A special debt of thanks goes to those who have become members or followers on the site itself, and to those who have provided me with commentary, suggestions, and support over the last year and a half. What started out as a small mental exercise on Sunday mornings has grown substantially and now averages about 100 page views per week here, another 50 or so on the Army's website, and is followed by 45 different people or organizations on Twitter. Hopefully 2011 will continue to bring new members and input from a variety of sources.
100 posts equals a body of work. There is now enough material here that it can be looked at holistically to search for themes and trends. And I think that it's good every once in awhile to do that - to take time to see exactly what those main points are. This past year's posts have helped to narrow that field down. As my Dad told me one week, it seems as if you're talking about the same things over and over, just using a different source piece to buttress the argument. Essentially, he is correct. There are 4 main themes to this blog and what I write about.
*Self awareness and the impact it has on 'how' you think, act, and lead.
*The critical importance of your personal value system and Orientation and where and how it interacts and intersects with the institution.
*The choice to be a servant leader, or to be served by those you lead.
*The effect that organizational structure has on leadership - how the hierarchy moves the person.
These four themes have consumed a lot of my thinking this year, and hopefully, have done the same for the reader as well.
And maybe I have been just fortunate enough to start writing at this particular point, because it appears that many of these topics are ones the Army is starting to delve into as well. I am extremely grateful for the support of CC, RS, and BF at BCKS/CALL for helping me to get my work published there as well. It has certainly allowed me to expand my audience inside the organization and to add my two cents to the larger body of ideas and knowledge that drives thoughtful consideration and dialogue.
Why me? Why am I doing this? I've been thinking a lot about that recently and I think it comes down to this: I believe that I am uniquely suited for many of these discussions because I have actually experienced many of these situations. For me they are not theoretical or academic, they are real and they are personal. But more than that, I think that I possess an ability that does set me apart from many others. I am passionate, intelligent, and articulate about what I do. My life, my calling, is to serve the Army as best as I can. I do not know how to do anything else. But, (and this is important) I also doubt myself often as well. During those times when it feels as if I am swimming against the tide, I often wonder whether or not I'm seeing my world correctly. Am I Oriented correctly, or are those who view the problem and the solutions differently than I do? And I think that's important. I think that after awhile, a lot of folks simply keep doing what they have always done because it doesn't require any more thought or energy. Because they are no longer worried about their place in the organization. Because they have reached a point where they are protected. I have never felt that way - at least not for long. I have always felt that tomorrow could bring some new problem that I cannot Orient to. That is the reason that I keep pushing so hard. I have no real desire for accolades or promotions anymore, now I am trying to follow my dreams and do what makes me happy. Which is, I think, to write, and participate in these discussions which will help shape the organization I have devoted my entire adult life to. As we enter into 2011, I would ask the same question of each of you, are you simply working? Or are you following and contributing to something that is your passion? Believe me, it is not an academic question. Someday, somewhere, what you do for a living will put you in a box where all that you know and trust will be called into question. Only then will you be faced with yourself and your passion. Think about it...The study of leadership, and the profession of arms, calls to me because while others write blithe statements in professional journals about moral imperatives, or ethical character, I have walked those roads and they are not academic at all. Not on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan. There, we entrust both the character of our Nation and the ethical decision making of modern warfare to a young person who deserves nothing less than our fullest efforts towards their development. That is where I want to be.
These thoughts came to me the other day while reading a magazine article. My parents send me a yearly subscription to Yankee Magazine - a coffee table publication which highlights the variety and beauty of the New England states. In the Jan/Feb 2011 edition there is an article entitled "The Restorer" which chronicles the work of Jon Wilson. Wilson is an aficionado of wooden boat building and started a highly successful magazine "Wooden Boat". Wilson then became interested in something called Victim Offender Dialogue (VOD) which brings together the family members of those lost to violent crimes with those who committed the crimes in order to help bring closure to both sides. It is a compelling article and captured my interest right away. First, because Wilson's success with "Wooden Boat" has a sort of Horatio Alger feel to it, but more importantly, because of the following paragraph:
"...in 1989, Wilson was feeling the pangs to do something different with his life. "I feel like I'm taking up space on the planet, " He says. "For me it's how do I make myself worthy enough? It's kind of a flaw, but it drives my work, and has always driven my work. I could never quite do well enough, so I kept trying to do it better."
Exactly. Precisely. I read those words and they sank in deep. In fact, I had about half of this post written and erased all of it to start again.
When we talk about the profession of arms over the months ahead, the ethic, the calling, the service...these are the things that I want to confront. These are the issues that matter. Everything we do to prepare Soldiers to serve their country must generate from that place in their heart where the calling is felt most deeply. There must be risk. If there is a question about moral courage then it must be answered by the nervousness of the gut, the recognition that there are multiple choices to select from, but that ultimately, you will have to choose and then live with the outcomes of the choices you make.
These first 100 posts ultimately may have only set the stage for the discussions ahead. It may have taken every one of them for me to get it down to four themes. If so, I hope I haven't wasted your time and I appreciate that many of you still take the time to check it out. This is my passion. I hope it continues to provide you material worthy of consideration. I look forward to the year ahead.
As always, your thoughts and comments are more than welcome.
About half-way through the piece, I found the following paragraph:
"A survey conducted among students at the Marine Corps War College (MCWAR) in January 2010 reveals a view of the military profession that contrasts sharply with the Huntingtonian model espoused in "Salute and Disobey?" The sample is admittedly small; nevertheless, it represents a cross section of 20 senior field-grade officers from all Services and two foreign countries. Without exception, they agreed that there are circumstances under which they would disobey a lawful order. Their criteria vary little, as these excerpts illustrate:
- "If the officer cannot live with obeying the order, then he must disobey and accept the consequences."
- "When I cannot look at myself in the mirror afterwards."
- "When I deem the order to be immoral."
- "When it is going to lead to mission failure."
- "When it will get someone injured or killed needlessly."
- "When it will cause military or institutional disaster."5
These comments reflect the view that the military professional has moral obligations more fundamental than obedience and loyalty to their leaders, civilian or military. Myers and Kohn imply that the term moral is too subjective to be defendable. However, I argue that the military profession is founded on clearly defined moral principles.
