Leadership (III) -- Is It Simply a Question of Restoring the Warrior
Spirit or Are There Deeper Problems?


Comment: #208

Discussion Thread:  #s 206 and 207


[1] Email from Col YYY (AF Res), "A Question of Fairness," November 3, 1998. Attached.

[2] Email from Maj XXX (USA), "Response to Col YYY," November 3, 1998. Attached.

The email below expands on the question of how the personnel management system contributes to the Army's readiness problems. This issue was raised by Maj XXX's comparison of Dr. Faris Kirkland's insightful essay on leadership to Gen Moore's superficial lament about the loss of the warrior spirit. [Comment #206, References 1&2].

Chuck Spinney

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Reference #1

Email from a Colonel in the Air Force Reserves

Subject: A Question about Equality and Fairness

Chuck --

Great piece by Dr. Faris Kirkland. [i.e., Reference 1 to #206]

I was a little confused, however, by Maj XXX's observation that, "equality and fairness considerations degrade effectiveness..." Dr. Kirkland kept making the point that underneath effectiveness lies mutual trust. Can you really have mutual trust unless the system is perceived as fair and people have an equality of opportunity? One is reminded of Napoleon's observation about marshal's baton's in knapsacks. Granted, these things can be done poorly, and great sins have been committed in their name. But this does not invalidate the ideals of fairness and equality. Or does it?


Reference #2

Maj XXX's Response to Col YYY's Question about Fairness and Equality

Col YYY,

Thanks for you comments on my introduction to Dr Kirkland and General Moore's essays. I think the issues of "equality" and "fairness" lie at the heart of the officer leadership problem. During each promotion cycle, we identify the "cream" of our officers and make the "cut" by the date of rank of the annual group. This "cut" determines who goes forward and who goes out in that group. This policy creates a climate of permanent career anxiety, which undercuts moral courage and creates risk aversive leaders.

It is important to understand that the "fairness" and "equity" policies I refer to are based on theories of personnel management that evolved from management science as it applies to the civilian sector. Under this system, everyone is supposed to get a fair chance at career enhancing assignments. The same holds true for command assignments. So, officers compete from the time the are 2nd Lieutenants for the relatively few career enhancing jobs. This leads to constant job churning and ticket punching, and eliminates the chance for gaining deep experience in any particular job, which ultimately reduces of readiness.

This process begins when the commissioning sources "dumb-down" the officer selection process, in part based on the need to meet quotas. These selection priorities do nothing to identify people of strong character and moral courage. Ultimately, this hurts tactical ability, because the best tacticians and warfighters are people of strong character and high moral courage. So, rather than hunting for and selecting natural tacticians, the Army has created a selection process that ensures everyone can be tactician if they follow a checklist.

Designating a clear winners and losers in tactical exercises, and then basing promotions and command assignments of competitive field performance is not done in today's Army. In fact senior officers vigorously oppose this concept.

It is important to remember that today's personnel management system grew out of the mobilization experiences of World War II. But these experiences are no longer relevant for officer accessions in the all volunteer force of the post-cold war era. As a first step in restoring a sense of professionalism and character to the officer corps, we should reduce the size of the officer corps. A large reduction will eliminate the need to keep the middle and upper grades at bloated levels to support promotion opportunities for the entire system. We should make accessions into the officer corps and promotions tougher, and apply stricter selection standards based on testing one's ability to cope with tactical problems and decision-making problems. Officers should be kept in command positions for longer periods to build unit cohesion and learn the most difficult job in military.

Unfortunately, recent decisions indicate we are moving in the opposite direction.

The new division redesign, for example, was based partially on protecting promotion/career opportunities. None of the LTC or COL slots were taken away because of parochial concerns from the branches of the Army about losing command slots, but the number of trigger pullers decreased.

The current accession, assignment, and promotion policies fosters the same sense of self-centered CAREERISM that did so much damage in Vietnam, and it continues to set the drum beat on our future force structure.

With regard to your question about undercutting trust. It is a good question, but look how the current system has created an environment where many good officers see how the system favors courtiers, and careerists, and know the current system is NOT FAIR. That is one reason why the best troop leaders are punching out.

They are leaving because they know that warfighting qualities and soldierly excellence are not what get people promoted. In the end, it was these priorities and values that created the pusillanimity that became evident when the Joint Chiefs changed their tune from February to September regarding readiness. We need to reform the personnel management system into one that discourages careerists and courtiers while it creates professional corps based on the principles of selfless service, competition based on professional excellence, and moral integrity.

Active Duty Army Officer