Academic journal article Military Review

Leadership for the 21st Century: Empowerment, Environment and the Golden Rule

Academic journal article Military Review

Leadership for the 21st Century: Empowerment, Environment and the Golden Rule

Article excerpt

This January-February 1996 lead article is one of three Army Chief of Staff General Dennis J. Reimer has written for Military Review. His command philosophy is simple: Leaders should do "what is legally and morally right;" create an environment tolerant of mistakes and free of the zero-defects mentality, where soldiers can achieve their potential; and live by the "Golden Rule," which puts caring, respect and fairness for soldiers first.

"AT A STAFF MEETING one morning, the colonel reprimanded the post quartermaster because the parade-ground flagpole was not perpendicular. Then, pointing to a lieutenant, he snapped: `Lieutenant, if I told you to put up a flagpole and get it straight, how would you go about it?' `I'd say, sergeant, erect the flagpole,"' the lieutenant replied.1

The lieutenant in this story, Samuel Sturgis, went on to become a lieutenant general and the chief of Army engineers. This anecdote about him is not unique. Incidents like this happen every day in America's Army and help explain the essence of US Army leadership.

Secretary of Defense William Perry likes to relate a story about General Andrei Nikolayev, deputy chief of the Russian General Staff, when Nikolayev was on a two-week tour of military bases in the United States. After visiting the first base and seeing our noncommissioned officers (NCOs) in action, he told one of his aides, "I know that these men and women wearing sergeants' uniforms are really officers in disguise."2

But as he went from base to base and talked with the NCOs, Nikolayev came to realize they really were not officers. He was stunned and after two weeks told Perry that, "No military in the world has the quality of NCO . . . found in the United States." He went on to say, "That's what gives America its competitive military advantage." Our NCOs are one reason we have the best military in the world.

As the Army chief of staff, my fundamental duty is to ensure America's Army is trained and ready to defend the nation's security and freedom. I am also concerned with creating stability within the force after a long and significant drawdown. I want to create an environment in which all soldiers can "be all they can be."

Countering "Zero Defects"

Recently, I reviewed the Army Research Institute's (ARI's) command climate assessment, which was based on responses from more than 24,000 Active, Reserve and National Guard soldiers and civilians. While none of us will agree with all the assessment's findings, all of us will be troubled by the perceptions it portrays. Some excerpts from this report follow:

* The state of ethical conduct is abysmal. Few battalion commanders can afford integrity in a zero defects environment. Telling the truth ends careers quicker than making stupid mistakes or getting caught doing something wrong. I have seen many good officers slide into ethical compromise.

* There is a return to the "zero defects" and ticket-punching mentality of the 1960s and 1970s that nearly destroyed the officer corps.

* The Army is a zero defects organization.

* My concern is with some officers' attitudes. The problem is not division of officer and NCO duties. Granted, some duties are and should be interchangeable. Some officers, however, want to do it all. They want to conduct training, micromanage and have junior soldiers and civilians report directly to them. They are basically giving their NCOs responsibility and titles but not authority. I do not believe they do this because the NCOs or civilians cannot do their jobs. It is more of an officer efficiency report support form thing and crisis management.

These attitudes are disturbing-but not unexpected. The drawdown has been difficult for the Army. Since 1989, we have cut 450,000 people (Active and Reserve) out of the force. This has been hard on soldiers and their families. What is amazing is that through the drawdown, we have remained trained and ready. …

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