Regulations mandating adaptiveness might be as useful as this report
unveiled earlier this month by a couple of Army generals: "Everybody turn left
and be creative."
Seriously, watching today's generals discuss how to improve
leadership development is a little like watching dinosaurs discuss how to
evolve. In bureaucratic terms, reports like this are called "moving deckchairs
on the Titanic" -- that is, lots of fiddling at the margins but very little
grappling with basic issues. For example, there is a lot of talk about mission
command, but no indication that they studied how other organizations
implemented and cultivated it.
This report missed an opportunity. It should have tackled
large issues. For example, two-career marriages are now the norm in American
society, but the Army doesn't recognize that in the way it runs its personnel
system, which seems stuck in the Industrial Age. What kind of signal does that
send about senior service leadership being out-of-touch and/or unable to deal
with today's realities? For that reason, and many others, it is time to move
the Army's approach to people into the Information Age. In the 21st
century it could be much more flexible than it is, offering features like
sabbaticals, maternity breaks, and the ability to return after trying the
private sector. That might keep some of the talent now fleeing.
Nor does there appear to be any reference to how the Army
conducted the last 10 years of war. I guess the Army's leaders think everything
went well. If not, maybe they could start by re-thinking the Army's bizarre rotational
approach to warfare, in which
commanders come and go. (One possibility would be alternating command teams at
the division level and above, doing one year in and one year out for the
duration, with different brigades rotating in below them. Worth thinking
Mr. Best Defense, you're so smart, what would you recommend instead? Glad you asked! Here are some thoughts, rooted in
historical research, about what I think the report should have said:
In a peacetime force, which is what the Army is about to
become, you preserve your seedcorn by emphasizing professional military
education. What do militaries do in peacetime? Train and educate. One reason
our senior leaders were better in World War II than in World War I was that
during the interwar period, the military education system was rigorous and
But a year in PME cannot be permitted to be the slacker
sort-of sabbatical that it has become in many places. (I'm looking at you, Air War College.) It
should be intellectually rigorous, with an intense reading load and lots of
writing (and re-writing until the paper is of acceptable quality. If you are
not writing clearly, you are not thinking clearly). Admission
should be competitive, and available only to perhaps the top half or top third
of the cohort. Grading should be serious, with no "A"s for effort. There should
be class rankings, released to the class perhaps weekly. At the end of the
year, class rankings from top to bottom should be made public. There probably
also should be a failure rate of at least 5 percent. And all these outcomes
should have consequences for the remainder of an officer's career.
The education should be of such quality that graduates of
staff and war colleges are sought after by senior commanders. They are not
today, under the "no major left behind" program. Having attended CGSC strikes
me as not something that commanders are demanding.
Teaching in PME should be a sought-after prize, not an act
of voluntary career curtailment. There is a reason that Omar Bradley spent the
majority of the interwar period as either a teacher or student in the military
education system. One thing I did like in the powerpoint was on slide 12: "Require
teaching in PME as a prerequisite for LTC and Colonel command." This is
interesting, but it wouldn't be necessary if the smart, ambitious officers knew
that teaching was a reliable route to the top.
The emphasis in PME should be not on training but on
education, on developing officers capable of critical thinking. This is
essential to prepare people for the unknown.
If you want adaptiveness in people, reward it. Others then
will emulate it. Distinguish between one-time failure and incompetence. Trying
and failing on occasion is an inevitable result of risk-taking. Incompetence,
by contrast, stems from persistent failure -- and paralyzes risk-avoidance.
What you want is prudent risk-taking. Performance, good and bad, should carry
consequences. Accountability will incentivize adaptiveness. Bureaucratic rules