A Failure of Leadership

Ladies and gentlemen, I have come to a sad conclusion: as an Army, we have lost the art of leadership.

It’s something that has been boiling in the back of my head for a long time now, but I feel that it’s finally time for me to give up hope. You see, I heard something a few days ago that really struck me. I was in a meeting – one of the ones we like to hold in the Army to talk about all the administrative things we should be doing, but aren’t, like Soldier awards and evaluations and whatnot – and the Sergeant Major said something to the group of commanders and staff that made my ears perk up.

“How do you expect to lead these Soldiers if you’re not doing things like getting your hair cut or going to PT?”

The unit Command Sergeant Major, a man charged with taking care of hundreds of Soldiers, just reduced the entire concept of leadership to a haircut and a PT score. I mean, that’s certainly part of it. You can’t ask Soldiers to do things you’re not willing to do. But it’s only a part.

Of course, I readily dismissed his diatribe, because it’s something I hear all the time. It always irks me, but it’s an attitude I’ve come to expect, especially from senior leaders. And then, today, I realized that the biggest part of the problem was not that the CSM’s definition of leadership was derivative and lacking. It’s that we as Army leaders have grown to accept it.

You see, the “haircut” definition of leadership, the one harped on by nearly every CSM I’ve ever known, is leader-centric. And as far as I’m concerned, that’s a problem. Leadership shouldn’t focus on what I can do about me. It should be focused on how well I take care of my Soldiers. I can shave my head bald and score a 400 out of 300 on my PT test, but that doesn’t mean I can lead Soldiers. If I can’t help them take care of their problems, if I can’t get them to believe in the mission, if I can’t get them to come together as a group to accomplish a task, then does it really matter how quickly I can run two miles? Or how short my hair is?

In my opinion: no.

We as leaders have come to believe that leadership is all about us, but it’s not. Leadership is about being a servant to those you lead. If a commander can run 5 miles in 30 minutes, but has to kick 15 Soldiers out of the Army because they failed their APFT, he or she has failed as a leader. You need to understand that the world doesn’t begin and end at your own personnel file. If you think a Soldier is more likely to follow you because you have a high-and-tight haircut, rather than because you show that you’re willing and able to take care of those under my charge, you have lost your way.

At that very same meeting, the commanders reviewed the PT failures and overweight Soldiers in their company. And when they announced the number of Soldiers they were going to kick out because of these failings, several had a noticeable undertone of pride in their voices, as if they were happy to be doing what needed to be done to cleanse the Army of the ne’er-do-wells in their formations. Not a single one seemed ashamed that they were in the position of having to chapter out these young American men and women who had signed a contract to serve their country with the explicit understanding that those above them might ask them to lay down their lives in defense of their nation. If you’re a commander, and ten different Soldiers in your formation have failed their PT tests or become overweight, you need to understand that there is a good chance that the single common denominator in that equation is your command team.

A brief aside:

I once knew an analyst who likely could have qualified for a Mensa membership. The guy could rattle off not only facts, but solid strategic-level analysis (you know, that thing we paid him for) about any country in Central Asia and put it in a white paper with a pretty ribbon on top that you could submit to any number of journals. The kid’s problem was that he was coming up a little short on his PT tests. He was an E-4 that the Army had spent probably millions of dollars to train, equip, feed, deploy, and pay for his four-year-long stint. And during his sole deployment, when his NCOIC wasn’t hobbled by a command team more concerned about haircuts than real leadership, he passed his PT test with room to spare. But once he got home, and had to attend regular unit PT, he soon began to fail again. He was placed in a “remedial PT program,” which included all those Soldiers who were physically broken in some way (and thus unable to actually train), told he wasn’t allowed to PT outside of remedial PT, and then swiftly booted from the service after he failed a second PT test.

This kid, who was amazing at his job, was given no leadership whatsoever. He was failed by the Army. And the Army failed itself. How many of our budget woes could we cure if we would just apply some real goddamned leadership to problems instead of taking the easy way out and kicking out Soldiers whom we have already spent so much money on, just to turn around and spend more money on replacing them? I would pose this question to all potential commanders: if you bought a house, remodeled it, invested in it, and started shaping it into what you wanted it to be, would you turn around and sell it the first time the heater went out?

