Academic journal article Military Review

Developing Strategic Leaders

Academic journal article Military Review

Developing Strategic Leaders

Article excerpt

The Army has no choice but to face change. It's in a nearly constant state of flux, with new people, new missions, new technologies, new equipment, and new information.

Field Manuel 22-100, Army Leadership

REVOLUTIONS in military affairs (RMAs), whether spawned during peace or war, are accompanied by one constant--change. New enemies, new tactics, new uniforms, and new terminology, to name a few, will be scorned or embraced for whatever reason by whatever individual for centuries to come. During Vietnam, "killed in action" became "killed in hostile action" to make death more palatable for mothers and fathers at home. Last year, the Army's recruiting slogan "Be All You Can Be" became "An Army of One" to make the Army more palatable for the daughters and sons at home. The 1980s also seem to have introduced the less palatable term "risk-aversion"'- -the supposed new mentality that is plaguing American leaders, civilian and military alike. In a EJ.S. Army Command and General Staff College (CGSC) leadership lecture, a major asked about this new phenomenon and how the leaders of tomorrow are expected to handle it. The hesitant response, that this question wasn't "useful," though seeming politically correct at the time, appears quite appropriate. Upon further reflection, the real question, and one more useful though difficult to answer, is whether risk-aversion is really the problem.

Today's military leaders operate in a complex politico-military environment, and their decisions involve quite a bit of risk. Their success is hampered by what some observers perceive as an aversion to risk instilled early in their careers. Furthermore, military leaders often do not fully or correctly appreciate the diplomatic or international ramifications of their decisions or actions. The fear of making mistakes or taking risks combined with a lack of understanding for politico-military situations often leads to doing the wrong thing. Doing the wrong thing, even at the tactical level, can mean strategic disaster.

Doctrine alone will not enable strategic military leaders to develop the necessary decisionmaking skills to make the right decisions; however, a study of historical examples might. History provides numerous examples of leaders who failed at international politics and war because they did not appreciate a situation's diplomatic or military subtleties or because they were not astute risk assessors. The Anny's challenge is to grow young tactical leaders into mature strategic leaders who are capable of strategic thought and action in a complex politicomilitary enviromnent but who do not fear making mistakes or taking risks.

Doing the Wrong Thing

American military leaders, of of all services, are brought tip) in the belief that vigorous action saves the day, and it is always better to do something, even the wrong thing, than to take no action at all.

T.R. Fehrenbach

If the root of the problem is, in fact, doing the wrong thing, the modern leader will not find solace in the old school of thought that preferred action over inaction. Contemporary soldiers and a sensitive society no longer condone a wrong action over inaction that preserves a status quo. Military professionals, like all professionals, have come to recognize two categories of wrong actions: wrong actions resulting from incompetence or blind ambition, or both; and actions assessed as wrong from the viewpoint of hindsight, "hindsight being 20/20."2 With the processes of risk assessment and risk management ingrained in Army doctrine since the 1980s, the former sort of wrong action is unlikely.3 Far more likely, however, is category two, "an error or fault, a misconception or misunderstanding," or more commonly, a "mistake."4

The Army accepts that its people will make mistakes: "Any time you have human beings in a complex organization doing difficult jobs, often under pressure, there are going to be problems. …

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