For the purposes of this article, I use the term military professional to apply to military officers. I make this distinction based on the nature of the officer's professional military education, which focuses on developing an abstract body of knowledge; his code of ethics, which reflect the "special trust and confidence" conferred on him by the President and Congress in his commission; and his oath of office, which differs in an important aspect from the enlisted oath. These defining characteristics of the military profession impose on him obligations beyond obedience."
It is a widely held belief that all Soldiers have an inherent right and a moral responsibility to disobey an unlawful order. For example, I cannot direct someone to shoot an unarmed noncombatant. I cannot order someone to deny an enemy prisoner of war food or water or basic sanitary needs. Even more so, I cannot order someone to shoot a combatant who has laid down his rifle and no longer poses a direct threat to me or my Soldiers - even if that combatant has killed or wounded some of my people. It is further understood that following orders such as these do not enhance the standing of the American Soldier in the eyes of our enemies, the population of the country we are fighting in, or with the American public. The Soldier is always expected to take the higher moral ground. The question becomes, where is that 'higher' ground? Does it have limits? And critical to the study of any profession, who gets to be the judge?
If you look at the bullet comments above, something else becomes very apparent: The senior officers interviewed, almost without exception, have decided that they, individually, are the arbiters of what is moral. Consider the first three quotes:
"If the officer (I) cannot obey the order then he (I) must disobey and accept the consequences."
"If I cannot look myself in the mirror afterwards."
"When I deem the order to be immoral."
That final bullet troubles me greatly. Suddenly a brigade commander in charge of 3,500 - 5,000 troops gets to decide for his/her organization what proper moral order is? What qualifies him/her for that, and more importantly, who gave them that type of authority in the first place? Their oath reposed special trust and confidence in them granted by the President, it did not grant them the ability to impart any particular moral belief system except that of the Nation to their subordinates.
As we study the ethic of our profession over the next year or so, questions such as these quotes raise, must be answered first. Are we, or are we not going to cede control of the moral / ethical decision making of the institution and it's members to leaders who may, or may not, share the same moral / ethical values as the organization does?
My point here is not as much about not doing something because it is wrong as it is moving in the opposite direction, doing too much. Going further than the norm expects. For example, we have leaders in the Army today who believe that we are engaged in a type of holy war against radical Islam. They believe that they have a moral obligation to fight - almost crusade-like - not against a country, or a terrorist group, but rather against a faith. I worked for a leader once who, when speaking before large groups, would espouse Christian crusade-like language to buttress the reasons for going to war. If we are to give leaders such as these the power to define the actions of their units in their own personal moral code, then we had better ensure that we know what that code is. Is any action permissible if the commander finds it morally sound? What happens when the leader's personal code is not one that the Nation, the Army, nor their Soldiers can live with. A commander who targets all males between certain ages, a commander who publicly states he does not believe in counterinsurgency techniques and needs to conduct counterguerrilla operations instead. These are real examples and in both cases, the commanders ability to define the moral / ethical landscape led to tragic outcomes. Both these commanders used their position within the organization, and their ability to persuade those beneath them that theirs was a noble calling to rid the battle space of radical fundamentalists who were oppressing others. The methods used however, fell far outside the scope of the expected or accepted.
The paragraph that follows the thoughts of those interviewed also caused an almost visceral reaction in me. LTC Milburn's decision to only talk about the officer corps in his discussion of professional military members I found completely offensive. At the point of attack, it is not he who will routinely have to make the tough ethical / moral choices that can happen in an instant, it is the enlisted personnel beneath him that will need to be able to do so. And do so quickly. To imply that due to education, schooling, and their oath of commissioning that only officers must contend with moral / ethical decision making is not only untrue, but flat out incorrect, naive, and dangerous. If anything, there must be an even greater effort at the lower levels to get Soldiers to really look at their decision making process specifically because it is likely to get called into question more often than those further up the chain of command. Consider the following: An infantry battalion commander controls approximately 20 - 25 subordinate squads. On any given day in combat, the likelihood of one or more of those squads making contact and those Soldiers having to make tough moral and ethical choices is infinitely higher than it is for the commander or his staff. Apparently, LTC Milburn believes that somehow an officer's rank and station within the organization confer upon him a special set of skills and judgment abilities that those below him in the organization do not possess. If this belief is widely held throughout the institution, then we are certainly in for some tough times ahead.
Let me paint the picture this way: A brigade or battalion commander believes that he is waging some form of a cataclysmic battle between right and wrong, good vs evil etc, pitting his own moral code against those of the enemy. He then uses operational terms and the discipline of his Soldiers to gain acceptance of his moral understandings and designs operations in furtherance of those aims. His 25 squads patrolling the battlefield now believe that they too have the moral certitude to conduct operations and act in a manner that they believe to be morally sound. Can anyone but me see the potential messy outcome? Check the latest Courts Martial proceedings and watch what happens.
While LTC Milburn's article was written to discuss the role of civil-military operations and the methods of dissent that military leaders have available to them, it also raises some very interesting thoughts at the individual level. What equals an immoral order? When does a behavior, although militarily justifiable, become unethical? And, most importantly, at what level does one get to decide these questions? Is it really an unalienable right of a Soldier to disagree on moral grounds?
If the Army is to call itself a true profession, one thing that it must concentrate it's efforts on is the development of ethical decision-making at the lowest level. It cannot take these abilities for granted and assume that every Soldier possesses the same understandings and ability to act with commonly held moral beliefs. They must be tested, checked, educated, and challenged. If we are to grant the immutable right of refusal to the Soldier, then we owe them an understanding of the decision itself - a way or process to choose - and we owe them an understanding of the potential consequences for their actions. Either way, there must be a baseline understanding that each Soldier is a person who possesses within them the ability to make (for better or worse) moral judgments. This is not the purview of only the officer corps. Responsibility for our personal moral decisions belongs solely to each of us.
A little further on in the piece is the following quote:"The military professional's core values and oath of office demand the exercise of moral autonomy in carrying out orders. He has sworn to defend the Constitution and safeguard the welfare of his subordinates. Implicit is the obligation to challenge orders whose consequences threaten either without apparent good reason."
As we study the profession, and what it means to be a professional, we might consider LTC Milburn's point about moral autonomy very closely. I too have sworn to defend the Constitution. I too have a responsibility to safeguard the welfare of my subordinates. I too have an obligation to challenge orders whose consequences would threaten either. Ultimately, I too possess moral autonomy. If we are to have 1.5 million morally autonomous people running around making decisions from local to strategic in scale, then we might want to spend some time in their development process along the way to provide them the tools and framework to make such decisions. It cannot simply be something the profession takes for granted. There is too much at stake.
