Old Dogs Teaching New Tricks

By Vandergriff, Donald E. | Army, November 2007 | Go to article overview

Old Dogs Teaching New Tricks


Vandergriff, Donald E., Army


As Col. George Reed, U.S. Army retired, and I pointed out in our article "Old Dogs and New Tricks: Setting the Tone for Adaptability in me August issue of ARMY Magazine, an effective, relatively inexpensive solution to spur Army cultural evolution is for the Army to establish and implement the Adaptive Leaders Course (ALC) leader-development model. The good news is that the ALC is already being accepted by cadre at the Army's Basic Officer Leader Course II at Fort Sill, Okla., and Fort Benning, Ga., as well as by smaller leader-centric programs located within Cadet Command and throughout the Army. Because of the large number of e-mails in response to our article, many of which asked for more detailed descriptions of the ALC, I decided to write a two-part article on the subject.

This month I will discuss the major elements of how to develop adaptive leaders for the future: the Adaptive Leaders Course, the ALC program of instruction (POI) and the leader evaluation system (LES). Part two of this article will cover in more detail the centerpiece of the ALC, which concerns teachers of adaptability, through discussion of a certification process and implementation of tools that teachers can use to develop adaptability. Together, these elements form the beginning of the new leader-development revolution.

The ALC should be applied horizontally at any level of the officer education system, and in NCO and Army civilian education systems. Such a model provides guidelines that include how students are taught and evaluated (metrics), how senior-level leaders are created and taught to think about strategy and running large organizations, and-its most important feature-how individuals are selected and certified to teach. The ALC is the Army's opportunity to institute a process that moves beyond abstraction to a tangible method of instructing its leaders how to think rather than what to think.

Army leader-centric institutions or operational units should introduce the ALC as they remake their organizational environments into learning organizations. This is important, because it does no good to have a great teacher of adaptability if the command environment and the overarching Army culture remain stuck in the Industrial Age, playing the role of enforcer rather than supporter.

Institutions or units can apply the ALC with no additional resources and without lengthening the time given to today's leader-centric courses. The ALC avails itself of the insights and experiences of the Army's pool of combat veterans, developing adaptability through the rapid decision-making process using the experiential learning model. In addition, the ALC parallels the latest findings of the academic world in leader and cognitive development. The ALC program of instruction employs techniques that are "desirable difficulties," as pointed out by Dr. Robert Bjork in his keynote presentation at the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command-sponsored Science of Learning Workshop held in August 2006.

The ALC program also requires continual initiative and desire to train and help develop future leaders. The ALC is a cultural change, not a prescribed list of tests and exercises or stringent lesson plans and schedules. The ALC builds on the Army's core principles and values, referred to as the warrior ethos, and defined as the foundation for the American soldier's total commitment to victory in peace and in war:

* Placing the mission first, refusing to accept defeat, never quitting.

* Never leaving a fallen comrade behind.

It is a set of principles by which every soldier lives, and it assumes absolute faith in oneself and one's team.

The purpose of the ALC is to create leaders who understand and practice adaptability, while encouraging Army senior leaders to nurture this trait in their subordinates. A student who emerges from any leader-centric course that employs the ALC is adaptive and able to:

* Rapidly distinguish between information that is useful in making decisions and that which is irrelevant. …

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