Retaining And Empowering The Army’s Leaders

Written by on March 7, 2011 in Frontier 6 Sends - 9 Comments
Retaining And Empowering The Army’s Leaders

On February 25, 2011 Secretary of Defense, Robert M. Gates, spoke to the cadets at United States Military Academy, West Point.  Speaking to our future leaders, he emphasized several important, interrelated Army issues to consider:  the future of conflict, and the implications for our Army; how to best institutionalize the diverse capabilities that will be required; and the kinds of officers the Army will need for the 21st Century and how the service must change to retain and empower those leaders.

Emphasizing the first major challenge, Gates explored how the Army will need to structure itself and what we must be able to do after our combat forces drawn down in Afghanistan, and what that means for our new young leaders entering the force. He also stated we must attempt to predict the nature and location of any future military engagements and what combat power and number of forces will be needed to support any of these engagements.

Second, utilizing lessons learned, Sec. Gates asked how we might institutionalize what we have learned from our military engagements and adapt these practices to our forces.  As Army professionals, we continue to demonstrate the development of expert knowledge and leadership to support any mission solving complex problems while mentoring and training our force.

Another of Sec. Gates’ concern was that of retaining and empowering the Army’s leaders. Further, how the Army can break up the ‘institutional concrete’ its bureaucratic rigidity in the assignments and promotion process to retain the best, brightest and most battle tested officer to lead the Army of the future?  He also mentioned the frustration our junior leaders must feel coming home from Theater where they were given tremendous responsibilities in a combat environment, to seemingly miniscule “preparing power point slides” levels of responsibility back home in garrison.  “The consequences of this terrify me”, he said.

I encourage you to read his speech Gates Address to West Point Cadets, February 25, 2011 and consider the key points as we strive to retain and empower you our leaders of today’s Army:

  • What do you think the future of conflict will look like?
  • What are its implications for the Army?
  • How we might institutionalize the needed capabilities to support these missions?
  • Is the personnel system “numb” to individual performance?  How should we change it?
  • How do we motivate our junior leaders as they transition from Theater environments and responsibilities to much less levels of responsibility here in garrison.

Discuss this with your peers in classrooms and provide your dialogue to this blog. I look forward to your feedback.


9 Comments on "Retaining And Empowering The Army’s Leaders"

  1. markcrowson April 27, 2012 at 8:52 pm ·

    To institutionalize the diverse capabilities required in future conflicts, I suggest that we de-institutionalize our institutions. By that I mean make our learning institutions more like our operating forces in the way we exercise governance of them.

    Our forces operate under the principles of mission command — intent, trust, initiative, empowerment. Our institutions are governed by processes and policies driven by an affinity for doctrine, standardization, predictability and efficiency.

    As a first step, let’s recognize that instructors are leaders. As such we should entrust and empower them to use initiative and apply judgment within the bounds of intent as expressed in the form of a learning objective. Success requires that they be carefully selected, thoroughly prepared and competently led.

    Next, let’s recognize that leader development in schools is fundamentally not very different from leader development in units. It either context leader developmet is the product of examples, opportunities, feedback and some teaching now and then. The examples our leaders set; the opportunities we are given to display leader attributes and competencies; the feedback we get afterward and some teaching to fill the gaps.

    Eventually we will need a way to resource our institutions as rapidly and effectively as we do our forces. That implies some loss of predictability and efficiency, I’m afraid. It might be possible to bring market forces to bear on learning institutions, but only if we are willing to introduce competition and choice. Maybe a simple application/admissions model for PME in place of mandates/forcing functions.

    Diversification of collective capability will arise naturally if we cultivate, nurture and capitalize upon diversity of individual ability.

    Mark Crowson

  2. chris November 13, 2011 at 6:00 pm ·

    Sir, My thoughts reference your question:
    What do you think the future of conflict will look like and what are its implications for the Army? With the army in a phase of persistent conflict and with the additional force structure cuts, my feelings are if we continue down the same road of trying to fight two conflicts simultaneously we will end up with Soldiers doing three, four, maybe even five rotations. This will be even more detrimental to our future force than it is today given the U.S. seems to be involved with every conflict in some shape form or fashion. As other bloggers have pointed out, Joint Operations and the use of FSO will be in our favor; however, as Chief of Staff GEN Odierno pointed out (in Army Times 11 NOV 2011) “if we continue to whittle away at our capacity, they (Soldiers) could get frustrated and leave the force. That would leave us to have a significant hole in the center of the force and that’s our leadership.” This is of major concern as we may repeat the hallowing effect of the Army, which occurred prior to the Gulf War. Hence, leadership will suffer.