A final thought. This article was written before 'Don't Ask Don't Tell' was repealed. Consider the thoughts above in that light. Moral and ethical decision making is not only a battlefield requirement. In the months and years ahead as the military comes to grips on a day-to-day basis with implementation of the repeal, many leaders and Soldiers will be forced to make potentially large moral and ethical decisions. What tools will we provide them to make those choices? Go back to Milburn's 3rd quotation from the interviews, "If I believe it to be morally wrong..." Those 20 senior officers he interviewed have direct influence over between 70,000 and 100,000 servicemembers. Something to consider.
Thank you for your service, Sir. Have nice day. I swore to uphold the Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic. You do not have the right nor the authority to reinterpret that. I respect your moral choice to resign over this, I really do. However, I will not let you make decisions for the rest of us. For I too retain the right of moral autonomy - as do each of my Soldiers, regardless of race, color, gender, creed or orientation.
As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome.
"When is it OK to accept failure for the sake of learning? More importantly, is failure acceptable in the Army or in any institution? How does the Army leadership view failure?"
He then went on to state the following:
“If you are allowed to fail, then you learn from your mistakes…hopefully. We need to experience failure somewhere so that when it comes we, as leaders, don’t get to far away from our overall objective. We also as leaders need to understand that we will not be crucified for failure. Everything in the Army is success oriented. Army mentality…If you don’t succeed, then you are an ineffective leader and no one listens to you anymore.”His thoughts are a very important consideration for our leader development programs and one the Army should spend significant time thinking about. In order to gain experiential knowledge, three things must occur. First, we must be given the latitude to experience something new. While it might not be new to our superiors, it is new for us. Second, there must be a recognition that simply because it does not have the intended outcome does not mean that failure has occurred, and finally, there must be a mechanism to learn from the experience. To figure out where, when, how and (most importantly) why the outcome was not the one that was intended. Without this experience we do not gain another important leadership trait called judgment.
I came of age in the 'Zero Defect' Army of the 1990's. Although I didn't realize it at the time, the idea that there were "No accidents, only failures of leadership" would play a large role in many of the behavioral and institutional struggles we are experiencing today. 'Zero Defect' gave rise to the idea that every Soldier action was completely controllable. That by putting enough mandated control measures in place, we could literally protect people from themselves and their lack of judgment. Like an over-protective parent, the Army was determined to wipe out any act that might endanger a Soldier. What was never considered was the effect of removing responsibility for mistakes in judgment from the individual. We wouldn't have to worry about developing that critical skillset because there would always be Uncle Sam to tell us what to do. If we didn't follow his edicts, we were punished not for the act of misjudgment itself, but for failure to follow his instructions.
Sadly, that mentality is still extremely prevalent in many places throughout the Army and has put an undue burden on all levels of leadership to ensure a successful outcome for each and every action. It is an ingrained cultural problem. It makes risk something to be avoided, and does not enhance decentralized operations. In fact, it works in the opposite manner. It makes passing the buck - and therefore avoiding responsibility for the outcome - a norm, and further centralizes all decision making at higher and higher levels within the organization. Without a cultural change that accepts that combat and leadership happen in an extremely dynamic environment where thousands of decisions must be stacked one upon the other in quick succession and then adapted and changed in the face of decisions made by the enemy, we will never be able to gain the critical experiential knowledge at the ground level that will allow people to take advantage of new and unfolding opportunities. We have unwittingly enhanced bureaucracy and degraded the capacity for critical judgment just at the time we need it most.
The central problem with risk-taking and experiencing failure in military leadership is that the price is so very high. Unlike the corporate world where the only real loss is money, when one fails in combat, there is a great possibility that a Soldier will die or be severely injured. The central question then becomes, is that Soldier's death worth the learning that occurred because of the decision made by the leader?
If you sit back for a moment and look at how the Army is manned it is simply amazing to me that we have succeeded as often as we have. Take an infantry platoon for instance. We take a 24 year old Lieutenant and place him in charge of 38 people and send him off to war. He has no experience in this realm, has very little self-awareness, and his grasp of the tools and requirements of the profession is almost completely theoretical. He has never taken a class in human behavior, let alone the behavioral dynamics of high stress situations. Then we place him in incredibly complex situations which demand quick judgments that can have life or death consequences for people on both sides of the equation. If you had to draw it up on paper, that wouldn't be the way you would do it. In fact, you would likely do it in the completely opposite manner. We would take the most senior amongst us and place them where the most critical decisions would have to be made. Lieutenant Colonels would lead companies, Colonels would lead battalions and Generals would lead brigades. That way we would have the greatest levels of experience and judgment at the place where it is needed the most - that piece of ground between success and failure, between risk and reward, between life and death. It would be on the battlefield.
Since we are not aligned that way, how do we answer the three questions posed above? How do we provide our youngest leaders the opportunity to fail and learn from their mistakes? First, I think that just as we must paint a picture of what success looks like for our missions, it is equally as important that there is a common picture of what failure looks like. When a leader gives only the intended outcome (success) and does not address it's opposite, then the 'operating box' for the subordinate becomes too large. If I am the subordinate and I lack the experiential knowledge that alerts me to when a decision might lead to failure, then how do I learn to recognize those signs of impending doom? Who will provide me those warning signs to look out for? I also think that by adopting this 'mission command' style we would begin to eliminate a lot of the worries and concerns subordinate leaders have about whether or not they will be held accountable for deaths, injuries or outcomes based upon the decisions they make. This alone will allow them to focus more clearly on the mission and not worry as much about the personal impact of failure. For example: If I am the senior leader and I assign a mission to a subordinate and I give him/her my intent - the expected outcome - that helps clarify the tasks and purposes of the mission. This is what I want to happen, this is why I want it to happen, and this is the outcome I expect to achieve when it happens. Just as critical though, will be my understanding that things rarely go as planned. Therefore, the subordinate and I would then have to address what might go wrong. We would have to look at those things that could cause the mission to fail. As part of that we would inevitably have to address casualties and losses. I might say to him/her, "Look, this is enemy held territory. You must expect to take casualties. I think you can still accomplish the mission and achieve my intent as long as you lose no more than X% of your unit, or Y% of your leadership." By simply stating this, I have done a lot for the subordinate. He/she recognizes that I have a tacit awareness of the potential for things to go badly. They also recognize my judgment that the mission can survive a percentage of casualties and still be successful. It also pays credence to and acknowledges the old saying that, "No plan survives first contact." Now I share some of the burden of execution with my subordinate. They aren't out there on their own wondering if every decision they make will get them relieved or worse.
