Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Another cry for leadership, and the calm of the fading echo

Alas, we hear another cry from the formation.

We heard it at USNIBlog the other week - now at gCaptain we have it again; a cry for leadership. Another anon JO puts it well;
Senior leadership ranks within the US military are unfortunately a hazy reflection of the countless stellar young officers commissioned each year. The junior officer cadre is comprised of top graduates from prestigious schools, remarkable over-achievers, athletes, and proven leaders. These are individuals who would undoubtedly excel in the corporate world, but who instead chose to serve our great nation.

Idealistic, bright and innovative, these are the leaders the military needs as we enter an increasingly challenging strategic and fiscally-constrained era. Yet that optimistic, creative and intelligent young officer is forced to navigate an often draconian and inflexible system- one that has succeeded in pushing out our best and instead retaining only those officers willing to slog through the bureaucratic minefield.
Young officers with bright futures are often exasperated by this promotion system which rewards time over performance. Those recognizing the value of their talents elsewhere often count down the days until they can resign and apply their talents in a profession where competency is acknowledged and prized. The prospect of waiting 15 to 20 years to finally be promoted on merit is too disheartening for many to stick around- even before recognizing the politicized nature of senior level promotions.

... the military is inundated with the average performer merely plugging away time until reaching retirement.

Instead of inspiring those around them to perform to their utmost potential, these leaders inspire mediocrity and strive to accomplish what merely needs to be done.

Their subordinates are neither challenged nor motivated to remain part of the organization which values aggregating “fiefdoms” in a struggle for power or stars in an increasingly unwieldy bureaucracy. Change is often made to highlight a bullet on a performance report for an officer desperately seeking promotion, not to improve the organization. “Soul-crushing” is an activity seemingly relished by many senior officers when dealing with their subordinates.
They will continuously be tested by a personnel system which fails to match talents and training with billets, fails to recognize potential and capabilities and assign them appropriately, fails to recognize the merits of keeping an officer in a position which they enjoy and can excel at- making a positive influence on those around them- and instead pushing them into positions far beyond their abilities or personal preferences in the futile attempt to craft every leader into a commanding officer, regardless of whether or not said leader has the desire or ability.

Personal preferences and skillsets are almost universally disregarded when the “needs of the service” demand a body- any body- be plugged into an open slot.

This bureaucracy can turn the most optimistic young leader into a jaded pessimist content with biding their time until the next opportunity to transfer, resign or retire. The impact this type of leader then has on those around them is immense- a gloomy outlook is contagious. People stop caring and instead perform at a minimum level to get by. The eager young officer reporting aboard sees officers only a few years older whom are sullen, dismissive and pessimistic. The unfortunate result is the hastening of the downfall of that very officer who wanted to make an impact, to make a difference and was so incredibly motivated and prepared to do so.

Despite years of outcry, the personnel system continues to operate in mysterious ways, failing to match talent, capabilities and interests with billets. We refuse to acknowledge that perhaps some officers are best suited to junior or mid-grade leadership positions and can have the greatest impact by remaining there. By continually trying to mold each officer into a CO, we instead end up with unfit commanding officers who have been pushed beyond their capabilities, interests or leadership abilities. This, in turn, manifests in record high failures at the upper echelons, failures within the leadership chain, and failures to our troops in the most dire need.
That is the set-up for his proposal at the end, I'll let you read it all.

Though the article is quite Salamanderesque and I support the effort, the proposed solution isn't really one. The problem is much more systematic than the proposed fix will cure. It is like fighting crab-grass by mowing the yard. I just won't work.

As I mentioned to the gaggle over at FB, the system as we have it now is hopelessly ossified. We all have our stories.

The author's complaint could have been written a decade ago - perhaps longer.

This problem can be fixed, but like Goldwater-Nichols, this is a root and branch problem that will only be fixed with the right civilian leadership in the Executive branch with partners in the House and Senate. 

If we were a smaller and more nimble nation, perhaps we could effect change - but we are not. In any event, to even try we have to have the right leaders in place; and we don't. Either luck or crisis will give us an opportunity. Until then; embrace the suck and do the best you can.

We can nibble around the edges a bit - but until then we must wait. When the opportunity comes, you will know it. Now is not it, but a job remains to be done. 

Wait, ponder, discuss, write. LT WT Door - keep pounding. Keep pounding. Keep pounding. Do not accept what is unacceptable. Make a noise; make the comfortable uncomfortable; make the entitled uneasy. 

Set the conditions for change. 


WireguidedMarine said...

I remember reading somewhere that the classes of graduates that produced Eisenhower, Patton, Bradley, et al at West Point were looking at mandatory retirement in the early Forties, with none of them having any possibility of a rank above Colonel. That was because the upper ranks were so ossified with Generals that only death allowed for upward mobility.

That helped explain how Ike and others climbed so quickly up the ranks from 1939 onward. The Army decided to clean house. Not sure if Navy had same situation at the time.

But the nation had the luxury of time to prepare. And it still cost us in lives for the early part of WWII.

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