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    Legacy of Modern Army Leadership Innovation

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    The Army has countless NCOs of note both past and present. Some of these notable leaders have boldly projected their leadership legacies on to the spectrum of today’s modern Army leader’s.

    Yet of everyone there is only a handful that have upheld our heritage while innovating what leadership will be in the Army, the NCO corps, and the modern leader’s community. At the sheer forefront of these sparse innovators is a leader of brazen attributes and competencies, the incumbent Sergeant Major of the Army (SMA), Daniel A. Dailey.

    This paper intends to illustrate what is a true modern leadership innovator through highlighting SMA Dailey’s distinguished leadership legacy. The unique means in which he innovates and exemplifies Army attributes and competencies defines his legacy, as well as his profound lasting impact on the leader community and me.

    The core attributes character, presence, intellect, and competencies lead, develop, and achieve are what an effective leader must “be, know, and, do” (‘ADP 6-22 Army Leadership’, 2012, p. iii). Of these core attributes and competencies character is the foundation of a modern innovator and the solid cornerstone of our SMA.

    Character, comprised of a person’s moral and ethical qualities, helps determine what is right and gives a leader motivation to do what is appropriate, regardless of the circumstances or consequences. An informed ethical conscience consistent with the Army Values strengthens leaders to make the right choices when faced with tough issues (‘ADRP 6-22 Army Leadership’, 2012, Chap. 3-1).

    Without strong character we cannot effectively impact the trust of our seniors, peers, and subordinates and as such would be ineffective at spreading innovation. It does not matter what we do with a weak character because no one will be willing to carry it on.

    SMA Dailey’s strongest character trait is his Army values and more so over the Army value of self-less service. Even though he has a family, he places the Army forefront. His dedicated his career to pursuing the toughest Army jobs. He has served in all four major infantry divisions and held every leader position on his way to the Army’s highest and most trusted enlisted position (Dailey,”Sergeant Major of the Army”, 2017, para. 3).

    Along with strong Army values he is a leading voice in the Army Soldier for Life Transition Assistance Program (SFL-TAP), echoing strong warrior and service ethos. SMA Dailey voices the need for strong support of transitioning veterans to all his leaders and subordinates at NCO professional development engagements. It is not exemplary or innovative on it’s own to just support Soldiers that are still in service.

    Before his tenure as SMA, the Army was leaving fallen comrades by the wayside. To correct this he conveys a message for transitioned leaders to remain active in the veteran’s community and continue to lead and mentor outside of the Army (Dailey, ‘A Message from the Sergeant Major of the Army’, 2017, p. 1). SMA Dailey’s SFL-TAP leaves no fallen, testifying to true warrior ethos.

    If there is one indisputable element as to what a SMA is, it is a leader of presence. “The impression a leader makes on others contributes to his success in leading them. This impression is the sum of a leader’s outward appearance, demeanor, actions, and words” (‘ADRP 6-22 Army Leadership’, 2012, chap. 3-1). SMA Dailey is the pinnacle of what it is a leader of presence.

    He is a truly approachable leader. He wants to know from each individual Soldier where his influence can best impact. This is evident in the way he is reachable and how he extends his presence even in the digital realm unlike leaders before with social media, Facebook, and Twitter. Another sign of his presence is visible in his priorities.

    He devotes the majority of his time traveling throughout the Army to observe training and talk with Soldiers and their Families. He sits on a variety of councils and boards that make decisions affecting enlisted Soldiers and their Families and is routinely invited to testify before Congress (Dailey, “Sergeant Major of the Army”, 2017, para. 2).

    From the earliest onset of his tenure he set himself apart from the others as a Soldier’s Soldier not merely a SMA, setting precedent that every Soldier has a voice. Soldiers know from this example what proper leadership of presence is and how they can positively impact the future when they engage.

    Of all the sub disciplines of intellect mental agility is the key. It is the pivot point for all other disciplines of intellect. Without mental agility NCOs fall down the toxic path of leadership because mental agility is the heart of change. “When it comes to achieving the mission, mentally agile leaders must recognize a need for change, figure out what should change, and implement that change” (Leadership Developmental Improvement Guide, 2018, p. 171).