My friends second question above, "Is failure acceptable in the Army?", is actually more important than the first. As long as there is a belief throughout the force that failure of any type will have a detrimental effect on careers etc, then we can never change. Although there is a lot of evidence that in reality, the Army is pretty forgiving in its' judgment of failure, there is still the widely held belief that one failure leads to career suicide. This is especially true in the officer corps. Too many young leaders buy into the "I'm responsible for everything my Soldiers do or fail to do" mentality, while at the same time recognizing that they cannot actually control these behaviors 24 hours a day. That puts the leader in a perpetual bind. They end up spending as much time worrying about their subordinates as they do about the enemy. I have brought this idea up in earlier posts, referencing concerns by both General Dempsey and Lieutenant General Caslen regarding risk and candor. And it is exactly the point that General (Ret) Campbell brought up in his report on the battle of COP Wanat. Institutionally, we need to move away from the notion that one young leader is collectively responsible for every action of their subordinates and emphasize individual accountability from the first moment a Soldier enters the profession.
Failures are individual acts of willful disobedience to expected norms and behaviors and standards. One cannot 'fail' at a task they do not know how to accomplish, nor can they 'fail' by making a decision for which they have no frame of reference. Failure only occurs when one is faced with a situation that they do know how to accomplish, or have a frame of reference for, and willfully choose to abdicate their best judgment.
Finally, I think that, collectively, the Army has to practice a little more candor with the American public and our elected leaders. The language of the Army is an active one. We state "We will" or "We can". We don't speak in a passive voice. Sometimes that very choice of words can have an effect. "The Army will drive the Taliban from it's strongholds in Afghanistan" is an unequivocal statement. It guarantees something that in truth cannot be guaranteed. What we are really saying is, "The Army will do everything it can, with the resources it is given, in the time allotted to it, to hopefully kill or capture as many insurgents as possible in order to create space for a legitimate government to be able to defend its' borders."
My friends questions raise a lot of interrelated ideas concerning learning, experience, risk, trust, candor and culture. The first step will be to view failure differently than we currently do. The second will be to change the method of discussion between commander and subordinate to include the possibility of unforeseen outcomes to an assigned mission. The third will be to begin to drive home individual accountability to each and every Soldier that will, over time, break down the need for institutional cover-your-ass policies. Finally, there must be a better method than persecution and prosecution to learn from events that have unintended outcomes.
As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome.
As I was reading through it, I came across the following paragraphs:
"To understand the Army profession, we need to understand that the actual practice of the Army professional, irrespective of rank or position, is the repetitive exercise of discretionary judgments as they employ their professional skills. The essence of this definition is that true professionals control their own work. Most often no one tells the professional what to do or how to do it. Their actions are discretionary. Think of a leader on patrol in Iraq or Afghanistan, or a senior leader in the Pentagon making policy decisions. Each exercises discretionary judgment—not solved by a formula, rather drawn from years of knowledge and experience. That is the practice of the military professional‘s art. It is what the American people trust us to do.
Second, most of these discretionary judgments have a high degree of moral content, where decisions directly impact the life of other human beings, whether Soldier and family, the enemy, or an innocent on the battlefield. Such judgments must therefore be rendered by Army professionals of well developed moral character and who possess the ability to reason effectively in moral frameworks. As America trusts the Army‘s character and competence, no one tells us what to write in doctrinal manuals. Leaders have wide discretion in setting policies to educate and train Soldiers with that knowledge, and field commanders execute operations with wide discretionary authority. The nature of war requires this, even more so now under increasingly dynamic, decentralized operations."
These two paragraphs form the basis of almost every argument or position I have put forth since beginning my writing and they grew out of what happened to me in Iraq and a series of emails between CR and me regarding responsibility and leadership within my platoon. But in many ways, the conversation has moved well beyond that period. Whereas 4 years ago I was moving from one end of the spectrum - from the incident outward, I have now moved a little more toward the middle and try to look at it from both sides at once. Sometimes looking at the individual and sometimes looking at the institution.
On March 12, 2006, I made a series of judgments and decisions. Those decisions had been preceded by thousands of other judgments and decisions that led me to a particular understanding of my environment. "A series of repetitive discretionary judgments..." The key part of that is discretionary. I made choices. Choice based upon my Orientation, my understanding and experience. Choices that were my responsibility to make. These ideas of choice and responsibility came up in many of the trial proceedings as to why SGT Cortez was selected to go to that TCP over someone else, or why Green ended up down there with the others even though he was not part of that squad. The answers to those questions are deceptively simple, almost random, and yet had devastating consequences. They were - for better or worse - the outcome of my discretionary judgment. Cortez was in charge because that was his role absent his squad leader who was on leave. He was placed at TCP 2 because it was the 'easiest' mission for that time and befit his experience. Green was sent because we needed a certain number of people to meet the requirements of the TCP. All just repetitive discretionary judgments. And yet their impacts would be huge. In the immediate aftermath of the events, many decided that they were failed judgments, but failed or not, they were mine.
The second paragraph from the white paper talks about these repetitive judgments being made within a moral framework. Judgments that must be made by people "with a well developed moral character." Obviously, the decisions made by those Soldiers did not meet fulfill this requirement. They were not people who possessed this critical preliminary requirement.
Where does all this lead?
An individual joins the Army. He or she is developed in the requirements of the community. As they grow they are given more and more opportunities to make discretionary judgments - choices. And the expectation is that those judgments are based upon a solid moral framework. In essence, the framework precedes the judgment. You must begin with that and build outward. You cannot allow the discretion without first knowing the moral and ethical limits of the individual.
So where does that framework generate?