When I voiced concern about the way this Soldier’s case was handled, I was told, “PT is an individual responsibility.” It was not the first time I have heard that, nor would it be the last. But it doesn’t matter how many times it’s said, it’s still bullshit. If PT were an individual responsibility, we wouldn’t form up at 0625 every morning and do it together. And if you try to sell unit PT as a way to “build unit cohesion and esprit de corps,” I will call bullshit again and challenge you to take a poll of how many Soldiers actually enjoy standing in the freezing cold to go run in formation while they call the same old tired cadences they’ve been singing since basic training. Being in PT formation doesn’t make you happy, and it doesn’t make you a strong team. Being a strong team is what makes you happy to be in PT formation.

And if I accept the reasoning that PT is an individual responsibility for a 19-year-old Private First Class, then I will immediately demand that you stop inspecting his barracks room. Stop inspecting his vehicle before he goes on leave. Stop giving him safety briefings every Friday. Though I love Soldiers, I will be the first to concede that you will not like the results of that particular experiment.

Stop enforcing a double standard. Either your Soldiers are responsible adults able to care for themselves on an individual level, or they’re not. Don’t tell me he should be able to set up his own diet and exercise plan, but has to be checked to make sure he cleaned his room. You don’t get to be a leader only when it’s convenient, damn it.

Don’t get me wrong: I understand completely that there are Soldiers who give up, who are beyond reaching. There’s no doubt that they exist, and sometimes we have to cut them rather than take precious resources away from those in our formations who want to succeed. But we as Army “leaders” have grown too comfortable choosing the easy wrong over the hard right, and blanket all those who present a challenge to us as examples of the former rather than entertain even the slightest possibility that they are the latter.

I don’t know why I seem to feel differently about this than so many of those around me. Maybe I’ve just lost all my blind hooah, but I have a hard time writing the words “Army leaders” without some kind of parenthetical disclaimer. I don’t know how we lost our way. The concepts of leadership that I learned in ROTC haven’t changed. You take care of your Soldiers; you serve them. It’s pretty simple, but I feel like it’s beyond our grasp. And I don’t have an answer on how to get it back, to make the azimuth correction we so desperately need. All I know is that it breaks my heart every damn day.

 

As always, I welcome comments, debate, questions, and discussion here or on Twitter.

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35 thoughts on “A Failure of Leadership

  1. I too was once told by a member of my company’s command team (who I otherwise had a good deal of respect for) that “PT is an individual responsibility” when a soldier of mine had failed his second PT test and the chaptering process had started. I’m glad I’m not the only person who immediately acknowledged this as a cop-out and a totally insane premise to begin with, because it clearly isn’t. Leadership in the Army is a band-aid and not the preventive medicine it needs to be.

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    • Leadership is the active direction of human effort toward a shared goal? Management is the details to make that happen. Establishing the metrics of what the organization wants becomes what the organization does! So, establishing those metrics becomes terribly important. And, it is DARN hard to get them right. That is where human leadership can play a role–if they are not manacled by the organization. Be careful what you measure. Be very careful what you reward.

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  2. It’s called setting the standard. Leaders should set the standards. Yes things like hair cuts may seem insignificant, but there are practical reasons (hygiene, fit of head gear, protective mask) and a matter of paying attention to detail. I too was a young leader, bright, top of my class. I too thought I knew more than my peers and, more importantly, the out-dated ideas of the past generation of Army leaders. What I learned through experience is that these standards do serve a purpose and do enhance discipline. If you don’t like it, please leave the Army. We are reducing personnel now and there are many good soldiers who would like to take your position. Thank you for your service.

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    • What was the CSM’s question: “How do you expect to lead these soldiers if your not doing things like…..?” The author misses the CSM’s point. Do you want to be taken seriously as a leader by your soldiers? The CSM had some basic, initial standards. Take care of the basic standards first. Then all the innovative, caring, discipline, and leading that may exist in the leader’s heart and mind might come to fruition. If you you don’t have a commanding physical presence and appearance–and shy away from efforts to improve, you limit your ability to coach, teach, lead and care.

