Friday, October 28, 2011

Neller Responds

If you have followed my back and forth with LtGen Neller in the Marine Corps Gazette, you must read his article in this month's edition.  There is no blueprint for action, but he admits that the institutional leadership must listen to the "young turks," adapt where required, and explain their stance where they cannot adapt.  I don't think things will get better any time soon.  There are a whole host of toxic and incapable "leaders" that need to face the hatchet, or the firing squad, but won't.  And the politics and posturing only get more intense as the budget fights loom.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Security Cooperation: Understanding Our Partners

"Don't point this at me."
I work in the realm of security cooperation these days, which is much in vogue as we talk about drawing down our combat adventures.  In security cooperation, we seek to both prevent conflict by helping to build capable and responsible militaries, while also building partners' capacity to take up the fight with us or for us if needed.  This is all well and good if we maintain attainable expectations, but when we imagine that we can take our partners places they won't go, this leads to frustrations on both sides and vast misspent resources on our side.  Some of the background in the following post is taken from my forthcoming book, War, Welfare & Democracy: Rethinking America's Quest for the End of History, due out from Potomac Books in 2012.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The World According to Winnie the Pooh

I just watched the Winnie the Pooh movie with my wife and daughter.  Here's what I got out of it.  Unlearned people defer to leader figures who pretend to know more than they do, but really don't.  The leader figures, straining to understand things they cannot, tend to overblow evidence and create monsters, which reinforces their leadership role.  They blunder about in the woods for some time and in the end, end up doing more harm to themselves than anyone else does.  I think I need to take an extended vacation.

Monday, October 17, 2011

More on Leadership - You Have to Be a Leader Too

See my latest on the subject at this post.

While my post about leadership and management was generally well received and got record views, my rhetorical flourish put some people off while also supporting my thesis in a way.  Critics have characterized managers as meek block checkers and the sorts that ensure the TPS reports are duly filed and go on "making the ham sandwich" for higher headquarters, no matter how ridiculous the demand for the ham sandwich is.  Another comment was that managers manage things while leaders lead people.  These criticisms underline that we in the military know so little about management and are so put off by it due to bad management, that it is tantamount to being a dirty word.  Furthermore, I downplayed leadership in the post for several reasons.  One, military officers are steeped in rhetoric and education on leadership.  If you don't already "get it" to some degree by the time you're a mid-level company grade, you're probably a hopeless case.  Two, I'm an anonymous typist on here for most of you, so my focus on management may make me sound like a meek bean counter wannabe manager-as-leader.  I take leadership very seriously and I'm the last guy, in my mind anyway, to keep my head down and do the TPS reports.  In my billets, I did try to manage our metrics well and keep the blocks green, but I also stood up to stupidity to the limits of propriety (and sometimes maybe a little beyond).  Most importantly, I tried to make sure that we created the reality of the intent behind the green blocks and that this reality took priority over good numbers.  I think I'm a better leader than manager, and if I can't be equally good at both, I'd rather be better at leadership.  Third, in the blog post I focused on management and dissed leadership-as-a-parlor-trick to make a rhetorical point.  When you add all these together, I'm not saying that military officers should be managers first.  I'm saying that we collectively have a big leadership claw and a tiny little management claw.  What is more, we are not making an effort as an institution to develop the management claw.  The situation is so bad that management is seen pejoratively among many officers.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Lessons in Military Leadership: Learn to be a Manager

Update: I've answered some comments and added some thoughts in a new post here and hereA few years back, I was on a flight from Muscat, Oman to Spain. I was seated next to an Omani gentleman in his dishdasha and traditional Omani cap and gazed at the book I was reading, Joseph Nye's The Powers to Lead. In nearly perfect, British-accented English, he asked me about the book. I do not remember the details of the conversation, except that he dropped what I would later realize was a bombshell on me. He said something to the effect of, "Leadership is not that important.  Managing is what is really critical, and difficult." As a Marine officer, steeped in propaganda about leadership from the earliest days of my training and education (ductus exemplo being the motto of Officer Candidates School), I dismissed this as the mumblings of someone who didn't get it. I mean, clearly the guy was a pretty well to do businessman and he was going to Europe for business, but still, he didn't understand what leadership really meant. I've rethought my position since then.  Military officers as a class are atrocious at management.  This is the root cause of many of our most significant problems in the military today.  Caution:  This post is slightly rambling, but you're getting it for free on a Saturday.  Maybe a more focused and edited version may show up in the Marine Corps Gazette or other publication someday.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Whither the Public Weal?

During my whirlwind trip to DC this week, I was able to spend a few hours on the Mall, during
which I visited the fabulous National Gallery of Art. One of the most powerful displays in that impressive collection is
August Saint-Gaudens' tribute to Robert Gould Shaw. Shaw was the commander of the 54th Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, an all-black regiment immortalized in the movie Glory, in which Shaw was played by Matthew Broderick. The dramatization of Shaw's death in battle at the head of his African-American unit is an impressively moving piece of cinematography. The monument carved by Saint-Gaudens, though, is the greater artistic feat.

Two copies of his work exist, one outdoors in Boston and one in the National Gallery. I have yet to see the Boston monument, but the one in the National Gallery is breathtaking, dominating a room at one end of the gallery with its huge figures and flawless gold finish. Saint-Gaudens took inspiration from a painting by the French painter, Jean-Louis Meissonier, entitled Campagne de France 1814, showing Napoleon at the head of a mounted column in the snow, with infantry marching in the background. Saint-Gaudens, seeking to make his work as life-like as possible, used a host of African-Americans of varied ages as studies, with amazing effects in the finished work, the first one to depict African-Americans realistically in a monument.

For its main inscription, Saint-Gaudens chose the motto of the Society of the Cincinnati, OMNIA RELINQVIT SERVARE REMPVBLICAM - He forsook all to protect the public weal.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Black Hole of Real Thinking

Reading the Saturday Financial Times, I came across an article by Tyler Brule at the end of the Life & Arts section.  In reference to meeting with US corporations in New York, he bemoans the difficulty of deciphering "what marketeers have been attempting to say with their special language that borrows too much from a Pentagon strategy book rather than daily English."  This is not meant to complement the literary talents of the Pentagon.  Rather, it is an indictment of the shallow and jargon-filled collection of buzz words and platitudes that Pentagon strategy statements have become.  The combination of simplistic statements of strategic guidance and overly complex, specialized, and deterministic decision-making and planning models make for a muddle of policy that officers often place far more faith in than is warranted.