Academic journal article Military Review

Real Lessons Learned for Leaders after Years of War

Academic journal article Military Review

Real Lessons Learned for Leaders after Years of War

Article excerpt

THE PAST 10-PLUS YEARS of war have provided numerous opportunities for the Army to capture lessons learned for the future of leader development--for both officers and NCOs. How many and which of these lessons the Army will translate into actual content, curriculum, and pedagogy in Army schools or leader development programs is unknown. This article examines the Army as a learning organization and recommends the Army include studies on the human dimension in leader development schools and programs.

How We Learn

Because the Army is a learning organization, it is imperative that it learn from its history--both the good and bad. Such common reflective practices as after action reviews, leader feedback, coaching, and performance counseling all speak to a learning organization. Additionally, the Army currently has numerous knowledge networks under the AKO umbrella for military functions such as intelligence, fires, medical, maneuver, signal, and religion, as well as the Center for Army Lessons Learned and the Battle Command Knowledge System. These venues are top-down and bottom-up forums that disseminate and share information from the Army to the Army. On the Internet, are forums that share lessons learned and best practices at the grass roots and junior officer levels. All of these forums empower users to share insights and lessons learned, but that information may or may not become institutionalized in formal instructional, educational, or training material.

In his seminal work on the subject, The Fifth Discipline, Peter Senge, one of the leading teachers and proponents of learning organizations, defines a learning organization as one "where people continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire, where new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured, where collective aspiration is set free, and where people are continually learning how to learn together."

He adds that learning organizations are possible because--

   Not only is it our nature to learn but
   we love to learn.... Most of us at one
   time or another have been part of a great
   team, a group of people who functioned
   together in an extraordinary way--who
   trusted one another, who complemented
   one another's strengths and compensated
   for one another's limitations, who
   had common goals that were larger than
   individual goals, and who produced
   extraordinary results.... The team that
   became great didn't start off great--it
   learned how to produce extraordinary
   results. (1)

Senge proposes that learning organizations be grounded in "developing three core learning capabilities: fostering aspiration, developing reflective conversation, and understanding complexity." (2)

Nothing in Senge's thoughts or words is contradictory to what the Army wants to achieve today or be like in 2025. In fact, Senge's ideas may help the Army learn more effectively and get where it wants to be in 2025 and beyond in terms of real, intentional, and systematic leader development.

What Senge discusses supports our Army's leader development doctrine, and the doctrine supports what he writes. The Army Leader Development Strategy (ALDS) for a 21st Century Army (25 November 2009) calls for a "balanced commitment to the three pillars of leader development: training, education, and experience ... our leader development strategy is part of a campaign of learning. It seeks to be as adaptive and innovative as the leaders it must develop." The campaign needs careful, thoughtful analysis of what constitutes learning and how to achieve it. Three critical aspects of a learning environment are content or curriculum, pedagogy (the art and science of teaching), and the student's willingness to learn.

David Kolb's learning-styles model describes different ways that individuals learn. All of them focus on some type of reflective thinking about what individuals experienced, read, or heard. …

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