#50 Finding My Voice

"No matter how fine it's weapons, no matter how accurate it's intelligence, in the final analysis, the Army is dependant on the quality of it's men" - General Matthew Ridgway

I started this enterprise about 9 months ago to provide me a place to think . The events of the last 4 years have caused me to reconsider many of the ideas that prior to that point, I had taken for granted. My professional life had moved along nicely and given me no reason to think otherwise. I had been promoted and awarded and was generally considered 'one of the good guys'. Iraq - and it's aftermath of investigations, courts martial, the Green trial, and finally "Black Hearts" brought much of what I knew (or thought I knew) about leadership into question and the blog provides me a place to work through some of the lingering issues.

It has become a journey in it's own right. Once I started looking below the surface I realized that the study of human being leadership is incredibly complex and nuanced. You cannot apply cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all solutions to it. And that is where the journey really began. Now, 50 posts later, I have come to a different understanding not only of leadership as an idea or theory, but I have also begun to realize how critical the complexities and nuances are - especially when it has to be exercised in extreme situations.

Originally, this journey was somewhat haphazard. Each week something would strike me and I'd try to follow that thread to some cosmic level, or conversely, take a cosmic idea and make it fit into my understanding. That's kind of the first 20 posts or so. OODA, marksmanship, women in combat, the ideas of senior Army leaders etc. No real theme, just general scattered thoughts and opinions that seemed somehow related to my search for awareness and understanding.

In the last month or so however, and I think importantly, with the addition of the Values Series , things are beginning to gain a rough outline and form. The idea now is to summarize some of the various ideas and bring them together. I am finding out that in leadership it is often the strings that attach larger ideas that are the most important part.

In any organization, values and ethics play an incredibly complex and ever-changing role. These are both the individual values of the people who are part of the organization, and the stated norms of behavior for the institution itself. The institution usually has some codified set of underpinning ethos that guides it. In business it might be profit margin, in a non-profit it may be the ability to assist the less-fortunate, for a preservationist group it may be protection of natural resources etc. For the military, there is something called the PME, the Professional Military Ethic. PME is the set of guiding principles that form the acceptable norms of behavior for the Army. Mission accomplishment, dedication to the service itself, self-sacrifice etc.

However, the institutional ethic must be challenged and relooked every now and again to see whether it remains relevant to those who comprise it. The Army is beginning to study that again after 8 years of war, because it's last review was most likely done in peacetime and under different operating conditions. The values of the individuals who comprise the institution become very very important to defining the institution itself. For example, if a businesses ethos is driven by profit margin, then those who work there will prize one set of personal values over another. If making a profit it the key, then how I do it may not be all that important. An extreme example of that idea could be eco-terrorism where the 'preservationist' ethic believes that spiking trees and injuring loggers is fair play to preserve the natural environment. Therefore, while the institutional ethic of preservation may be something that I espouse, the value system of the people that leads to methods such as tree spiking might be something that I cannot. You cannot have an successful institutional ethos, without having a complimentary common personal value system.

So, leadership must start with the inculcation of individual values. It is pointless to argue what a generation should or should not have internalized for values when they arrive at your door. They will come as they are. After all, it was the previous generation of leaders and the environment that created the current generation of followers. For example, many people in the Army are complaining (as they always have) about this generation of Soldiers. They're fat, they're lazy, they break too easily, they don't have any backbone etc. What's overlooked in that statement is that we made them. The reason many of them are fat and lazy and don't know how to live in the outside world, is that we didn't, or couldn't, provide that to them. Many many Soldiers come from single parent homes that are the result of the explosion in the divorce rate in the 80's, and from less than ideal backgrounds. So, if I'm a single or divorced parent working 40 or more hours a week just to provide the basic provisions for my family, then my children come home from school and lock themselves in the house and do their chores and then plop themselves in front of the computer or television until I get home. Then we eat dinner and the responsibilities of household maintenance eat up another hour or 2 until we collapse exhausted and start the cycle all over again the next day. The collapse of the previous family model - a primary breadwinner and a primary parent who ferried children to school and clubs and sporting events etc has had an effect on the development of young people. No one's fault. And not necessarily all bad. For example, while the divorce rate in America may be high, most divorced parents do try very hard to provide stability and care for their children. There is a lesson there - namely that even though I might not like my ex anymore, I still have professional obligations to interact with them as equitably as possible. So, in exchange for fat and lazy, we may have gotten flexibility and the idea of fair interaction.