    SMA is an adept proponent to intellect and mental agility. Shortly after taking responsibility, SMA Dailey enacted his campaign to root out toxic leadership in the Army. One of his most important and referenced publications is the “top 10 leadership tips for sergeants major” where he emphasizes change of mentality and humility (Tan, ‘SMA Dailey’s top 10 leadership tips for sergeants major’, 2015).

    This message was an unprecedented professional development concept at it’s period of presentation. It introduced the innovative method of eliminating “toxic leadership” from the top down and continuing to evaluate one’s self. In professional development venues he inspires his leaders to look within and see where they can better their leadership. He thought leaders that even though you are on top you are still a Soldier.

    SMA Dailey’s is a leader’s leader. His leadership method unique through the way he approaches every task he takes on. Even with the simplest tasks he employs the most effective method. One such case is the way in which he addressed the idea of changing the uniform. Uniform changes in the military are always received 50/50.

    Some Soldiers love change and some Soldiers just do not want the hassle or to spend their money. It can take that little extra touch of effort to make motivation happen. Outside of the standard Army surveys and sensing methods SMA Dailey employed the tactic of lead from the front by example.

    He attended the annual Army Navy football game wearing the proposed “Pinks and Greens” uniform (‘SMA Dailey at Army/Navy Game in Prototype Pinks and Greens’, 2017). This act of charisma combined with the broad range of publicity from the Army’s most watched event, save the Super Bowl, lead to the uniform receiving higher approval ratings. Task relevance doesn’t matter, if it is leading, SMA Dailey always rises to the challenge with uniquely innovative methods.

    When it comes to development, SMA Dailey is not just another charismatic leader in a uniform. His self-development is unrivalled across the Army leadership plane amongst his colleagues. He was awarded a bachelor’s degree from Excelsior College with (Summa Cum Laude) honors (Dailey, “Sergeant Major of the Army”, 2017, para. 5).

    This distinction is the institution’s most prestigious recognition and is only bestowed upon individuals who exceed academic standards with a 3.9 GPA or higher (‘Excelsior College Student Policy Handbook’, 2018, p. 95). It is not only an example for subordinates to follow but also a testament to his dedication.

    Even with such grand academic achievements he is still a humble leader. He spends the majority of his time developing those around him. The contents of his professional development are always thought-provoking. It doesn’t matter the leader’s affiliation, in or out of the military, SMA Dailey’s leadership development changes all audiences’ perspectives.

    Aside from the obvious achievement of being the youngest ever to reach the top senior enlisted position in the Army, SMA Dailey is a powerhouse for getting results. When SMA Dailey enters a room for NCOPD it is not silent out of respect. It is silent because the leaders there want to know what he has to say. SMA Dailey is a proven innovator.

    His methods work and will continue to work well in to the future. People who come to see him talk know this and know that it is the way forward. It is beyond a doubt that SMA Dailey’s list of top priorities have ushered the Army into readiness for NCO 2020 (Tan, ‘ Interview: New SMA outlines top priorities ‘, 2015). From the beginning he pressed these priorities through professional development and got results.

    Even as early as 2012 during his time as Command Sergeant Major of Army Training and Doctrine Command he laid the groundwork for NCO 2020 (Dailey, ‘CSM Dailey: Developing the next generation of leaders’, 2012, p. 7). Now only two years out, our Army stands ready to operate in an ever-changing environment under the NCO 2020 strategy ahead of schedule.

    NCOs impact the Army different than other leaders. We do not make the rules we enforce them. SMA Dailey bridges that gap. He listens to the Soldiers and their families. As a result of this he is able to get the right information to the right ears as a trusted advisor. Even items as simple as the Army tattoo policy he is there making his Soldier’s voices known. Army leaders see this and know what a modern leader is.