    Sir, my second point deals with the impact on the Reserve Component:
    In addition, as a Reserve Officer, I recently read in the Army Times (14 NOV 2011) that that the Guard and Reserves could be cut as well. Considering the operational costs of the Guard and Reserves versus the Active Component, I do not see the cost savings in reducing the Reserve Component. The Citizen-Soldiers are typically being paid for 12 Battle Assemblies/Drills and 14 to 30 days of Annual Training and are available for a call-up 24/7. My thought process is if the Active Army is being cut, than additional reliance on the Reserve Component will be necessary. I do not think the Reserve Component will be able to support future conflicts as well in the future if they are being cut and will likely be utilized even more.

    MAJ HIll

  3. jdsmith September 15, 2011 at 8:25 pm ·


    My thoughts regarding your questions:

    •What do you think the future of conflict will look like and what are its implications for the Army? We do not know what we do not know. Future conflict can and will manifest itself in ways we cannot imagine. That said, we need Soldiers and Leaders who are agile and capable of action across the full spectrum.
    •How we might institutionalize the needed capabilities to support these missions? We need to re-prioritize institutional education and reward its place in leader development so that we change the attitude of “checking the box.” Additionally, revitalize the curriculums so they are challenging and relevant.
    •Is the personnel system “numb” to individual performance? Yes. How should we change it? We need a broad-based discussion/conversation to determine the most equitable and best ways to balance individual/group performance in the short term and long term.
    •How do we motivate our junior leaders as they transition from Theater environments and responsibilities to much less levels of responsibility here in garrison? Focus on leader development through effective, meaningful mentorship. Tie their deployment experiences to garrison evironments as key themes are enduring.

  4. jimwherry1 August 28, 2011 at 5:41 pm ·

    Toxic Leadership.

    As a civilian Army Legal Assistance attorney, unfortunately, I see my fair share of Soldiers who come in, complaining about some action taken by their leadership which is simply contrary to regulations. I’ve practiced for more than 20 years, so I know enough not to believe everything my clients tell me. But what I am told is often the case. When I ask Administrative Law attorneys about what’s going on in the case, they often say, “Sorry, Jim, I don’t know: the Commander never asked my advice, before he or she did that. Let me call them.”

    BLUF: Commanders can do much to “empower themselves.” Commanders who make sound decisions that are based on common sense and follow Army regulations and Army standards will be respected and entrusted with responsibility. To empower Commanders, I need to ask Commanders to please consult with your Trial Counsels and Administrative Law attorneys, before undertaking actions that you are unfamiliar with. It’s why we hire them and pay their princely salaries.


    - Jim Wherry
    Chief of Legal Assistance
    U.S. Army in Alaska

  5. jeffc August 10, 2011 at 8:40 pm ·

    All us Junior Leaders want it Time and resources. We just get back from a
    year long assignment, and our year of being back in garrison consists of
    14-hour work days, days to weeks in the field at a time, all to prep for the
    next deployment that is a year later. There is no time for anyone to
    de-stress on weekends, because they have to get ready to go to the field or
    plan a range that isn’t a priority. And the weekends, we get about 1
    taken away a month for Staff Duty, and one weeknight taken away for Staff
    Duty. The only thing we do on Staff duty is write Storyboards that
    ultimately get pushed to the side, because the Company Commander knows more
    about the situation and writes a more in-depth Storyboard. Also, we conduct
    security checks (that the NCOs do every 4 hours).

    The Resources aspect is that the Brigade and Divisions want us to conduct
    all this training to check the box. We aren’t given proper resources so we
    have to notionally run through scenarios with the soldiers. The soldiers
    forget about it because it was a waste of time for them, because they feel that higher up does not care about them and they only care about “numbers”. Also, the junior
    Officers feel like they just wasted all this time planning something that
    was an utter failure. The only thing we get out of all that is “good Job”.
    Money like the other people said doesn’t matter. If any of the Jr LTs went
    in the ARMY for that, they made a bad decision. We all know we won’t be Rich by joining the Army.

    I know many LTs and Jr. CPTs feel that the Battalion CMDR, Brigade CMDR, and Division CMDR are so distant from the soldiers, they do not know what really is needed. They are surrounded by people that want a good OER so they come up with a great idea that gets twisted and warped as it goes down the Chain of Command. This creates an insane OPTEMPO that is not needed for the Drawdown we are having. The commanders mentioned above need to sit with LTs from all different units and discuss their problems and how to improve them.