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      • “Then all the innovative, caring, discipline, and leading that may exist in the leader’s heart and mind might come to fruition.” Really? “Might” come? I think that is where the problem lies. Yes, you have to set an example through modeled behavior, but it doesn’t stop at the physical sense. You have to have both sides of this proverbial coin, the physical and the ability “to coach, teach, lead and care.” One without the other is incomplete. I believe that is the authors point.

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    • The point of the article is that while meeting haircut and PT standards are necessary to be a good leader, they’re not sufficient. To lead, you’ve got to do right by your people, not just yourself. And while the service is indeed downsizing, there are better criteria to select retention by than body fat percentages.

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    • I think the point of this entire article was missed.

      The author was saying there WERE no standards set. It just became like standing in line at the DMV; “Denied, NEXT!” I don’t recall haircuts being anywhere in the Seven basic values.

      Leadership begins at “not saying ‘no’ but showing them how.” Something this above response could’ve done besides just yelling “STANDARDS!!!” And then recommend the author leave service.

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    • I too am a retired colonel who agrees that apprearance and PT standards are important and serve a purpose. However, I would rather have a young officer commanding for me who recognized that leadership was much more complicated than enforcing haircut and PT standards than one who equated leadership to the enforcement of those standards alone. One of my mentors, who eventually retired as a 3 star, insisted that, while it was important to look good, it was much more important to BE GOOD. I am the father of two junior officers, both of whom have more combat experience than I do, and they both agree wholeheartedly with the author of the original blog. Soldiers are thirsting for leaders who understand that short haircuts and high PT scores won’t be enough to win the next fight. To say to them and their cohort, “if you don’t like it, please leave,” is short-sighted and self defeating.

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  3. I understand your frustration of the climate of leadership today in the Army. As a 26 year vet that has retired, I have seen how the Army comes full circle over time. In comparison the time the Army is at now is about the time when I came in around 1987. Relaxed standards and Soldiers filling positions, (not the best qualified-still filling positions as leftovers from Vietnam era). Fast forward to after Desert Storm and the drawdown you slowly see the leadership changing to become more strict, promotions harder, competition was greater for better roles and leadership positions. Soon the Army got to a point to where if you didn’t produce you were on the street. Next OEF then OIF and the ranks swell to have numbers regardless of standards. Now, post war conflicts we are in the drawdown cycle again and have to re-establish what is great Leadership in Garrison. Keep in mind, we have been at war for over 10+ years. During that time a PVT could’ve been promoted to Platoon SGT now. SGTs are now CSMs. CPT’s are now Sr COLs and looking to be Generals. So knowing all this and the optempo of rotations the mentally was if you can’t deploy you were chaptered or not. On either side of the coin there wasn’t a huge need for mentorship the long slow way it takes to mentor a great Leader. The motto used to be Train, Select then Promote. The last 10-12 years it was Promote, Select, Train. Gladly to say, before I retired last year you can see it was getting back to Train, Select, Promote. With the sequestration and the lack of rotations of units, the emphasis on Leadership will come back as the undesirables are and will continue to be vetted out for whatever reasons. And example motto the Army can learn from is the Marine Corp. The Marines never laxed their standards.

    On the PT/Haircut issues, I agree with the CSM, maybe because I’m a fellow SGM retired that grew up as an Operational Soldier probably like the CSM had. Small things like that do mean a lot in the process of applying great leadership along with teaching how to be a great leader. I’ve held every position of Leadership that an Enlisted Soldier can hold. So I can see both sides of each and all arguments when approaching what is good leadership. The best answer I will and can provide is there is no substitute for experience as a Leader to fully understand each situation and make the best of all your Soldiers potential. Example, you can lead the same way in a Light Infantry unit the same way you lead in a Operational/Strategic organization. Being an experience Leader teaches you such differences and that one size doesn’t fit all. Its not that there are different Soldiers but different cultures of the Military.

    I would agree and disagree to Leadership has been lost. Some old traditions have past, I.E. Marching to the motorpools calling cadence by a young SGT, going to FTXs and doing basic Soldering skills, taking care of Soldier issues with methodical applications. The Army is getting back to those type of things. The culture has to shift back from how can we make the Army appealing to the young civilians (wearing a beret for appeal, all the fast food areas on post and etc.) for them to enlist for filling ranks to you join to be the best trained professional Soldier in the world through hard work and sacrifice.