    It breaks the traditional top down methods of leadership in the Army. Additionally, he was also the introducer of “toxic leadership” as a label for personal awareness. Through dedicated mentorship he has driven a major change to the way Army leaders approach their spear of influence without toxicity. This initiative affected all leaders’ mentalities in the Army.

    When it comes to impacting the NCO Corps, there is no greater measure than SMA Dailey’s contributions to the NCO 2020 strategy. Under NCO 2020 we are ready to fight and win the wars of tomorrow. NCOs are far more competent intellectual leaders and will continue to raise the bar of what is a diversified NCO. I wouldn’t doubt that in the next 20 years range and maybe beyond, all NCOs will still in some ways possess the valuable insights passed down from SMA Dailey. These impacts are continuous and will forever shape our Corps.

    As far as the leader’s community as a whole, I feel it is highly important to recall that SMA Dailey has taken great leaps forward for a better SFL-TAP. Soldiers learn how to lead forever not just how to lead while in the Army (Dailey, ‘A Message from the Sergeant Major of the Army’, 2017, p. 1).

    They carry this forward to impact the world around them and make Veteran’s lives more fulfilling. It is also noteworthy that under the improved SFL-TAP leaders are receiving transition training and tools from the day the join the Army. These future leaders will be diverse and effective leaders both inside and outside of the military service.

    I take on the greater responsibility to continue this charismatic leader’s initiatives. When I look at any situation I see the ways I can improve my organization and Soldiers. I look at the way that I conduct myself as a leader, constantly evaluating myself for improvement, and being cautious to ward of toxic tendencies. Most of all, SMA Dailey has shown me that there is a next level standard for being a dynamic leader that one person can make change.

    I adapt these charges into my leadership philosophy, changing the bad, and always innovate where possible. When I reach the peak point of my career in the military I know my legacies will carry on in my Soldiers as they do for SMA Dailey’s. That won’t be the end of my career as a leader though. His legacy has granted me the prize of leaving my lifelong leader’s legacy.

    My paper illustrates what it is a modern leadership innovator. It highlights this by expanding upon SMA Dailey’s leadership legacies in their purest examples. The unique means in which he innovates and exemplifies Army attributes and competencies defines his legacy, as well as his profound lasting impact on the leader community and me. While there are many famous leaders, it is undisputable that SMA Dailey is an innovator beyond his time. His impacts on the Army and the community will continue to last into the future and set him apart from others as well as expand the effectiveness of his legacy.


    1. Dailey, D. (2012). CSM Dailey: Developing the next generation of leaders. NCO Journal. Retrieved August 25, 2018, from
    2. Dailey, D. A. (2017, May 2). Sergeant Major of the Army (Unites States of America, Department of The Army). Retrieved August 25, 2018, from
    3. Dailey, D. A. (2017, February). A Message from the Sergeant Major of the Army. Army Echos. Retrieved August 25, 2018, from
    4. Excelsior College Student Policy Handbook [Pamphlet]. (2018). Albany, NY: Excelsior College
    5. SMA Dailey At Army/Navy Game In Prototype Pinks and Greens [Web log post]. (2017, December 11). Retrieved August 25, 2018, from
    6. Tan, M. (2015, January 30). Interview: New SMA outlines top priorities. Army Times. Retrieved August 25, 2018, from
    7. Tan, M. (2015, November 23). SMA Dailey’s top 10 leadership tips for sergeants major. Army Times. Retrieved August 25, 2018, from
    8. United States of America, Department of the Army, Center for Army Leadership. (2018). Leadership Developmental Improvement Guide. Fort Leavenworth, KS: U.S. Army.
    9. United States of America, Department of the Army, Headquarters. (2012). ADP 6-22 Army Leadership. Washington, DC: Headquarters, Department of the Army.
    10. United States of America, Department of the Army, Headquarters. (2012). ADRP 6-22 Army Leadership. Washington, DC: Headquarters, Department of the Army.

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    Legacy of Modern Army Leadership Innovation. (2021, Sep 29). Retrieved from

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