Leadership in the army
Today, the Army is full of leaders who don't know how to lead. Our school houses and in our units at all levels demonstrate this fact. Ask any Noncommissioned Officer (NCO) to recite the NCO Creed and the odds are very good that they will not know it. This is not to be unexpected. This same leader most likely never knew the Soldiers Creed when he was lower enlisted. Let's ask if this same "leader" ever had to compose some or all of their own NCOER. Or, if they've ever used the phrase "It's not on me", pronouncing to the world complete exoneration from all responsibility. Soldiers are not leaders when they do not know their core values, not provided direction or take responsibility for their actions and teams.
Currently, I am an instructor teaching the Advance Leadership Course (ALC) and Senior Leadership Course (SLC) to Soldiers ranked from SGT to SFC. I have seen firsthand, both as an instructor and as a member of a unit, that Soldiers today do not have a clear definition of leadership. They lack the skills to lead. No or poor mentors to learn from. Those who do get ahead have a mindset of “me first”. And finally, Soldiers are not leaning how to become "leaders".
Definition and Creed
Soldiers have an understandable expectation of their role as a leader when they have a clear definition of what leadership is. According to ADP 6-22 Army Leadership, "Leadership is the process of influencing people by providing purpose, direction, and motivation to accomplish the mission and improve the organization." (HQ, Department of the Army, 2012, p.1). Consequently, Soldiers know what rules to follow when they have a declaration of values. For Army leaders that declaration comes from the NCO Creed. According to the Headquarters, Department of the Army's (HQ, DOA) NCO Guide, "the creed implies responsibilities for conducting NCO business." (2015, p.1-8).
Today's leaders are more likely to give orders in place of purpose, direction or motivation. Soldiers would be better labeled as managers rather than leaders who depend on the power of their rank and not the virtue of their authority. The result of this is the development of small groups of individuals who look out for themselves. Rank is not a reason for others to follow direction. Rather, rank is the representation of wisdom, experience and the ability to lead others.
Good Army leadership encompasses both leadership and management skills. CPT Charles R. Gallagher claims that being good at one and not the other will lead to a proficient organization, with no purpose or a disorganized motivated one. (2019). This is to say that 50% is still a failing grade. Soldiers who connect with their followers and fail to accomplish the mission are just as inefficient as ones who have a perfect strategy nobody wants to do or does with half effort.
The 4th Brigade (BDG) of the 94th Training Division (TNG DIV) demonstrates both lack of management skills and a clear understanding of the definition of “leadership”. Currently this organization is under-strength for certified instructors. As it relates to management, this is a result of no or poor training. Similarly, it can take months or even years after going to a certification board to have approval to instruct. Leadership within the 4th BDG fall short of providing purpose, direction and motivation when: instructor’s orders are cut the same day as the report date, instructors at the battalion (BN) level are urged to report back to the 4th BDG without using the chain of command; and fail to provide or encourage recognition for above average performance and personal sacrifice. Ultimately, this leads to Soldiers, senior instructors mostly, not wanting to instruct and performing to the tiniest of their abilities.
Lack of Proper Tanning
Leadership is the proper execution of skills learned. This will include the ability to connect with and coordinate subordinates. Communication, problem solving, and time management are an example of these skills. Soldiers in positions of authority and Soldier others look up to are the primary sources of education for future leaders. When these “mentors” fail to teach or teach toxic leadership skills, it cements the poor attributes we see today. Additionally, our training institutes do not teach young Soldiers to be leaders.
The current Adjutant General (AG) course for ALC and SLC teaches the use of database systems, promotion procedures and other Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) skills. One major complaint given by students of these courses, aside from learning outdated information, is the lack of any leadership topics. Though there be some leadership themed lesson plans, because it is non-testable, they’re overlooked. These courses would be better named the Advanced and Senior Human Resources Course. An overwhelming number of instructors and students have one goal in mind, the procurement of a DA Form 1059, not how to become better leaders.
There seems to be an epidemic of not teaching applicable substance to individuals across the military force. As an instructor for the past six years I recently volunteered to attend the new CDF-IC. As a student, I observed firsthand how our institution is failing to teach substantial and applicable material. This is because some of these instructors never instructed outside of this environment. In other words, the blind leading the blind. Few topics discussed related to real issues that instructors are likely to see when they teach. Resulting in CDF-IF graduates failing the Instructors Evaluation Boards and not becoming certified. The outcome is the same when we fail to teach real leadership classes.
With the failure of our institutions teaching leadership skills, it is up to the mentors of our units to pass down their wisdom from one generation of Soldier to the next. However, toxic leadership is a weed growing within our ranks. ADP 6-22 defines toxic leadership as, “a combination of self-centered attitudes, motivations, and behaviors that have adverse effects on subordinates, the organization, and mission performance.” (2012, p.3). Furthermore, one article pointed out that 80 percent of surveyed officers and NCO’s have seen toxic leadership firsthand. (Doty & Fenlason, 2013). If officers and NCO’s are witnessing this behavior, then it’s safe to say lower enlisted are learning it.
Today’s army is lacking in good leadership due to the fact that Soldiers don’t know how to lead their troops and organizations. Though the Army provides a clear definition of leadership and an NCO Creed as a foundation to guide our leaders, too few Soldiers in a position of authority know or act on them. Instead, management skills and short-term thinking are developed and praised. However, as we saw with the 4th BDG, management skills can diminish over time creating a poor outcome.
Ultimately poor training and mentorship is the cause of this problem. When institutions do not train subject matters that are current, relevant and applicable to Armed Forces it feels to prepare soldiers to fulfill the role of leader. Intern, bad habits, or toxic leadership becomes the status quo and are pastime from one generational soldier to the next. It is the responsibility of instructors and mentors to remind and enforce the foundation.