    As I type all of my thoughts, I can come up with several more reasons. There is no one quick fix answer. So, be patient and allow the cycle to work itself through and the Army will get back to being focus on great Leadership!!!!

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  4. Not a bad article but maybe, just maybe the author and the comment should reach down brab themselves and start to be the “leaders” they talk about. After spending 28 years on active duty and being invovled in every conflict the Army has been invovled in since the mid 80’s I feel confident that I have not only the experience but the knowledge and sage wosdom to commnent. How much “leadership” have you imparted to your subordinates and soldeirs through professional development? How much has been passed on to you by your leaders in the same manner? How much have YOU done on your own as a professional whpo has chosen to serve in a “profession of arms”? Take a long hard look in the mirror before you take the CSM to task about his comments. Your commments just show how much you don’t get it and what he was really talking about. My first PSG told me on day one watch and listen and “don’t do nothing until i tell you to” About three months later he told me to take charge becasue he had shown me and taught me what the basic course did not, leadership. In stead of complaining about lack of leadership take charge and start to LEAD. That means doing the admin stuff, taking care of soldiers and their families, training, maintaining, sustaining, all those old buzz words that have fallen to the way side since we now have to rely on “contractors” to do those things for us. My Company 1SG use to tell me “if you fail to make corrections you have jsut set a new standard”. Well enforce the current standards and start to Lead.

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    • Wow, you’re making some bold assumptions there. How do you know the author doesn’t lead the way he’s talking about? How do you know he isn’t trying to make a difference.

      One of the reasons I left the Army as a young officer was because I felt the same way the author does. I tried to make a difference through good leadership wherever I could. But the institution as a whole is so plagued by bad leadership, there’s very little one person can do to change the culture.

      Coincidentally, the civilian sector is even more hit or miss with its leadership. The difference is you have much more flexibility and many more choices (and therefore more opportunity to make a difference) in the civilian world.

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  5. This author, I hope, purposely missed the point. Leadership starts by setting an example. This is why haircuts, and PT are important. The rest of the relationship between “Leaders and Doers” follows. If you lead by example then the men and women say, Do not do as I say, but do as I do. Enuff said. AF Vet and retiree.

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  6. I agree with your article 100%. What comes to mind when I think about some Army leaders is that they choose to “major in minor things.” Your emphasis on haircuts is just one example, you could just as easily apply it to other things as well. I appreciate you shaping the issue and being brave enough to put it out here for discussion.

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    • It is not the “leaders”, it’s the institutional culture. For example, take the Ranger Regiment beret, and make it Army standard…that will boost moral. Adopt a guttural Oh-ahh, that will prompt a warrior spirit. Adopt slogan: “Soldier of One” that will: (fill in the blank).

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  7. It’s disturbing that some commenters, particularly senior ones, choose to personally attack the author because they disagree with his views. Attacking people when they present their honest opinions is poor leadership in itself – in fact, I would say such attacks are indicative of toxic leadership. Can’t we disagree about particulars without resorting to “This is how the Army is and if you don’t like it get out!”

    I don’t think the author means to state that setting the example isn’t important – he simply states that caring for subordinates is important. If you only set the example but fail to train, mentor, and lead your subordinates then you’re not a leader, you’re an egotist.

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  8. I am sadden by the comments made by senior enlisted and officers that attack the writer because he/she poses a question on leadership. You all have made the author’s point that the Army is stifled and unrelenting to new ideas or change.
    I get it standards are important. I believe in them wholeheartedly but as just one piece of the whole matrix of options leaders have to use to motivate and train thier soldiers. But standards are not the end all answer. I served as both as an enlisted man and Regular Army Combat Arms officer. Injured on active duty I was amazed how fast I went from hero to zero because my injury precluded me from keeping up with the physical standards. While I knew my injury would force me out of the service, I never expected that it would affect how people saw me as a soldier or as just being a good human being. Standards are not more precious than the dignity of a soldier. When a young man or woman signs up to serve, we as leaders have the responsibility to provide them the best avenue to succeed. If the goal or the discussion point is just about hair cuts and pt scores, we have set our standards too low as Army leaders.