  6. ADMIN June 3, 2011 at 7:48 pm ·

    April 19, 2011 7:20 AM DELTA7 said:


    My bottom line thought is if you love the Army then it wouldn’t matter what you are called to do. If you’re in this Army because you truly love what you do and the impact you make on others opposed to selfish reasons, then deploying and fighting shouldn’t be an issue nor should cranking out power point slides. Our young leaders today are learning to be innovative and creative in all areas of combat, however are given less opportunity to function in a garrison environment. Your average lieutenant has deployed at least twice maybe three times. Their garrison time has been focused on training for combat. I think when the draw down happens these junior officers will be relieved to finally see how operations are conducted in a garrison environment. It will give them the opportunity to enjoy the simple joys of life and family, which can not be done between rotations. I’m not saying all will stay, some will elect to move on and try something different but those you truly believe in this Army will stay no matter what challenges are set them. I truly believe in that cliché “Whatever doesn’t kill you will only make you stronger, in mind, body, and soul”.

  7. ADMIN June 3, 2011 at 7:47 pm ·

    April 14, 2011 4:08 PM jason.bender said:


    want to point out an article by GEN Dempsy in a recent Armed Forces Journal re: building critical thinkers:…/5663450. I’m sure you’ve already read it since he touches on Design. While the article speaks to our need to develop and educate future army leaders, I feel it misses a crucial point. GEN Dempsey emphasizes the importance of critical thinkers being historically-minded, but it goes beyond that. Critical thinkers must also be grounded in theory and doctrine in order to fully appreciate the implications of what it is they plan or recommend.

    Historical context is important, there’s no denying that. GEN(R) Paik Sun-yup, the Republic of Korea’s first 4-star general, commented on the importance of historical context when he pointed out in his book From Pusan to Panmunjon Japan’s invasion of the Korean peninsula in 1592 using a split force w/out unity of command and maintaining their supreme HQs on Japan-proper. He points out the lesson from 1593 when the Chinese involved themselves as the Japanese approached modern-day Pyongyang and ultimately ejected the Japanese from the peninsula later the same year. GEN Paik’s commentary was in response to Far East Command’s execution of the Korean ground war in 1950, commenting on why the 1950 involvement of the Chinese near the Chosin Reservoir was such a surprise, since the FEC was doin the same thing in 1950 that the Japanese did in 1592-3. In Paik’s mind, anyone grounded in history would know that. The problem the FEC faced, however, was one of historical context – Asian history wasn’t relevant to them at that point, but should have been.

    Each situation is unique in time and circumstance, and while historical context is important, it isn’t the penultimate aspect of military professional development. W/out a foundation in doctrine and ability to compare useful theory, a critical thinker will be nothing more than an adherent of the old adage ‘To ignore history is to repeat it.’ Existing leadership training expounds doctrine, lightly covers history – sometimes to the point of only cursory study w/out expansion of lessons learned and how those lessons came to be learned – and for the most part eschews theory. Leaders today do not know the theoretical underpinnings of most concepts, or when to deviate from existing doctrine when the theory fails to account for current events. Without theory, doctrine and history are far less useful than when the three are combined. Design, more than anything else, stresses this and it’s what’s heavily advocated at the Army’s School of Advanced Military Studies (SAMS). History alone won’t show thinkers where the where the lines are (bounding the problem), or where lines need to be expanded (reframing) in order to ‘think outside the box’. I’ll argue that this phrase – ‘thinking outside the box’ – is irrelevant. Anymore, military critical thinkers need to first define the box in which they find themselves before they can even consider what theory, history and doctrine fits or doesn’t fit inside that box.

    In multiple articles and lectures in the late-1990s, historian Williamson Murray comments that the ‘muddy-boots’ leader is the ultimate representation of the military soldier, but especially of the officers. He subsequently comments on the need for more officer intellectuals and argues that true critical thinkers are the ones that should be wearing the muddiest boots. Murray’s assertions are even more relevant today after ten years of continual war. It is entirely possible to be a warrior and an intellect; the two are not mutually exclusive. As we build tomorrow’s ‘bench’, GEN Dempsey is absolutely correct to assert the need to identify those professionals that exhibit the qualities needed in tomorrow’s critical military thinkers. But emphasizing education in historical context isn’t enough. Th

  8. ADMIN June 3, 2011 at 7:46 pm ·

    April 6, 2011 2:53 PM MAJ Ron Anderson said:


    I would like to share an opinion on one specific question that you pose about incentivizing individual performance.

    Beyond personal and professional pride there is little career or monetary reward for being a top tier performer. Roughly four-to-six percent of each cohort is selected for promotion below the zone at each rank. I would assume that it is in the Army’s best interest to retain officers who are squarely in the top 25%, 15%, 10%, 5%. There are few incentives to retain the talented tail of the bell curve. That Officer who was “three away from making the BZ cut” will get paid the same and promoted at the same rate as the officer who was “three away from being passed over.”

