An Officer and a Creative Man
By MARK MOYAR
Published: December 19, 2009
Leadership Survey Responses AS President Obama and his advisers planned their new approach to the Afghan war, the quality of Afghanistan’s security forces received unprecedented scrutiny, and rightly so. Far less attention, however, has been paid to the quality of American troops there. Of course, American forces don’t demand bribes from civilians at gunpoint or go absent for days, as Afghans have often done. But they face serious issues of their own, demanding prompt action.
The American corporals and privates who traverse the Afghan countryside today are not at issue. They risk life and limb every day, with little self-pity. Despite the strains of successive combat deployments, they keep re-enlisting at high rates.
The problems lie, rather, in the leadership ranks. Although many Army and Marine officers in Afghanistan are performing well, a significant portion are not demonstrating the vital leadership attributes of creativity, flexibility and initiative. In 2008, to better pinpoint these deficits, I surveyed 131 Army and Marine officers who had served in counterinsurgency operations in Iraq or Afghanistan or both, asking them each 42 questions about leadership in their services.
The results were striking. Many respondents said that field commanders relied too much on methods that worked in another place at another time but often did not work well now. Officers at higher levels are stifling the initiative of junior officers through micromanagement and policies to reduce risk. Onerous requirements for armored vehicles on patrols, for instance, are preventing the quick action needed for effective counterinsurgency. Of the Army veterans I surveyed, only 28 percent said that their service encouraged them to take risks, while a shocking 41 percent said that the Army discouraged it.
The climate of risk aversion begins in American society at large, which puts a higher premium on minimizing casualties than on defeating the enemy. It continues with American politicians and other elites who focus on the abuses at Abu Ghraib and Haditha in Iraq, but rarely point out the far more numerous instances of American valor.
It doesn’t need to be this way in the Army. After all, the Marine Corps has succeeded in inducing its officers to operate independently. More than twice as many Marine survey respondents as Army respondents — 58 percent — said that their service encouraged risk-taking. Marine culture is different because the career Marine officers who shape it are, on average, less risk-averse than career Army officers.
Researchers have found that the leadership ranks of big organizations are dominated by either “sensing-judging” or “intuitive thinking” personality types. Those in the former category rely primarily on the five senses to tell them about the world; they prefer structure and standardization, doing things by the book and maintaining tight control.
In the late 20th century, the Army gravitated toward standardization, as peacetime militaries often do, and consequently rewarded the sensing-judging officers who are now the Army’s generals and colonels. But this personality type functions less well in activities that change frequently or demand regular risk-taking, like technological development or counterinsurgency. Organizations that thrive under such conditions are most often led by people with intuitive-thinking personalities. These people are quick to identify the need for change and to solve problems by venturing outside the box.
Today, the Army has more intuitive-thinking people among its lieutenants and captains than at the upper levels. Too many of these junior officers continue to leave the service out of disillusionment with its rigidity and risk aversion. To their credit, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and the Army chief of staff, Gen. George Casey, have been trying to fix this problem, directing promotion boards to value creativity and initiative. But more drastic treatment is required.
The military should incorporate personality test results into military personnel files, and promotion boards should be required to select higher percentages of those who fall into the intuitive-thinking group. Many highly successful businesses factor personality testing into promotion decisions; the military, with far more at stake, should be no less savvy.
More immediately, our generals should repeatedly visit the colonels who command brigades and battalions to see if they are encouraging subordinates to innovate and take risks. Commanders who refuse to stop micromanaging should be relieved. The change may be disruptive and painful, but in the long run it will save lives and shorten wars.
Mark Moyar is a professor of national security affairs at Marine Corps University and the author of “A Question of Command: Counterinsurgency From the Civil War to Iraq.”
I served in another era innovation was encouraged by the Army, the old ways did not work, it was especially encouraged after Vietnam. The training programs seemed to be based on tactics that were not seen as effective in the mid 70s. We wer getting new weapons and new weapon systems, we are also transforming from a draft army to an all volunteer Army. Supposedly the troops were more motivated to learn. Going outside the "box was encouraged" instead of being told how to do it step by step, we were given an objective and told to "do it" and as the junior officers and NCOs we would be held accountable for the success of the mission.
You had leeway to try new tactics, to forget the manuals, you just better be prepared to explain it, when it went wrong, and sometimes things went wrong in every which way they could, but that also was useful we learned what was not possible or feasible and what the true cost would be if reality was on the line. ( do not order 150 yards of rope to scale down cliffs in the dark when it is 200 yards to the bottom, it gets ugly quick).
Sunday, December 20, 2009
An Officer and a Creative Man