By Jörg Muth
Best Defense directorate of mission command
Thank you for posting the link to
the annual survey of Army leaders. To answer your question I think we
should start worrying now. While the report was exhaustive, transparent and
well crafted, it came from within the system and thus suffers heavily from betriebsblindheit -- company blindness.
That is a notable German word that describes the inability of a person who was
forever with a company to see certain problems. I read the report with the eye
of the sociologist, historian, and Army fan.
The first worrisome fact is that only 15.7 percent of uniformed
personnel were willing to take part in that survey. It is most likely that many
of two major groups whose responses would be most important did not reply --
those in combat units because they are too busy and those who want to get out
anyway because they are too disillusioned already.
There are discrepancies in the findings that are not solved.
When 70 percent of the leaders rank the leadership capabilities of their superiors as good, why do only half of the questioned want to emulate the behavior of their
leaders, and why are only 44 percent able to learn from them? After all, 70 percent point out that
their superior leads by example.
How is it possible to get so many favorable ratings on
leaders when 58 percent of those who think that the Army heads in the wrong direction
reflect that the Army is unable to retain the best leaders, and only 44 percent think
that the personnel promotions are accurate? The same level of identified toxic
leaders over the years shows that there is something wrong with the system of
weeding out incapable leaders.
Surveys like this from active duty soldiers need to be
corroborated with surveys from officers who left the service because they
believed the good leaders were not promoted. There was a survey not long ago
for West Point officers who left the service and they gave that as their second
most important reason to leave, just after the Army bureaucracy (82 percent).
Especially the agreement to leadership capabilities expressed in higher ranks
points out to the tendency that those who were the most streamlined were
Obviously most (85 percent) leaders of the current survey showed
false confidence in their cross-cultural interaction abilities because the
feedback from foreigners about behavior of U.S. Army officers is way less
If the leadership is so outstanding, why do only 43 percent of
those stationed in Iraq or Afghanistan rate the morale of their unit as high or very
high? Samuel Stouffer in his seminal sociological work, The American Soldier, had recognized
in 1949 that in such surveys you need to distinguish between combat and
non-combat units. I predict that the leadership ratings for combat units will
be way worse if they were singled out for this survey. It is easy to lead by
example a staff stationed in a FOB, compared to a rifle company in Helmland,
Afghanistan. The tail of the U.S. Army is by now so big that only a fraction of
the leaders served in combat units, yet they are the most crucial.
Morale seems to be an issue and that needs to be addressed.
91 percent of the Majors and Colonels claim to be satisfied with their careers, yet
their personal morale level is at 63 percent (high or very high).
The idea of the survey is excellent, but what can be done to
improve it next year?
- Make it shorter instead of more detailed to
motivate soldiers to participate. Focus on key leadership elements.
- Bring in experts who know the Army but are not
in the Army for an out-of-the box perspective.
- Distinguish between combat and non-combat units.
- Corroborate the data of the survey with other
surveys, especially from soldiers who have left the Army.
- Give room for quality answers and not only
closed questions. Before World War II, the German Army routinely used to ask its
juniors officers during the district defense examination for their opinion on a
certain topic and thus got a wealth of valuable input and creative ideas to
Jörg Muth, PhD, studied History, Sociology, the Law and Peace- and Conflict
Studies. He is an expert on the US Army -past and present. Jörg is the author
Culture: Officer Education in the U.S. Army and the German Armed Forces,
1901-1940, and the Consequences for World War II. The book was placed by the Army Chief of Staff, General Raymond T.
Odierno, on his professional reading list. In June Command Culture received the 'Distinguished Writing Award' of the Army
Library of Congress