    I submit that the Army has a systemic problem with the business practice of managing the top 10-20% officer.

    Example: two outstanding officers whom I have served with were nominated for black book assignments and nominative positions as “reward” for their performance and their potential. Both of the officers got the jobs for which they were nominated. Congratulations – you need to be here in 2 weeks and 5 weeks respectively.

    These outstanding officers both had homes to sell and babies under one year of age. Both officers rucked up and moved out and that’s why they are top 10% officers. (For full disclosure, both were selected for BZ promotions after the nomination process had completed)

    My thought is this: How does the Army expect to retain its best officers when the reward is a great job but a an extremely painful cost to the family?

    My support that it is a systemic issue: Both jobs were one-year assignments which means that we knew there was a need to fill the position, but did it at the last possible moment. Those two officers are both due to rotate out this summer and there has been no effort to start finding their replacements. This equates to two more top 10% officers and their families being rewarded with a great job at a terrible expense to the family.

    I have been privileged to serve with several very talented officers. My last battalion commander was a BZ officer in a joint assignment coming into command. He had a three day window to PCS his family from Tampa to Drum because of bureaucratic rules. My last BDE commander had his assignment change four times in the span of as many weeks which resulted in a one week window to PCS (which he prepped for while he was TDY).

    The top officers are selfless servants. However, the Army’s business practices for rewarding the best officers takes advantage of their service and dedication with painful consequences stemming from the reward.

    Being at the extreme right end of the bell curve I am certain you have had to endure your share of very painful rewards. But as an institution based on systems, we have the ability to develop better management tools and rewards for the ” best, brightest and most battle tested officer.”

    Thank you for your time.

  9. ADMIN June 3, 2011 at 7:45 pm ·

    April 1, 2011 5:28 PM MAJ Rob Richardson said:


    In response to your questions about Secretary Gates’ speech, these are my thoughts.

    In my mind, the future of conflict for the Army lies in many realms. Our enemies, both current and potential, are adaptive, intelligent, and not necessarily confined by geographic or informational boundaries. Preparing to fight our enemies and defend the nation is our primary mission as an army, but as the Secretary alluded to, our predictions of who and where the enemy will be have been wrong nearly 100 percent of the time since World War 2. We, as an army, need to be prepared to fight multiple enemies, in multiple theaters, and at multiple levels of the spectrum of conflict simultaneously. Our most likely enemies will not sit idly by while we deal with one regional conflict, they will do their best to act while other things distract us. The main thing we need to remember, I believe, is that we will not be doing it alone. Joint, combined, coalition, interagency, and intergovernmental forces will be part of our future operations, no question. The CTCs, with a renewed focus on Full Spectrum Operations, appear to be leading us down the right path towards a multi-faceted and complex operational environment for training. The inclusion of more allied forces in our exercises as a means to prepare our BCTs and Divisions to operate in their most likely environment is something I believe we need to consider.

    This inherent necessity for operating with other services/nations is why I believe that there is potentially more benefit in focusing on our relationships with our friends across the globe than trying to define whom our enemy will be and how we will fight them. As demonstrated by the current situation in the Middle East and North Africa, our relationships with our friends have done more to prevent situations from deteriorating into chaos and genocide than our military capacity to enter the country and provide security. The Army’s longstanding relationship of training and exchange with the Egyptian military was a powerful stabilizing influence in what could have deteriorated into a very dire situation, as it has in Libya, requiring outside intervention to protect a populous from its own leadership and armed forces. My point here is that the Army may do more to earn its pay in the coming years of reductions in budgets and manpower by increasing its focus on military diplomacy rather than gadgets and technology as a means to solve problems. We are already very good at this, but with the proper resources applied, we could be better.

    The implications of this for the Army are that we must be able to provide adequate forces to deal with near-peer enemies while still wholly occupied in COIN or Stability operations in a different part of the globe. We have demonstrated that this is possible with multiple COIN/Stability operations over the past ten years. However, how prepared are we to be involved in major, long duration, combat operations like the ones that would be likely on the Korean peninsula while still engaged in Afghanistan? The ARFORGEN process is a good start to regain flexibility and resiliency, but will it adequately resource a Combatant Commander with the forces he needs if the situation arises. The days of being able to fight two wars in two different theaters are most likely over, but we must prepare to be decisively engaged in all theaters at different levels of conflict simultaneously.

    I believe that institutionalizing the intellectual capabilities we need for our future has already occurred through our adoption of doctrine that acknowledges that there is more to war than tank on tank combat. Most of our doctrinal manuals now reflect that fact. FMs 3-0, 5-0, 6-0, and many others are vastly different in their scope and focus than when I first entered the

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