The moral framework required of a professional Soldier is the sum total of that person's life and experiences from the moment they were born. At 18 years old, the Soldier who joins the community does so with millions of moral/ethical inputs that have already formed their personal Orientation. That Orientation is then molded over time by the requirements of the community. It is added to and subtracted from by the profession. But, at it's core, it is never truly changed. The character of the person who enters the Army is not likely to be transformed by the community, only adjusted over time. No matter how long one stays in any profession, the core values that they possessed or did not possess on the day of their arrival are most likely to be the ones that last. They may be reinterpreted by the immersion into the community, but they will not likely fundamentally change. Your moral decision making process becomes almost instinctual. Which is also why we do not spend much time thinking about it. It happens so slowly that it becomes something that our eyes overlook. We assume our ability to make decisions has always been there and never really go back and look at how those skills were developed and what things in our development had the most impact.
And this is the reason that I have written a lot lately about seeing the whole Soldier. Not just the person in uniform but the entirety of their life. The various roles and responsibilities, and titles and uniforms they wear. That is why it matters what gender you are, your age, whether or not you have children, the things that are important to you and those that aren't. All of the tragedies and triumphs of your life. These understandings are what drive the process for knowing your personal moral framework which certainly has an effect on the types of discretionary judgments you will make. As much as people haven't really placed much importance on these things when I have brought them up in earlier posts, it is apparent now, that true self study must become the bedrock foundation for all leader development programs anywhere - social, business, or military. Due to the finality of combat however, they are absolutely essential to the Army. When the potential outcome of a discretionary choice might be the death of another person, you had better really understand how and why and with what Orientation it was made.
Why does all this matter? Why not just set out the requirements of the profession and then develop a standard metric to measure against? Either you make the cut or you don't. Those that pass become leaders, those that don't do not. Well, it might have taken us 10 years to figure this out, but at it's core, war and conflict happen between people. And those people are affected and formed by their Orientation. Without an understanding of that, we cannot call ourselves a profession. We would only be automatons. The American army has never been about creating robots. No army survives that way. To build a servant warrior, you must first develop a person.
I will be a different leader tomorrow than I was last week. Not because of any work related event. As my family struggles to get back on it's feet after a loss this weekend, my Orientation has been changed. I am not exactly the same as I was before and that change, that awareness, that new understanding, will certainly have an impact on the way I do business. It has to. The unfortunate experience my family is going through now will not fundamentally change my moral framework, but it will change my understandings. And those changes will inevitably get passed along to others as I make the decisions that are a requirement of the position I hold. Exactly the same process as 2006.
Four years ago, when confronted by lawyers and investigators, and pundits about what happened in Iraq, people said that I was trying to escape my responsibility or culpability regarding the incident. I argued that I was not escaping from anything. I have always said that I was/am responsible for the decisions I made regarding my platoon. And that responsibility, those decisions, and my actions are more than just the product of 20 years in the Army. They are the product of a lifetime. My lifetime. My morality, my values, and the totality of my existence. If you allow me the discretion to make decisions, if you give me that trust, then you had better damn well know who I am. And after this weekend, I have evolved a little more. My Orientation is slightly different. And I have gained experience. Who I am as a professional Soldier now encompasses a little more than it did last week based upon who I am as a husband and a father. Somewhere down the road, a Soldier will come to me and need my advice, permission, feedback, input, etc. If you think that I will be able to make a black or white decision like an automaton, you are mistaken. The events of this weekend have been yet another instance of learning what it means to lead human beings. I will visit this time again, I'm sure and it will have an impact on the judgments I make.
It is good that the Army take a look at itself to see whether or not it is living up to it's requirements. The question is are its' members willing to do the same?
As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome.
What is discipline?
According to Dictionary.com, the noun discipline can mean many things, among them:
"Training to act in accordance with rules"
"Punishment inflicted by way of correction and training"
When used as a verb, it can mean:
"To train by instruction and exercise; drill"
"To bring to a state of order and obedience by training and control"
There is a lot of talk these days about discipline both the noun and the verb. You will hear people say things like, "Children these days have no discipline", or "I wish they would discipline their kid more. He/she is a little brat." etc etc.
We are also hearing that throughout the Army. That this generation of Soldiers has no discipline. They are too self-absorbed and demand instant gratification, and do not respect authority etc. There was a whole conversation on AKO about this last week that rapidly became one of the most widely read and hotly argued posts I've seen there in quite some time. One camp lamenting the lack of discipline and the other accepting that there must be a recognition among leaders regarding how this particular generation responds to authority, rules, and structure. That we might need a modification of how we apply discipline in order to achieve the Army's goals and needs. This conversation is one that has been around for as long as we have had armies patrolling the earth. Every generation thinks that they have it right and those that follow them are not up to their exacting standards and understanding of what being disciplined means.
What I find interesting is that much like everything else with regard to leading others, the idea of what discipline is, and how it is applied, is very personal to that particular leader. This is an important consideration. Shouldn't each of us spend some time thinking about our personal definition of discipline in order that we can then explain and impart it to our subordinates? If we do that, if we take the time to determine what discipline means to us personally, and then explain that meaning to others, won't it help them understand what we expect of them more completely? It seems to me that if we don't take that time, then in most people's minds discipline will continue to only equate to punishment. There won't be a recognition of the need to internalize restraint, self-control, or to act in accordance with a proscribed standard, but rather that "I will be punished if I don't act this way." Fear-based discipline is the lowest form of the word that exists and only lasts as long as the subordinate is afraid of the power or consequence of the leader. Once that physical fear or fear of consequence has been removed, or causes the subordinate not to care anymore, then truthfully, the leader has surrendered all their authority. If I don't care about the consequences of your actions, then you really have no sway over me. Once I remove your ability to threaten or coerce or force or intimidate me in order to control me, you will be left with very few options that will influence me. A leader who works on fear and intimidation will rapidly find him or herself having to constantly up-the-ante with each successive punishment until the level of punishment well outweighs the original intent. Fear induced discipline is a zero sum game. And yet it is one that is practiced all to often - especially in the military.
I started thinking about this a lot this week based on something I read on the AKO website. The Army published an updated regulation 350-6 "Enlisted Initial Entry and Training Policies" on November 18th. Those with an AKO account can find the link here:
As I was scrolling through it, I came across the following sentence that really caught my eye: "Treat all Soldiers in accordance with Schofield’s definition of discipline." For those who are not familiar with Schofield's definition, I have included it here:
"The discipline that makes the soldiers of a free country reliable in battle is not to be gained by harsh or tyrannical treatment. On the contrary, such treatment is far more likely to destroy than to make an army. It is possible to impart instructions and to give commands in such manner and such a tone of voice to inspire in the soldier no feeling but an intense desire to obey, while the opposite manner and tone of voice cannot fail to excite strong resentment and a desire to disobey. The one mode or the other of dealing with subordinates springs from a corresponding spirit in the breast of the commander. He who feels the respect which is due to others cannot fail to inspire in them regard for himself, while one who feels, and hence manifests disrespect toward others, especially his inferiors, cannot fail to inspire hatred toward himself."
