#89 A Craftsman's Touch

Throughout my Army career, there has always existed the idea that you can 'teach' leadership. All our schooling, both officer and non-commissioned officer, is centered around things that can be learned, memorized and then replicated. The teaching follows a very empirical, scientific and programmatic model. For example, I was raised to believe that there are essentially three types of leaders, directive, delagative, and combined. There were attributes and skills associated with each of the three types and the young NCO was supposed to be able to work with each of them as the situation required. Sometimes I would be required to be directive, sometimes I could be delagative and sometimes the task would require a mix of the two. The complexities of human behavior and interaction had been whittled down to 3 options. Of course, as brand new leaders, we were asked to describe which of those 3 options fit us best. Because no one likes extremes, most of us decided that we mostly worked in a combined manner but one that leaned heavily towards directive. I believe that this has a lot to do with a hidden realization that behaviorally Americans don't like, or respond well to autocratic people, but that the Army is in fact structured to support autocracy (which is clear and clean-cut) better than it supports the less clear forms of delegation or some variable combination of styles. Either way, a delagative style was not perceived to be a very strong option. You would hear a lot of, "I'm pretty directive with my Soldiers, they do what I tell them to do, when I tell them to do it." That statement would then be tempered with something like, "But if they already know the task, then I'll leave them alone and if there's a better way to do it then I'll let them try it." I still hear a lot of those same thoughts today from our youngest leaders. The concept of leadership in our Army is taught very clearly in analytical and scientific terms. Westerners like order, structure, and measurable outcomes. We prefer the assembly line over the craftsman. While there is an appreciation for the craftsman's skill and the beauty of his projects, there still remains the notion that his skill and the time it takes to produce one item is wasteful and that an assembly line approach will be better. I can sell one Rolls Royce, or I can sell one hundred Chevrolets.

This sort of assembly line model pervades everything we do. As soon as someone identifies a need for anything in the Army and that need is institutionally validated, the solution will be crafted in such a manner as to produce an outcome that can be replicated over and over. This is the whole notion of Task, Condition, and Standard. A need to train on this or that task is identified and validated. From that point an arbitrary condition will be created which will allow the developer to create a consistent measurable standard that can be applied uniformly across the entire Army spectrum. Every Soldier will be faced with this task, under these conditions, and be required to achieve this minimum standard. In fact, there is a whole subset of folks who work for the Army and their sole job in life is to develop the Tasks, the Conditions, and the Standards.

In light of this, I came across an article on the Small Wars Journal website last week by Col (Ret) Christopher Paparone entitled, "Design and the Prospects for Mission Analysis" that caught my attention. You can find the link here:


In general the article states that using an empirical scientific model, most conventional armies attempt to keep dissecting a problem into smaller and smaller bite-sized tasks (missions) that when stacked together become the building blocks that solve a strategic issue. The Soldier maintains his/her rifle. That rifle functions properly as the squad lays in an ambush position. The squad ambushes the enemy. The enemy is killed. The squad fulfills their portion of the platoon mission which fulfills their portion of the company mission, which fulfills their portion of the battalion mission etc until all those blocks together fulfill a national strategic objective. Col Paparone and others describe this as a "scientific method" or "empirical realism" view of problem solving. This is then compared/contrasted with a more personal, intuitive, and behavioral model which is termed "critical realism". The difference between the two as outlined in the article:

"From the viewpoint on left side of the continuum, tasks are ―mission-analyzable, that is they can be pre-programmed or planned. Organization theorist Charles Perrow called these types routine tasks (accomplished by standing, requisite organized capabilities—core competencies or, for the US military, ―METLs) and engineering (planning organized capabilities in combination—task organizations) tasks. Looking from the right side of the continuum, tasks are unpredictable and improvisational; hence, Perrow called these craftwork (the creative, improvisational use of already organized capabilities) or emergent (requiring the localized reforming into novel organizational entities) tasks."

Routine Tasks and Engineering Tasks vs Craftwork or Emergent Tasks

We lead human beings. Individual, emotive, thoughtful, distinct, people. No two are exactly the same. You cannot build an assembly line to produce the exact same model over and over. The 'scientific method' will not work when trying to influence people. People - and their development into leaders - is the work of the craftsman, not the stacking of thousands of parts that all come together to complete the aim of the organization.

This example might make more sense if you see the development of the leader as the 'strategic goal' of the mission. The institutional model of programmatic design stacks blocks on top of each other from the individual Soldier all the way up to the national interest, in the same manner that the scientific leader development model stacks finite options together to achieve some defined view of a 'leader'. What this scientific model leaves out are the idiosyncrasies and vagaries of person, the environment and the point in time that a leadership decision needs to be made.

This is a critically important realization. By using a 'scientific' quantifiable model of leader development we have essentially discarded a learning model that is much more well suited to creating thoughtful, adaptive, unique individual leaders with the skills, abilities and attributes we need for our current conflicts. I don't think most of our leader developers today see themselves as craftsman. They are more likely to view themselves as production line managers.

At this point I'd like you to go to the following link:


This article was sent to me this week by a colleague and it struck such a chord that I posted it to Facebook that night and it was picked up by BCKS the next day. Please be careful to both read the article and watch the video. The video will give people a really good view of some of the behaviors I was talking about in post #86, "One Clear Moment", but it should also make everyone consider the leadership methods were used in their own development and ask themselves whether or not those methods would work under the conditions described in the article. As powerful as the video is, the written portion is more important. Take the following paragraph:

"The day after the joint patrol, the 101st leadership met with Gerhart, Knollinger, Farnsworth, and Lachance for an after-action review, to discuss what had gone right and wrong during the mission. Gerhart flipped through index cards on which he’d prepared notes. His suggestions were sound—better hydration, classes on patrolling techniques and using radios, pre-patrol inspections of soldiers’ equipment—but his delivery was abrasive and accusatory. Why, he asked, had it taken the reinforcements from Combat Outpost Tynes six hours to show up after the first casualties were reported?