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  9. I served 30 years active duty in the USMC. During that time I served ten years enlisted, was promoted to CWO3, and retired a LtCol. During my three years on an Army base in Northern Maryland, and I had lots of time to observe the Army, and the Army observe our Marine Corps detachment. Our missions were training young soldiers and Marines, often side-by-side. If I were to point out the most significant difference between leadership methodology, it would be that the Marine Noncommissioned officer, starting at Corporal/E-4 is considered the first step in the chain of command. To honor this responsibility, they are authorized to wear a red blood stripe, and carry an NCO sword. The NCO and Staff NCO ranks are the foundation of leadership. Leadership is taught at an early age beginning with Marine Corps history in basic training…not Ordnance Corps, Artillery, etc. history, but how the USMC is integrated, and has high standards and expectations that we assume as custodians of our service. The CSM is correct. Young, particularly first tremors want to be challenged. Since they are learning their craft, they want to demonstrate their physical abilities, and compete with their peers that way. When we formed for PT at 0530 on a cold January morning for another “tireless” session of cadence calling, we knew that we were defining ourselves doing something as team that we may not necessarily choose do do as an individual. We earned our bragging rights. As the CO (Major), I was there with my entire staff every week to lead the five mile run. The young Marines see and admire that. It sets the culture for when they too will climb the ladder of leadership and lead by example. Two other PT sessions were scheduled that week: Platoon Commanders PT, and one just with the enlisted. Haircuts? Leader are expected to be impeccable in personal appearance, there never is debate about that. Secondly, we take pride in everything we do. The wonderful barracks that the Army let us maintain was the best on the post. We worked really hard at that and did the labor ourselves. Marching from the barracks to class was an opportunity for a young leader to learn how to command and control a unit of people. As a Private First Class I vividly remember my first chance to march a platoon. It did not go perfectly, and I took some ribbing later, but that is what leadership is all about. Last thing. I witness that leaders in the Army tried to use medals and awards as a means to “take care of” soldiers. As described in the commentary, kicking Soldiers out seemed as if it was a distinction of serving justice. The USMC rarely awards medals except for the most worthy of deed by the Secretary of the Navy. The Marines are too small to throw individuals away. We invest too much time in them, and we often know exactly what unit is waiting for them so they can get to work for world wide deployment. Each Marine is handcrafted. There is no room for leadership to take a benevolent or aloof role. NCO’s have a specific role, as do the SNCO’s and officers. Young soldiers failures are the commanders failure…period.

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    • I totally agree …proudusmc! I will add to the author’s initial assessment about haircuts and PT scores. Those two items are where the standards and discipline start. It’s the same reason why as children we had to make our beds every morning for mom and if you lived on a farm why you woke when the roosters crow – it was to instill a discipline. Some will agree that when they see Soldiers with haircuts “within regulation” and Soldiers that are fit you know you’re dealing with a disciplined unit. Yes, some leaders don’t know how to properly lead and would rather just get rid of their “problem child”. I had poor leadership that chaptered out a Soldier for being 2 pounds overweight – I told the First Sergeant to give me that Soldier.

      Good leaders, lead and lead by example. This is the reason why 10 years after retirement I still conduct individual PT. It’s because my SGT through First Sergeant had me stand in formation to participate in squad, platoon, and company PT. Leaders first have to “instill a discipline” in those we serve. Then they must instill all the other great leadership attributes. If you lead 24/7, it’s not a check-the-box attitude. This is the basic reasons why we will continue to have the world’s greatest military!

      As proudusmc and the author states, a leader needs to invest their time and efforts in all their subordinates, both good and bad. If done properly through leadership, mentoring, and counseling then every single one of them you lead will hopefully not want to disappoint you or the organization. It starts with your own discipline 24 hours a day, 7 days a week! I know 10 years after retirement I still have a kempt haircut and can pass the PT test because my leaders passed on a disipline I wouldn’t have done on my own.