- MG John M. Schofield, in an address to the Corps of Cadets, 11 August 1879
What struck me was that 350-6 is the regulation that guides the Drill Sergeant as they train new Soldiers. Consider Schofield's first line "...not to be gained by harsh or tyrannical treatment." How opposite that is from what most of us will recall from our basic training experience! Most folks remember their Drill Sergeant because they were desperately afraid of him/her and the seemingly unending ways that they could inflict pain and confusion on their lives. Fear of the Drill Sergeant became the prime motivation for completing the task the first time. I was more afraid of him than I was of failing the task. I don't remember much of how the task was accomplished, or what I learned, but I damn sure remember thinking, "Man, I'm glad I'm not that guy!" when some other poor Soldier failed to meet the often unmeetable standard and was learning new definitions of the word discipline, which normally involved ever increasing levels of physical pain. Joining the Army was akin to being 'jumped' into a gang. There was a certain level of abuse that had to be endured before one could gain acceptance. This new regulation seems to stand in direct refutation of that method on indoctrination. Very clearly, the intent is not to imbue the Soldier with fear-based discipline, but rather to gain their willful acceptance of the requirements of soldiering. Two vastly different approaches. Although I doubt that it has dramatically changed the methods most Drill Sergeants currently use, over time it may be considered a true paradigm shift in how we move an individual from civilian to Soldier. The humble beginning of the next method of enhancing the profession.
All of the good leaders who have mentored me have been very familiar with Schofield. Their manner, the way the carried themselves, their patience, the almost eerie way they knew when I was going to fail before I did...All these things gave them an aura of patient understanding and unwavering focus on what needed to be done. I came to not want to fail them, not out of fear of punishment, but because of my admiration for them. Those are the people who have gained my utmost respect. Those people are the ones who became my role models. They are the ones I have tried to model my own leadership after.
So the question remains. What is your definition of discipline? For me, it involves the following:
1. Dedication to those whom I lead.
2. The awareness that I represent the face of the Army to those who are not part of it. My actions determine their interpretation.
3. The accomplishment of the mission or the recognition that the mission cannot be accomplished with the tools at hand.
4. The moral courage and empathy to understand and account for those who cannot do so for themselves.
I do not lead by fear. I didn't like it when I was a younger Soldier, and I do not like it now. My leadership style and the implantation of discipline in my subordinates is much more task focused. The levels of perseverance, dedication, and ability to adapt come from the problem at hand, not whether someone will get in trouble. All leaders should probably spend some time with this idea because how you define discipline and how you demonstrate it to others can be critical to the success or failure of the mission. Are they accomplishing the mission because they fear your repercussions, or are the accomplishing the mission because of willful obedience to the ethic of serving others?
Something to think about....As always, your thoughts and comments are more than welcome.
Leadership is an intensely personal experience and in order to lead others, you must first have a solid understanding of yourself. Self-awareness and self-study are critical parts of leader development and encompass the entirety of your life. What are your priorities, values, weaknesses, blind spots etc? Why are you the way you are? Why do you view your world the way you do? A large portion of our earliest leader development programs should focus on this area for a couple important reasons. First, it alerts us to how we view our world and the different filters that we drop in place that color our understandings. What motivates us and what does not? Second, this awareness recognizes that others will have a much different viewpoint based upon their understandings and filters. Self study allows for those differences of view without moral judgment of those who you are opposed to. Leadership at the human being level is recognizing those differences and finding ways to either reconcile them, or to ensure that the right people are put in the right place to accomplish the mission. Sometimes the most critical decision a leader will make isn't what to do, but rather who will do it. The arguments regarding 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' will probably demonstrate this very well, as will the discussions regarding mission command and decentralized operations down to the squad level. The idea of the right person will play a much greater role than people think. A leader fundamentally opposed to homosexuals openly serving in the Army will make decisions in line with their belief and value system. A leader who is not opposed will make other decisions in line with their belief and value system. The issue will not be the institution's response, the issue will be how it is interpreted and enacted at the lowest level. As a leader of others, one of my jobs is to understand my feelings about an issue and to understand how they affect my actions. And my self-awareness presupposes that the same is true in others. In periods of change the ability to determine who to place where and when is an important skill. We'll no longer be 'plug and play' with interchangeable leaders. In fact, we'll probably find ourselves moving in the opposite direction all together. We'll probably end up emphasizing the merits of one individual over another for a particular task and the leader piece will be the ability to recognize which person is more suited to that mission and why. That will require programs of instruction in our development schools that are less 'mass production' and much more personalized. I go to school in order to find out about myself, in order to understand my influences, in order to learn how I think, in order to recognize that others do not think the same way, in order to take advantage of those differences, in order to effect the outcome successfully. In short, I'm learning how to put the right person in the right place at the right time instead of just anyone who happens to have been spit out of the leader development machine. Personal leader development takes advantage of the differences between individuals and spends less time trying to make everyone homogeneous.
Once we have impressed upon people the importance of figuring out who they are and why they are that way, we can move on to another theme - that "How to think is more important than what to think". My constant references to the OODA cycle reinforce this. To me, it is the single most important teaching lesson we need in the Army right now. OODA is not a discreet process. It really has no beginning and no end. It is not a finite thing. It's a way of interacting critically with our world that, when developed, brings clarity, and the ability to see ourselves and our adversary more clearly which reveals opportunities and identifies shortfalls faster. OODA accepts the differences of filter and then presents ways to work through them dynamically. The more you do it, the faster you can act. Now, you are operating inside other people's decision (and behavior) cycles and affecting the outcome. While Boyd originally saw this concept as happening between two adversaries, I believe that it can also be used very successfully within our own formations. If leadership is defined as influencing someones behavior in pursuit of an objective, then the OODA cycle does not only happen outside of our formations. It happens inside them as well. It happens with every interaction we have with people. This is another critical viewpoint that we must develop as we try to work through some of the issues with destructive behavior and other human being problems that have surfaced after 10 years at war. The same skill sets we are developing that allow us to better understand the enemy and the populace in Afghanistan can (and should) be used to assist us in understanding our own Soldiers. The skills required are no different - the ability to define the problem, the judgment - the empathy, the willigness to set aside our own viewpoint and actively pursue another's - to understand it's causes, the determination to change an entrenched behavior and the willingness to constantly scrutinize those interactions to see whether or not they are positively or negatively affecting the outcome. It really doesn't take a year long study to find out why we are having difficulty with Soldiers who return from battle and behave differently than we expect. It takes people who are attuned to the behavioral changes in their subordinates and then act in an empathetic manner to assist them to return to a more healthy place. Without self-awareness and without the OODA cycle becoming an active concentration in our leader development schools, we will only be left with institutional answers to what are very personal situations. We are trying to find ways to increase the judgment abilities of our Soldiers both individually and tactically. OODA provides that way.
