home and be with my mother as she began her chemotherapy treatments.  At the time, we had over 200 soldiers in our company with only four platoon sergeants.  I brought this point up to him and he looked me in my eyes and said, “We have each other’s back in times of need, we will be fine, go be with your family.”  That moment hit me hard then and continues to influence me now.  CPT Zima, a new company commander in TRADOC, where people easily get caught up in numbers and politics, empathized with me like I had never seen before.  He could have easily told me to suck it up and drive on.  Instead, he showed a deep, genuine concern for my family and placed my needs above his own.  This action immediately began to build a bond of trust.  This example represents the status quo of how CPT Shawn Zima operates.


Former General of the Army Omar Bradley once remarked: “Leadership in a democratic Army means firmness, not harshness; understanding, not weakness; generosity, not selfishness; pride, not egotism.” (HQDA, 2012, p. 3)  His words continue to resonate today in both peace and war.  These qualities, when properly proportioned, provide the timeless quality of leadership that will inspire men and women to give their lives in battle for a common cause.  Contemporary Army doctrine names character, presence, and intellect as the foundational attributes that leaders spend a lifetime to develop and refine (HQDA, 2012, p. 5).  CPT Shawn F. Zima demonstrated this process.

Attributes of a Leader

I received a legacy not from just one person, but from so many generations of great soldiers and leaders that span throughout our Nation’s history.  The United States Army is an ever-evolving institution that requires all soldiers to be active stewards of the profession.  Leaders must carefully foster the next generation of soldiers.  They develop within each soldier attributes, competencies, and leadership philosophy so that when the time comes those soldiers know exactly who they are as leaders and can seamlessly fill their role as a leader of soldiers.  The purpose of this paper is to identify how Captain Shawn F. Zima passed his legacy to me, and how I have chosen to embrace the safekeeping of this time-honored profession.