      1SG,US Army (ret)

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  10. Thought-provoking article, but judging by most comments above. . .more provocation than thought. Had a simple philosophy as a commander: Take care of your people, they will take care of the mission (and you). It worked.
    Ever wonder why we have grooming standards, and then every special operator seems to have long hair and a beard? If they are our elite (and they are), why chase snuffy for having a less than high and tight cut?
    Because, eh, well, it’s what we do, no it’s, eh, tradition, eh. . .it goes back to keeping lice out of people’s hair when they are in a foxhole for weeks at a time, or come from the back of beyond as a draftee, and have to live with 30 or more strangers.
    My point: If it is mission-critical or people-essential, do it. Otherwise, lighten up and exercise a little judgement. “regulations exist to provide guidance for commanders” not their careers.

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  11. As I told cadets over 30 years, if you want to be left alone, keep your hair cut, your shoes shined and say “Yes, Sir” all the time. Gradually this evolved to additionally include wear your PT belt whenever, “Yes, Sir” or Yes, M’am,” and score high on your PT test. None of this is about leadership. It’s all about playing the game. Doing well in combat is a whole different issue as is leadership in combat. In 1968 the Infantry school was very very happy when its IOBC officers could PASS the PT test, let alone max it out. Ectomorphs do well on PT tests, the rest of us do not, but a whole generation of officers who just barely passed the PT test did very well in combat, winning almost every battle we fought. That’s what leadership is about. My son the Sapper Captain tells me that CSM’s just don’t have enough to do…that’s why they destroy morale by focusing on haircuts and PT. Meaningful, interesting training is how one leads. Ranger/CIB/Ph.D in Management from a leading research institution.

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  12. It is very difficult to quantify leadership skills. It is easy to point out bad haircuts and poor PT scores. We are choosing the easy wrong (judging Soldier value on superficial, easily identifiable traits) over the hard right, which is growing and developing leaders through counseling, coaching and mentorship.

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    • Its not difficult to establish metrics for good organizational leadership; its just challenging, takes thought, time, and leadership. If your higher can’t or won’t develop them, do yourself a favor and do it yourself for your organization. (I’d benchmark my organization against other similar folks to see where you can improve or exceed your peers.)

      What I take from the author is that all to often senior folks (perhaps even those bastards at platoon) fall back on the easy to identify 50 meter target; rather than look further down range at the bigger issues or peeling back the onion to the second, third, or forth level of knowledge of that individual or organization.

      While I never subscribed to “if it looks good, it is good”, I rarely saw a good unit that didn’t also look professional regardless of the circumstances.

      I agree with the author 100%, and think it short sighted for some of what appear to be my peers who easily fall back on “standards” as an easy panacea and suggest its put up or get out. While that may have been the mantra of the Army of the 90’s it wasn’t the right answer then, nor is it now.

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  13. A lot to chew on there, brother. My take: leadership is action, not position. Leadership isn’t how many skulls you can crack per day, although I racked up quite a few across a 20-year career.

    But it’s not about being an asshole. It’s out being an effective, reliable leader who can operate AND administer in very dynamic environments. Yes, somebody has to be the bad guy sometimes, but that’s where the leadership you speak of comes in: if we disempower our young people, they’ll start acting out. Wouldn’t you? Didn’t you when you were a child, an apt analogy I think.

    However, if you give all your subordinates something to strive for, personally and professionally, you’ve laid down accountability and you’ve simultaneously let them know, “I’m not going to do this FOR you, but I can and WILL help you get and stay on the right path”….for whatever that may be. You can be antagonistic when you need to be, but we all need to be magnanimous when we should be. In a word, mentorship (without the mollycoddling).

    It was a mix of confounding and amusing when I was in Afghanistan a few years ago. As the saying goes, I went to war and a garrison broke out. I also saw the ridiculous levels at which “nickel-and-dime” hits were called out. Glow belts, eye pro and hand pro in one instance. I’m thinking, are you fucking kidding me? Is that all you’ve got to do is zero on people’s minor uniform infractions? Oh, and here’s another one: you can’t wear Five Fingers because only Rangers can do that. (I’m retired Navy).

    When the bullets start flying, do you honestly think I want to herald or telegraph my presence by wearing something that’ll make me stick out like a turd in a punchbowl? I’m not interested in whether you hair’s cut a certain way, whether you starched your uniform or not (I’d prefer you didn’t), or if I can say ‘hooah’ or ‘hoo-yah’ more than a dozen times in four sentences. I want to know and better yet be able to see that you have the tactical acumen to survive and thrive in a firefight or some other crisis situation.