Values are key. Recognizing how they are being formed in real time, not as we were raised, or as we might wish them to be is the next understanding. There are 6 separate but equal parts to leading people and accomplishing any mission or task.

1. How the leader sees the problem.
2. How the follower sees the problem.
3. How the leader sees the follower.
4. How the follower sees the leader.
5. How the leader sees the environment.
6. How the follower sees the environment.


OODA provides a mechanism to do that. While COL Boyd saw the OODA cycle in operational and strategic terms, I believe that it can also be applied to human leadership in this manner:

1. I must know me and understand my 'Orientation'. (Why I think, act, and operate like I do.)
2. I must gain an understanding of my leaders and followers and try to gain an understanding of their 'Orientations'. (Why those above and below me think, act, and operate like they do.)
3. Both leader and follower must have a common 'Orientation' towards the operating environment. (What's the problem and what solutions are available to solve it?)

The Army spends very little time requiring leaders to study self-awareness. Instead of focusing on those skills, abilities and attributes that make each leader unique, they spend too much time focusing on the processes that try to make each leader the same. Only after tragedy or triumph do we spend any time looking at the human beings who participated in either event. "Black Hearts" is instructive in that manner. Had those events never happened, then no one would have called into question the 'leadership' abilities of any of the participants. In fact, had they never happened, many of the maligned leaders would have been viewed entirely differently by the institution. The same can be true for many heroic' leaders. Had some decision they made turned out differently, then their actions may not have been viewed so heroically. If Audie Murphy gets killed, instead of holding off a furious attack, then we wouldn't have a legend, we'd have just another dead Soldier. If you read "Black Hearts" on a larger level, what you will see is that many of the characters did not have a well formed 'self-awareness' mechanism and that their individualized 'Orientation' of their environment was not shared by others. There were individual moral value failures, coupled with a confusing institutional ethic that was missed by most people due to a lack of ability to accurately and quickly OODA their environment from more than one viewpoint. If you look at the alleged 'leadership' deficiencies, what you will find is that most of them were most likely in the interaction and inter-relationship of the 6 parts outlined above.

Another key part of leader and organizational development is a healthy 'loyal opposition' component. Without a mechanism for critical debate and opposing viewpoints almost every organization will, over time, degenerate. The posts about GM and the collapse of the automobile industry were an attempt to point that out. Senior leaders in the Army seem to also recognize this, but the vast middle isn't there yet. 'Loyal opposition' is also important to relevancy. Jut as industry always has a future concept and design component, so too should any organization where the principle component is people. Without the dialogue to challenge existing ideas and behaviors, the corporate ethos becomes too dogmatic instead of being continually dynamic.

Which all comes back to this. The Army Future Force Concept plan recognizes and calls for a more decentralized focus and operations in the years ahead. The document is the framework for everything we do from the schoolhouse, to acquisition, to training, to operating, so it is critically important. It defines how the Army will spend it's resources - both human and material for a decade or more.

Decentralization requires trust. Trust requires a common understanding of the problem and accepts that there may be a variety of solutions. Trust recognizes that a solution may not work or have the intended outcome. The solution chosen will be based largely on the value system of the individual and their understanding of the ethical framework of the institution. The Institution is made of people who come from a particular time, place and environment - therefore their personal value systems are subject to change and be different than their superiors and subordinates. Recognizing that different generations can have different values and different views on how to solve a problem is key. Providing the opportunity for that interaction to occur is critical to operational success and relevancy. Tying all of that together in a commonly understood PME is the hard job of leadership.

The first 50 have been fun. I'm looking forward to the next. As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome.

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