The third theme that has routinely appeared in my thoughts, sometimes less clearly than others, is the idea of servant leadership. I no longer see my Soldiers as the tools by which I affirm my place in the organization. I used to, and I think many people go through a period like this, but I don't anymore. I exist to serve downward to my subordinates. The most important parts of my job are to serve their needs, increase their knowledge, and provide the opportunity for them to develop themselves in their own personal manner. I will not allow myself to use them for my own self-enhancement. More importantly, I will not allow them to let me do so. They are the reason I continue to serve. Any success that we achieve is shared. I do my part, they do theirs and we work through the friction as equal parts of the system. We both have roles to play. Without them doing their part, I will fail to achieve the organizations goals. Without me doing mine, they will not be able to operate to achieve them. The recognition that there is an equality between us is an important one. Rank and stature based systems do not generally accept this notion and therefore the led become nothing more than the workforce upon which the leader stakes his/her reputation. As we continue to look at 'toxic' leadership, I think we're going to find that it is most prevalent in places where the leader believes in his/her own sense of rightness to such a degree that they cannot view their world in any other manner. They are right and everyone else is wrong.
Servant leadership also has another linked requirement that bottom-up leadership doesn't which is it's requirement for a dissent mechanism. I have brought this up before, but it hasn't really gotten all that much attention which surprises me. If I accept that my subordinates are an equal and critical part of the organization - if I really embrace that - then it will force me to accept that there must be a way for them to tell me I'm wrong. In effect, they do get a vote. In situations where their lives depend upon having a clear understanding of the possible outcomes, there must be a way to ensure that that understanding is shared by all. The different parts of the system are equal. A dissent mechanism is the ultimate equalizer in servant based leadership.
The last theme is how the institution - it's history, it's lineage, it's customs and traditions and method of operating affect the people inside it. We often say that the Army is people, but in truth, the skeletal structure of the Army is a force unto itself. The hierarchical structure acts in a manner than requires the flow of information up and down simultaneously. It is predicated on the idea that the top has a better understanding than the bottom. However, we have found that that type of structure can be slow to act and opportunities are lost in the time it takes to move information to the proper decision-making level. We need to take a hard look at how the institution itself is affecting the conduct of operations. Is it possible that Soldiers have died and opportunities have been lost not because of negligence or fault or lack of ability, but rather because the requirements of the institution have failed to keep pace with the speed of decision-making on the ground?
A few weeks back I was talking with my Dad and he mentioned that it appeared as if some of my posts were beginning to repeat themselves. I was simply finding new source material to back up a previously stated thesis. I think to a certain degree he is correct. As I come across something that fits one of the 4 main theme areas of the blog, I'll try to bring it to people's attention and see if it helps clarify my previous thoughts any better. I also do it because in some cases, while the reference might be new, the theme is something I've talked about previously and want to bring back up to people's attention. Having thought about his comment for a few weeks, I'm not sure that's likely to change. A year ago or more I was talking about values and ethics. A year or more ago I brought up the sticky issues regarding decentralization and personal judgment. Due to the events of my life, what happened in Iraq between February and September 2006 has changed how I view leadership and how I lead others. For better or worse, some of these ideas seem to be making their way into discussions at the larger level. I would encourage the reader to go back and read through some of my earlier posts and begin to form their own ideas and opinions on some of these issues. What's on these pages is just some of the things I've discovered along the way.
The amazing thing about MAJ Bach's writing is how clean, simple, timeless and pure it is. Written in 93 years ago in 1917 the document recognizes the universal truths of leading citizen Soldiers and is incredibly appropriate as a framework for our discussions on the profession of arms today. While there are some parts of the paper which obviously reflect the ideas, teachings and customs of that period in history, the vast majority of it has a very universal theme. Consider the following:
"In a short time each of you men will control the lives of a certain number of other men. You will have in your charge loyal but untrained citizens, who look to you for instruction and guidance. Your word will be their law. Your most casual remark will be remembered. Your mannerism will be aped. Your clothing, your carriage, your vocabulary, your manner of command will be imitated."
"In a few days the great mass of you men will receive commissions as officers. These commissions will not make you leaders; they will merely make you officers. They will place you in a position where you can become leaders if you possess the proper attributes. But you must make good—not so much with the men over you as with the men under you."
MAJ Bach's paper coincided with some research I was doing on human capital. Taking human capital at face value, I understood it to mean investing in the people within an organization. However, from a purely business sense, human capital investment is an investment in the development of people with a focus on making them more productive and therefore more profitable to the corporation. And this is where the private sector and the military will separate. The military does not turn a profit - or even try to. At best, the military attempts to improve functions and processes in order to be more efficient to save the taxpayer's money, but it will never pay a monetary dividend to its' shareholders. Any investment in human capital made by the military will have a much different, and arguably, much more important dividend - it will save lives. Any efforts the institution makes to increase the judgment, capabilities, and decisiveness of its leaders pays a much greater return on the investment than money. It provides the opportunity to increase understanding and see more deeply and clearly the possible outcomes of the decisions we make. Those decisions that affect lives, Soldiers, their families, communities, and ultimately the Nation.
