Maj. Joseph Bruhl
Defense department of leadership studies
up, if I wasn't playing sports, I was building model airplanes or gardening
with my father. Both were captivating
exercises, but for different reasons. Building models was a drill in precision and attention to detail. Gardening was a complex experiment in give
and take. Both developed important
skills, but as a leader I return most frequently to the lessons of my father's
garden. Leaders who think like gardeners
are better equipped to adapt, reason creatively, and approach challenges with
humility than those who think like model airplane builders. Unfortunately, many in the army prefer
fabricating P-51 Mustangs to nursing tomatoes.
airplane building supports an "A+B=C" mentality that is familiar to many in the
military. Assemble the right tools,
carefully study directions (read doctrine), and work with exactitude. For the model airplane builder, nothing is
beyond his control. The only measure of success is: Does the model mirror the
however, do not possess complete control. Their craft is affected by a host of things beyond their control. Gardeners' crop output is graded, not on
exactitude, but on an ability to adapt, think creatively, and remain humble
enough to try new methods.
Like the gardener,
today's combat leaders understand that progress can be affected by a host of
things beyond one's control: historic feuds, dysfunctional institutions, and
even past mistakes by U.S. forces. Here
again, adaptability, creativity and humility are keys to success.
however, is not limited to the counterinsurgency fight. It is a timeless military model. To support the development of
"gardener-leaders," the army should do three things: develop a profession of arms that values
thinking, writing, and education; adapt its personnel system to support diverse
experience; and renew mentorship as a foundation to the profession of arms.
1. Developing a Profession of Arms that values education,
thinking, and writing:
Access to civilian
education for both officers and NCOs must be dramatically increased. Education develops a leader's identity, mental agility,
cross-cultural savvy, and interpersonal maturity. This is why universities are often analogized
to gardens, where minds are cultivated and ideas are the harvest.
importance of non-divisional assignments in an officer's professional
development. Assignments to the Army
Staff, the Combined Arms Center, and branch school houses are not "take a knee"
assignments; they are investments in the institutions that support our
profession and broaden
a leader's vision.
and NCOs to write and publish. In a
recent article, Admiral Stavridis offers some "common sense guidelines" to
consider when writing. Army leadership, following these guidelines,
should be pushing folks to write and share; there is a wealth of untapped
wisdom that will add richness to the army's intellectual debates.
2. Adapting personnel systems to support diverse experience:
The army must
transition its personnel systems from an industrial-aged model that views
leaders as interchangeable parts to one that manages talent on an individual
basis. In the absence of complete personnel system
overhaul, the army should allow officers who self-select for civilian
education, teaching, or internships to "slip-back" a year group or two in order
to avoid missing key developmental jobs in their operational specialty.
By adapting its
personnel system to allow officers to pursue opportunities that develop
"gardener-leader" skills without hampering competitiveness for command, the army encourages its best officers to broaden their experience. When officers who pursue opportunities
outside traditional career paths command more frequently, the army demonstrates
a new set of values to junior officers.
3. Renewing mentorship as a foundation to the profession of arms:
In a culture that
promotes "gardener-leaders," mentorship is critical. Model airplane building provides step-by-step
instructions for the novice to follow. Gardening is something that can only be learned through experience and
Lack of mentorship
appears near the top of many surveys to explain the decision of junior officers
to leave. To reverse this trend, the
army should include mentorship in its holistic review of the profession of arms. What better way to build adaptive,
creative, and humble leaders who reflect Army values than through active and
These three steps cultivate a culture where leaders
are not wedded to "the way we do things," but are able to adapt, think
creatively, and approach challenges with humility. All are "must haves" if the army expects to
apply the right lessons from the last decade and safeguard its profession of arms.
For more on this,
read the longer version of this article here.
Joseph Bruhl is a strategic planner in irregular warfare and security force
assistance at the army's Security Cooperation Plans and Concepts Division. He
holds a B.A. from Truman State University and an M.P.A. from Harvard. He is a Next
Generation National Security Leader fellow at the Center for New American Security.