Academic journal article Military Review

Leadership: A Return to Basics

Academic journal article Military Review

Leadership: A Return to Basics

Article excerpt

The late 1970s and early 1980s were trying times for the US Army as it struggled to recover from Vietnam and establish a credible All-Volunteer Force. During these years, Army senior leaders tried various leadership theories and slogans. By 1980, however, they returned to more traditional leadership methods. In this July 1980 lead article, then Army Chief of Staff General Edward C. "Shy" Meyer reflects this shift as he distinguishes between leadership and management. While acknowledging a place for management in the Army, Meyer clearly stipulates the primacy of leadership in soldiering.

WHEN I BECAME CHIEF OF STAFF, I set two personal goals for myself. The first was to ensure that the Army was continually prepared to go to war, and the second was to create a climate in which each individual member could find personal meaning and fulfillment. It is my belief that only by attainment of the second goal will we ensure the first.

The most modern equipment in the world is useless without motivated individuals, willingly drilled into cohesive unit organizations by sound leadership at all levels. Expert planning, Department of the Army pamphlets, regulations and field manuals will not of themselves rescue the disaffected soldier from apathetic performance of his or her duty. Neither the soldier nor his comrades will survive the first challenge of either the modem world or of the battlefield outside a climate of active and concerned leadership. Because we are a community, a way of life, we cannot isolate our concern to only one of these environments. Our commitment must be complete if we expect dedication returned in kind.

The clear linkage is that our ability to go to war hinges critically on the quality of leadership within the US Army; leadership, what James MacGregor Burns called "one of the most observed and least understood phenomena on earth."1

Napoleon listed 115 contributing qualities in trying to define the essentials of leadership. We have no way of knowing if his description was complete at number 115 or if he was otherwise distracted. Some authorities focus on three, five or 10 aspects, while others, perhaps more wisely, begin and end their list with only one, or describe broad theories about leadership. None of these efforts is complete, yet none of them is useless either, if they assist the professional who already has a firm grasp on fundamentals to better understand and practice leadership.

Need for a Renaissance

Is there a need for a renaissance in the art of military leadership today? I think so. Not because I sense an Army starved for adequate example, but because the circumstances have been such over the past several decades that confusing models vie for attention. Some are woefully deficient and totally inappropriate for tomorrow's battlefield.

We need to discuss openly the fact that we have been lavish in our rewards to those who have demonstrated excellence in sophisticated business and management techniques. These talents are worthwhile to a leader, but, of themselves, they are not leadership. We need to discuss openly the impact that six-month command tours in Vietnam may have had on the perception of a commander's commitment. Under the circumstances of that war, it may have been unavoidable. In the process, have we eroded essential values?

We need to recognize that we have lived through an era in which this country enjoyed massive nuclear superiority. Previously, it was possible to accept less than optimal decisions in the certainty that very few things relating to land forces could be of critical consequence. That is, given our massive, nuclear advantage, only a madman would have challenged us directly. That is no longer the case. Today, we need sensitivity and backbone beyond that which the past several decades have demanded.

We need a renaissance in the art and practice of leadership because this country cannot suffer through the same agonies in a future mobilization which time permitted us to correct the last time around. …

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