But, back to Bach. In his opening paragraphs I found a lot of things that deserve consideration. First, the idea that title alone does not make one a leader. All it does is confer the title. And that title is worthless if it does not have meaning to those whom he or she serves. I think we often overlook that in our leader development programs. 1917, and the idea of servant leadership is expressed at Fort Sheridan, WY. Even then, MAJ Bach understood the idea of the role of the leader as a servant of the led. Today, we send a Soldier to a validating school, and then confer upon them a title. You go to the Warrior Leaders Course and validate that you are a Sergeant and then you are expected to know all those things that are expected of a Sergeant. You go to the Basic Officer Leader Course and are expected to know everything that is required of a Lieutenant. And on and on at each level. You come out of the school with some information (i.e. 'facts'), but we spend precious little time putting those facts into a context. Leader actions designed to serve the subordinate, or subordinate actions designed to serve the leader? What's the role of the leader? I don't remember that in the validating schools I have attended. Do you? And make no mistake, leadership will happen in that context. It will happen at a specific point in time, under specific circumstances, with a specific person. The context of that interaction will have a huge impact on the outcome. What will work for one, will not work for another. And, importantly, the outcome's success or failure can really only be judged by those who are affected by it. Will they perceive the leaders actions as enhancing them, or as enhancing the leader? A critical consideration. I can take two Soldiers through the exact same scenario and will inevitably end up with two different interpretations as to the outcome.
The notion of context also realizes something else that is quite important to human capitol investment which is the totality of a person's life. Not simply the role they are fulfilling now, but all those things that make up the sum total of who they are. My leader actions are taken through the prism of my life from my childhood through present day. They are formed by my Orientation to my world and my understanding of my reality. In effect, my leader actions are formed by my character, my viewpoints, and my individual skills and abilities. Most of which were formed before I ever joined the organization or was given a title. And they are uniquely mine. One goal of human capital investment is to find those unique things and allow me to use them for the betterment of the organization. I decide a lot of things based upon who I am. The value of those decisions is interpreted by my subordinates based upon who they are. Misunderstandings and misinterpretations and differing points of view happen in the gap in between. Part of the leaders job is to remain aware of that gap and work to close it. There must be the recognition that each Soldier is an individual person. They are not all the same. They will not have all had the same experiences or influencing events that we have had. They will not have the same value systems and character traits that we do. A large part of our leadership will be in the recognition of what does or does not influence them and then finding ways to bring those skills and understandings together in a manner that enhances both the person and the organization. As MAJ Bach rightly pointed out later in his speech, leadership must be exercised individually. It cannot be done with the universal application of a common methodology.
Another part of Bach's speech that struck me was his instant recognition that all leaders are role models. Role modeling is inherent to the position - it goes along with the title. I don't think that many 'leaders' understand that. I really don't. If a leader has a true understanding that they are a role model for everyone below them then I think they would scrutinize their own actions a lot more carefully. The full impact of understanding role modeling has never really been dealt with by the Army. We talk about the role of the leader a lot, but the idea that a leader acts as a powerful behavior agent simply through their personal behavior and carriage is not really something we deal with. We don't often express in explicit terms that what you do and how you act have a much greater impact on your subordinates than the decisions you make. One of the ways that this awareness demonstrates itself is when Soldiers think you are acting. When they think you are simply role playing. If you have fully absorbed the understanding of role modeling, then it will become very difficult for your subordinates to discern where the real you ends and the professional you begins. We need to spend some serious time looking at this if we are to truly enhance the profession.
Role-modeling also brings with it certain characteristics that good leaders possess. Principally, self-awareness and humility. I told one of my subordinates once that there are actually three you's. There is the real you - who you are left alone in the dark with no one watching. There is the professional you - the one that puts on the uniform and fulfills the role of the title. And then there is the you as seen through the prism of your subordinates. The goal of any leader should be to bring those three together in such a manner that no one can tell where one part stops and another part begins. We probably need to take a close look at this as we study the profession in the year ahead. What people are now throwing out there as examples of toxic or poor leadership are more likely the lack of self-awareness to recognize when the three parts do not match up. I have worked for people who I did not like, but as long as they were role modeling and not role playing, then ultimately, I could find things to respect them for. I may not like the way they did business, but at very least it was true and honest. The choice remained with me to accept their role modeling or not. Bach stated it like this:
"Be an example to your men. An officer can be a power for good or a power for evil. Don’t preach to them—that will be worse than useless. Live the kind of life you would have them lead, and you will be surprised to see the number that will imitate you."
The greatest compliment a leader can receive should be the desire of their subordinates to model themselves after that leader. If no one wants to be like you, then in all likelihood you have failed. On the other hand, if all of your subordinates can see something to aspire to in your actions, demeanor, and behavior, then you have fulfilled potentially the greatest requirement of leadership. You have been a role model. And if you use that tool to help them move beyond mere imitation and toward their own understandings, then you have moved to another important level of leader/servant which is mentor. You are no longer trying to create others in your own image, but trying to help them find their own.
In the Army, we do not produce a product that enhances any one's bottom line. We do not make human capitol expenditures like business with an eye toward enhancing profitability. What we produce are people. People with the character, wisdom, knowledge, skills, and human awareness to do the Nation's business in a manner consistent with it's expectations. When I was younger I used to tell folks that my job was not to produce Soldiers. Rather, that I used the process of soldiering to produce better people. Sometimes I think we lose sight of that. We get so caught up in the X's and O's of tactics and mission and training, that we lose sight of the fact that all of those things only serve to do one thing - to develop, for better or worse, the person. Tactics and combat and training can be the crucible by which that development is enhanced, or they can be the pyre on which a leader is broken. Our human capitol investment is in the young people who fill our ranks who are looking to us to develop in them those characteristics and traits that they can one day pass along to those who look up to them. Every ounce of our energies must be dedicated to that end.
In an earlier post dealing with calling subordinates by their first name, I made the comment that knowing who Jeff Fenlason is is a hell of a lot more important than knowing who Master Sergeant Fenlason is. If I am role modeling correctly then the two become almost seamless. If I am not, then I am just an actor. The human capitol that the organization invests in is me. The return on the investment is my ability to pass along to the Army another young leader who has the abilities and judgment necessary for the circumstance they are faced with. Someone whose subordinates view him or her as a role model and not a role player.
I received an email from a Soldier the other night that contained the following:
"....you really helped develop me as a human and as a leader."
Hopefully, that sentence is my return on the human capitol that was invested in me over the last 20 years or so. It is also the finest compliment I have ever received. I am humbled that the Soldier took the time. That's the return on the taxpayer's investment. It is our job to make sure it is money well spent.
As always, your thoughts, comments and ideas are welcome.