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  14. To clarify, I am only a Cadet and do not have any of the experience of the author or commenters. What I can add to this discussion is the perspective of a student of leadership currently being trained by some of, who I believe, to be the best Cadre in the nation.

    We are told often to know the standards, or at the minimum, know where to find them quickly. The importance of standards, uniformity, regulation is taught to us. The one thing that is pounded into our heads though is that we will soon be responsible for the lives of soldiers who will have to trust us to make the right decisions for them at all times. My Master Sargeant has taught me that it is vital for us to be able to care for our soldiers above everything else.

    I agree with this author, knowing I have little weight behind my opinion. I agree because I hear his accounts and believe that based on them and others, we as an institution must maintain the best leadership in the world. Leading by example is a great style, but it is not the only one. We must us a mixed style of leadership that combines the best aspects of all styles. Some are not good at leading by example. I barely pass the run portion of the APFT. I work everyday to improve it, but I flat out suck at running. That wont change. I still manage to rank high in my class because I put my soldiers first and because I am able to make the right decisions quickly and efficiently to complete the mission.

    I am excited to soon be serving fully in the Army and hope that I can be the leader the Army and my Soldiers need.

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  15. Leadership is all of these things – it IS the haircuts and the PT tests but it is NOT ONLY the haircuts and PT tests; it is also developing the soldier skills we have spent thousands of dollars of taxpayer money developing. We faced this problem once by developing parallel chains of “hard ranks” and “specialists”. It was a lousy system that made for some crappy soldiers.

    Now, we put our soldiers into career battles over PT or weight control without fire support or medevac. Sometimes they limp off that ugly career battlefield and then we commanders all slap ourselves on the back for our tough love and give ourselves medals for leadership. Too often though the problems that our soldiers are dealing with are as much a burden of our command choices as they are of “personal responsibility”. We are just as personally responsible as they are.

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  16. Here is an anecdotal example of how we try and inject a meaningful leadership lesson into every instance that lends itself to one. One weekend we had the rare occasion where six Marine students were stopped at the main gate for underage drinking. They were trying their best to return before weekday academic curfew at 2200. During NJP, all six Pfc.’s were to report simultaneously as each had confirmed BAC reports. There were ample student observers present to witness the disciplinary process and procedure. The senior Marine was asked to step forward to tell his account of how this infraction occurred. Not surprisingly, no one stepped forward. The instruction was repeated with similar results. To make a long story short, this developed into a lesson on how to determine the senior Marine, even in cases where each had the same rank. Whenever there is more than one Marine, someone is always in charge of the others. When the senior man dilemma was finally sorted out after a shuffle of I.D. cards to compare date of rank and birth dates, we isolated the unknowing leader. The young man was not destroyed in place, but he was justly punished as his newly realized followers looked on (punishment was in abeyance). Fast forward a several years later, an email was received from that young leader, (with cohorts from that day in the cc line) reflecting on the lesson that he did not forget. Now, as a Sergeant of Marines, he took the time to reach out and express his appreciation for not having had his career destroyed that day before it even began. We owe it to each other, our services, and our country to build thoughtful and competent leaders who will advance in or out of uniform. Its difficult work, and can only be accomplished with authentic sincerity. Phony slogans and empty superficial gestures are obvious failures to our astute young men and women. Hair cuts, PT, technical and tactical proficiency, positive response to challenging training, the desire to seek professional education are all attributes of trying to live up to those high standards that the leaders provide by their personal example. A leader is measured by true perfromance of their people, and I am not talking about gathering a bunch of statistics to look good. These are but a few components of organizational success. 1) build your NCO’s to lead early. 2) SNCO’s mentor NCO’s and be “keepers” of the organizational military standard. Look out for the welfare of those in your charge…not necessarily comfort and awards. 3) Officers must set the perfect example, accomplish the mission, and COMMAND from the front. Officers are held to a higher standard. Commanders are responsible for everything that happens or does not happen. End of trans.

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  17. As a soldier who has retired after 26 years of service, this article was spot on. I remember a LtCol once told me never take the easy way out, and never give up on your soldiers.

