#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.

#88 It Seems So Simple

Yesterday on Facebook I came across a link to a video presentation by COL (Ret) Jim Helis of the U.S. Army War College given on September 8, 2010, entitled "An Introduction to Clausewitz". I decided to watch it to see what is being taught at the Army's premier senior leader development school.  If you are interested you can find the link to the video here:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AA8PUzLcacs

(If for some reason, the link doesn't work, you can go to You Tube and type US Army War College into the search bar.  The video will be towards the top of the page.)

Toward the end of Dr. Helis' presentation there are a series of slides that seek to clarify Clausewitz's theories in bullet form.  With regard to the role of theory, Clausewitz said:

"Theory is used to clarify concepts and ideas that, as it were, have become confused and entangled."

"Theory is used to educate the mind of the commander."

"Theory is used to illuminate all phases of warfare in a thorough critical inquiry."

The next slide outlined Clausewitz's thoughts on all previous military theory...

"Previous attempts at theory are absolutely useless."
"They aim at fixed values, but in war everything is uncertain."

"Dominance of psychological forces and effects."

"War is a continuous interaction of opposites."
In the final slide that caught my eye, Dr. Helis outlined some key ideas of Clausewitian theory.

"War is an instrument of policy."
"Battle is the decisive means in war which is "An act of force to compel our enemy to do our will."
"Friction and fog are inevitable, which together can bring chance and uncertainty into play."

A final bullet that caught my attention was the idea that in war there exists a "Play of chance and probability within which the creative spirit is free to roam"

What struck me about these quotations is how simple they are.  "War is an act of force to compel our enemy to do our will" Well, duh!  What else would it be?  "Friction and fog are inevitable, which together bring chance and uncertainty into play." Welcome to my everyday life!  These quotes seemed almost self-evident to me and seemed to beg the question why is Clausewitz considered one of the greatest military theorists of all time?  This stuff is pretty obvious.  And then it struck me.  Like any other scientific theory, the beauty of Clausewitz may lie precisely in it's simplicity and universal appeal. He is speaking much more to the art of observation, consideration and thought and much less to the science of maneuver, mass and structure.

So then I started to turn the idea of simplicity towards leadership.  Could it be that leadership
is not really all that hard after all?  Maybe all we need to look for are the basic principles of leadership and accept that the manner and method is really just technique.   Has the Army confused leadership with management and tried to replace the dynamic environment of human interaction with the structural environment of institutional management?  Maybe, like Clausewitz stated we could use theory "to clarify concepts that have become confused and entangled." Consider these ideas....

1.  You lead people.  You manage structures. (Seems pretty obvious)

2.  In leading people, there must be an understanding that due to individual free will, there will always be friction, uncertainty, psychological interaction and chance. (This is an intuitive understanding that people do not really think about.)

Pretty simple ideas actually, but they are both layered with complexities that deserve a lot more consideration.  For example, the recognition that leadership happens on human terrain, while management happens on structural terrain.  If you take that idea and look at the Army or any other large entity, one thing you will find is an effort to impose the structure and it's ethics and norms, on the human terrain.  We call it order and discipline.  It is, at it's core, a restriction of individual free will by the structure in order to increase efficiency.  Willful or not, the structure works against free will.  The quest for an orderly structure - the perfect system - works against the the development of individual people.  Almost our entire military education system is built upon learning how to manage the structure, not lead the people.

Take the second thought, that in order to lead people there must be an awareness and understanding that they retain some level of individual free will and because of that there will always be confrontations of interaction, uncertainty of understanding and the ability to take advantage of chance and circumstance.  This is leadership completely independent of the organizational structure.

I think these ideas are pretty important.  As I have mentioned in the last couple of posts, some very senior Army leaders are starting to look at how we lead.  The idea that, as Gen Dempsey stated, "There are weak signals out there." Maybe some of our ideas on leadership have become overly confused and entangled but there is beginning to be an awareness that our concentration on structure and roles has had a significant impact on the people.
If you look at the Army leader development schools, at least the ones I have attended, they paid scant attention to the difference between leading people and managing structures.  What the institution called 'leading' a squad, platoon, company etc was actually a series of classes on how to efficiently manage it.  How to use this or that tool, program, or process, to increase it's efficiency and effectiveness.  The study of the people was not part of the curriculum.  More importantly, neither was the study of ourselves.  There was an assumption that each of us was fully formed in our understanding of the human being that we are and the human beings that we led.  There was no real recognition that all human beings retain some degree of free will that will effect their interaction with the structure and can lead to friction and confusion. The behavioral problems we are struggling with now may be a result of not providing titular leaders with the ability to recognize and deal with this friction.

To bring this idea forward, go back and look at a lot of the people issues I have been mentioning lately such as suicide, domestic violence, the allure of combat, drug and alcohol abuse etc.  It seems to me that there is a possibility that we may be struggling with these human issues because almost all of our study and consideration has been on the structure of the institution and not the basic principle that we lead human beings who posses free will and individual orientations towards their world.  Maybe if we spent more time looking at the basic premise that leadership is vastly different than management we could begin to effect some necessary changes that the institution is struggling with.  Maybe these are Gen Dempsey's 'weak signals' and LTG Caslen's recognition of the need for candor.

Watch what happens when you replace some words in Clausewitz's theories:
Leadership is the continuous interaction of opposites.

In leadership everything is uncertain.

The very first sentence of FM 1, "The Army" is, "First and foremost the Army is Soldiers." That is a very profound sentence because it recognizes the primacy of the human being and recognizes that without the people, there is no institution.  We have a tendency to overlook that when we make statements such as "the Army is bigger than the individual."  When we do that we are replacing the primacy of the person with the primacy of the institution and thereby rendering the opening line of FM 1 untrue. This has also led directly to the concentration in our leader development programs on the institution and not the people.

Free flowing thought:  The Army is people...People possess free will and independent thought...Human interaction leads to the friction and fog of differing orientation's...Leadership may be the continuous interaction of those differing orientations...There must be a primacy of psychological understanding...The outcome of leadership at the human being level is uncertain...The structure imposes it's own force on the individual in the form of management.

If you accept the thoughts above, then the recognition that we need to change our 'leader' development strategies to do three things become clear.  First, we need to separate leading and managing.  Second, we need to accept that a significant portion of leadership is the recognition of the psychological forces that work upon the individual.  Finally, there is need to study the area where human being leadership and institutional management intersect.  The solution to most of our current struggles with behavioral issues is most likely hovering around this intersection.

As Clausewitz recognized, a theory is used to clarify concepts and ideas that have become confused.  While my thoughts above are not complete (and have likely added confusion, not clarifying it), they do meet certain criteria for a theory of leadership.  They are universal and they are simple.  What seems obvious on the surface however, is actually very nuanced and complex.  By looking at the institution and its' effect on the people and then looking at the people themselves, and most critically by advancing our self-study and orientation, we can likely gain a wider understanding of leadership and it's applications in a dynamic world.

As always, your thought and comments are welcome.