Military Review English Edition July-August 2014 - Page 75

YOU ARE FIRED You are not the first commander that I have relieved during this deployment. I fire officers when they are an impediment to successful operations, to the command, and to my career. We all know how often our boss has removed officers, and that recently he has been very unhappy about our lack of operational progress. If I don’t fire you, he probably will fire me. When you assumed command, you probably made a list of your objectives, imperatives, and priorities— including those imposed by me, and maybe a second list of the things that could get you fired, but I doubt you anticipated this. Maybe you couldn’t manage your own time or priorities well because your bosses always imposed their own priorities. Nowadays, the public’s perception is as damning as hard evidence against a senior officer. Since a commander is held responsible for everything, it is easy to blame him for things outside his control, but you were not blameless even if there was plenty of blame to go around. Did you think that a Secretary of the Army would take the blame because some unsupervised soldiers were living in an untidy room in a motel about to be abandoned? Did you imagine that a brigadier general would be fired because a staff sergeant was running a cell of sadists? You should have seen the ax coming or at least prayed for enough luck to get through your assignment. We all know how critical luck is for success and survival in the military. Napoleon wanted all of his generals to be lucky, above all other traits. Anyone who rises to lieutenant colonel in the Army has been lucky and has had a successful career. The officers who rise further in rank often forget how lucky they have already been, and they come to believe that they are entitled to even more, like many people who inherit wealth. Some who are stupid survive by good luck, but your good luck ran out when that video went viral. As the senior commander, I set the culture of my command. My boss is a no-nonsense reliever of officers, and he expects me to be ruthless, too. Am I a toxic leader if I enable a threat-based command climate in which my subordinates expect instant and arbitrary punishment for less than outstanding performance? Like executing Admiral Byng on his own quarterdeck—as Voltaire said in his novel, Candide—the others are encouraged to do better, or else!1 Of course, if my officers are always looking over their shoulders, their MILITARY REVIEW  July-August 2014 fear and anxiety probably choke their imagination and initiative. So, what! We are engaged in combat, and unforgiving leadership is most appropriate for accomplishing combat’s short-term objectives. The operational force is like a big business that has only quarterly objectives—the burned out hulks of over-stressed employees attest to the leader’s anxiety for getting a good bottom line instead of building a cohesive management team. He has a budget instead of a strategy. The hierarchical nature of our military powerfully draws us into such bureaucratic behaviors and values. Scott Adams’ comic strip “Dilbert” represents the sociology of military-leader behavior better than most of our leadership courses wi