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  18. To the retired Colonel (and other similar negative commentors) that commented “Leave the Army”, your response focuses on a haircut and PT which ironically is exactly the close-minded leadership that the author refers to. Leaders that place the emphasis on looks,and PT are exactly the same leadership that promoted troops in the late 80s and early 90s that couldn’t think through a problem and didn’t give a hoot about Soldiers, but starched their uniforms and polished their boots to impress the Commander.

    You fail to see the systematic problem all around you that goes much deeper than a CSMs comment of a haircut, much like the CSM during my deployment to Iraq – he had no idea where his people worked, how they lived, or what hours they were up, but he damn sure caused a fuss when he wasn’t first in line to get his stuff, or when a junior enlisted didn’t “snap” enough when they saluted him. Who promoted him and let him run amok? A tired and bi-polar O-6 that nobody had confidence in and a bunch of SGM/CSM that were sure they were they superior leaders because they after all, had made it to E9 right? Unfortunately, both the O-6 and the E9s tend to forget who and what got them to their rank.

    The system is back to a post-war, politically correct, admin-stuff-means everything environment. Does a MSAF 360 stop toxic leadership? No, because the toxic leaders don’t do one, and if they are forced to, they don’t even read the comments. The newly revised OER system focuses on touchy feely stuff and does nothing to address the officer’s ability to lead. Leaders are responsible for everything our Soldiers do to include haircuts and PT. But if someone has a late OER or NCOER, the current method lists the names of the rated, NOT the name of the Rater and Senior Rater. Why? Because the senior command doesn’t hold them responsible for the “soft” part of leadership. I submit that if you can’t rate your personnel in a timely manner, you aren’t fit to lead, regardless of your accomplishments (and who you used up in the process).

    Want to assess leadership? Ensure the Leader knows what a combat task is and that they train their assigned Soldiers to survive and accomplish the mission without their presence. Ask a leader who their people are, where their hearts are, what their goals in life are and what inspires them. If the leader’s eyes glaze over, and they starts to talk about his or her own objectives and achievements again, cut them from my beloved Army.

    The Author is dead on, and you ego-centric naysayers better focus on people, their talents and resources before all the good Soldiers move on. Loyalty, Duty, Respect, Selfless Service, Honor, Intigerity, and Personal Pride are more than just words. They along with the Soldiers creed must be verbalized daily to ensure we remember for whom (the American people and our Soldiers), and for what (the constitution) we so proudly serve. This is why I so love the young SGT and SSG. They know and love our Army and their team/squad and the good ones will do whatever is necessary to ensure their Soldiers have what they need to succeed. They will even tell us friggin officers and senior NCOs when we are missing the boat – we just need to be smart enough to listen to them. -out-

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  19. Thank you so much! I have tried to explain to people why I gave up on the Army and took my talents else where. I took care if my Soldiers and we all “failed” the pt test and did remedial with those of US that came up short and we all went and got haircuts if even one of us were sub par. I have had other Soldiers from other patrons companies come up to me for help because their “leaders” were more worried about themselves and not the family.
    I got so sick of watching guys that could score 300 on a pt test, memorize some creed or passage and have no idea the meaning what it ment except that they needed it for the board or some shit, go to the range and hit 40/40 but when a Soldier would ask them for help or coaching they would tell them to got to the retain tent or oass them no!
    I read and understood the required reading and regulations, fms, tms, etc. I didn’t allow anyone to say they passed or quailified verbally if one of US did not. One team on fight is what my excuse was when 1SG, PSG, CSM rained me for 0% on paper for my squads and plt.
    What they don’t understand is that leadership can’t be taught it has to be natural and then it can be refined and inhanced.
    Thanks again for your article!
    SGT BENJAMIN BLACK. 88M
    2001-2013

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  20. Corps’ new seminar grooms lance corporals to become NCOs

    One of the most engaged discussions Wednesday centered on moral and ethical challenges in combat and garrison. In one squad, lance corporals crowded around a whiteboard brainstorming potential ethical dilemmas they could face, from following rules of engagement in a war zone to avoiding inappropriate relationships with subordinates at home.

    Check out this story on Marinecorpstimes.com: http://militari.ly/1tfhN2k

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