The IED threat was extreme, Tom Banister, the new unit’s first sergeant, said, and he hadn’t wanted to risk more heat casualties while trying to reach the compound on foot. So they ended up waiting for helicopters.

“I guess I’m just used to being out there with hard-charging guys,” Gerhart said.

Since arriving at Tynes, Banister had found himself in the bizarre situation of deferring to men who weren’t yet born when he’d joined the Army, 24 years earlier. He accepted that his and his soldiers’ learning curve was steep. But he couldn’t tolerate Gerhart’s near-constant impertinence, and the general condescension from the 82nd paratroopers toward their replacements. “We appreciate all you guys have done, we really do,” he said. “What I don’t appreciate, what gives me the ass, is your holier-than-thou attitude that we’re incompetent and unprepared for this mission. Roger. I got that. We’re a field artillery unit tasked with an infantry job. Are we going to take casualties? Hell yeah, we are. We know that.” His vocal cords tightened with emotion. He paused. “Don’t count us out,” he said. “We’re a fighting force. We’re not going to leave you hanging. We evacuated our guys, but we brought you 20 more.”

This is only one example from a very powerful piece about why leader development needs to take a much less 'scientific' approach and a much more 'craftsman' approach. For every reason laid out in a schoolhouse that 1SG Banister should have crushed SSG Gerhart's action and attitude, it is only his absolute appreciation of the immense challenges faced by this young leader that prevented him from doing so. He had to choose. The option for a directive style based upon seniority and rank was always available to him. But his ability to recognize that using that approach would not advance anything was critically more important. This speaks volumes about judgment, recognition, respect, value, candor, honesty and real vs perceived power than almost anything else I've read lately. At age 22, SSG Gerhart has seen things that many will never see in a lifetime. He is "One Clear Moment" personified. For Banister to understand that reveals a lot. And none of those revealing things were taught in any leader school he attended. I guarantee it. I've been to those same schools. Banister's ability to read, recognize, respect and move through what could have been a horrible interchange speaks volumes about the craft of leadership and acts as a powerful message about the need to replace in our schoolhouses task driven, black and white, yes or no approaches and start to replace them with an artist's perception, a craftsman's feel for how our leader development programs should be tailored. Gerhart wasn't even born when Banister joined the Army. Their exchange exemplifies what happens when everything else gets stripped away. They were dealing from a position of mutual respect and trust. Two guys, worlds apart trying to accomplish a mission. There is a lot of craftsmanship involved.

As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome.


  1. great blog.....complex and simple topic at the same time....simple from a standpoint that WE ALL just need to acknowledge that humans are complex/different (respect for differences....we all have heard that somewhere)....

    once you have acknowledged and internalized this point, then you can start to take steps to act on the complex nature of humans....

    I have beat the empathy horse before and will do it again now....since we are all so complex, it is MY (YOUR) responsibility to understand things from your perspective....you touch on this a bit in this blog in terms of mutual respect....

    the most difficult part of this is having to control or suppress our egos...we all have egos, and we need to have strong egos to be as good at our military craft as we are.....so the balance between ego and humility is where we need to get to....

    being the best leader we can be means being able to use and employ all the high tech hardware in our arsenal and being able to understand and lead our complex Soldiers....

    both take time to learn and practice....part art (craftsman) and part science.....


  2. Fen,

    As always, very insightful post...I would like to touch on one specific area, and request something in another. First of all, you mentioned that the Army has developed a set of tasks, conditions, an standards for each task that soldiers do.

    Task: Tells the soldier what must be done.

    Conditions: sets the stage for where, what materials are given to accomplish the task, and any other contributing factors that are present.

    Standards: a measurable outcome.

    Now, back to the human aspect of completing the task; we award our soldiers from going above and beyond the standards. We push our soldiers to exceed those standards.

    TCS are guidlines, but none the less, can't be discounted, because without them, the soldier wouldn't have a place to start, nor a measurable standard to excell past. This is why I'm such a big fan of outcome based training, but even this training has a measurabe standard.

    Anyway, "jumping off of the soapbox"....My second comment is a request.

    Leader Net, as you know, is using the Atlantic Magazine article that you provided as a priority discussion this month....I would be personally greatful if you would post your comments about the dialog between Bannister and Gerhardt, referencing the leadership traits that you've explained.

    I think that this would:

    1. Generate some opinionated discussions.

    2. Allow leaders to take a step back and evaluate their own leadership styles as well.

    As always, thank you for contnuing this blog, and your contribution to our Army's leaders!


  3. Bob - I will be glad to add the last half of the post to the Leader Net discussion this week. No issue.

    With regard to T/C/S, the problem arises when the 'how' of accomplishing the task is so restrictive that it only recognizes one way for the accomplishment to occur. I would also contend that by emphasizing the Task and not the learning that the task can produce we limit Soldiers to only 'going through the motions' without adding any behavioral context (the why). If a Soldier steadily improved their shooting throughout the day but still fell short of the minimum score, did they fail? The T/C/S community would say yes, but I contend that a lot of important growth occurred. As a leader we need to concentrate our efforts on that growth. The ability to influence behavior and increase the Soldiers ability to understand the context and apply learned skills within that context, will ultimately provide the Army with better Soldiers.

  4. Fen....well said....this gets right to Casey Haskins and Don Vandergriff's outcomes based training.....the crux of which is that our young Soldiers are quite intelligent and can figure out a lot of tasks on their own....and by letting them do that they actually LEARN more and faster.....plus, in some cases, we might learn a thing or two from them!!!!!