Let's Do This: What Military Leaders Can Learn From 'Leeroy Jenkins!'

The Long March
U.S. Army/YouTube

“Alright chums! Let’s do this… LEEROOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOY JEEEEEENKIIIIIIIIIIINS!”


These are the hilarious words uttered by Ben Schulz, the creator of the “Leeroy Jenkins” World of Warcraft character. For those of you unfamiliar with Mr. Jenkins, I encourage you to watch A Rough Go - Leeroy Jenkins. Leeroy Jenkins offers us a metaphorical example of why we should embrace the role of what I call a "Chaotic Leader." I am not using the word "Chaotic" in a negative way, instead a "Chaotic Leader" understands how to operate in a VUCA environment. He or she understands how to scan the horizon for anomalies and how to adapt in a chaotic environment.

VUCA is an acronym introduced by the U.S. Army War College in the late 1980s. It describes the contemporary operating environment as:

Volatile - The nature and dynamics of change in the environment.

Uncertain - Surprise, sense of awareness, and lack of certainty or predictability in the environment.

Complex - Lack of a clear cause-and-effect and multiple interactions of a system.

Ambiguous - Mass confusion, lack of understanding, mixed meaning, and unfamiliar environment.

Professor Gregory Bunch provides a great discussion of VUCA in one of his lectures - The Strategic Leader in a VUCA World.  He informs us that great leaders can make quick decisions in mission critical situations. Bunch remarked, "The battlefield is volatile, it is an uncertain place, it's very complex, chaotic and ambiguous."

Bunch describes the concept of Fuzzy-trace theory (FTT). He says that FTT is the role of "verbatim" and "gist" and that they interact like that of an index for a database, where verbatim symbolizes large amounts of data, words, or numbers; whereas, gist is the one line, the essence, the key idea that summarizes the verbatim. Bunch brilliantly compares this to something as simple as trying to remember the lyrics of a song, where we can only remember a few lines. Those few lines are the gist and a simple Google search for those lines or gist now provides us the verbatim or lyrics in their entirety.

He describes it as, "You need data and detailed memory to come up with the strategy, but you have to get it down to the essential thing." Moreover, he says that it is the index triggering the database and great leaders possess a vast database (memory) but can cut to the chase by providing their people meaningful and memorable terse communication when needed.

This is important for military leaders because the gist allows us to work in a VUCA event. Being able to move back and forth from the gist and verbatim is like possessing x-ray vision. It's like a sniper scanning the horizon, or as Bunch describes it, "Great strategy helps you pay attention to what really matters."

The Chaotic Leader can see anomalies. They can see things that others can't. Essentially, they see the world differently than others. For me, Leeroy Jenkins is a good example of this. He is an anomaly and scanning for anomalies is like trying to make sense of the world. However, there are times when the Leeroy Jenkins approach simply will not work. This is where a sense-making framework is needed. Let's now turn to the Cynefin framework developed by Dave Snowden.

The Cynefin framework is a way for leaders to scan the horizon. The framework possesses five domains - I recommend reading Uncovering Hidden Patterns of Thought in War: Wei-Chi versus Chess for a deeper understanding of the framework. Let's examine the domains metaphorically along with simple rules for each.

Simple or Obvious (Sense-Categorize-Respond) – Clear cause-and-effect. We know the problem and the answer. We can use simple Troop Leading Procedure's (TLPs) to solve it. This is like playing a game of Checkers.

Complicated (Sense-Analyze-Respond) – This is the domain of experts. Here, we know what the problem is, but not the answer. We can use the Military Decision-Making Process (MDMP) or Lean Six Sigma (LSS) to solve the problem. This is like playing a game of Chess.

Complex (Probe-Sense-Respond) – This is where the Complex Adaptive System (CAS) lives. A Leeroy Jenkins approach might work in this domain. Here, we don't know what the problem is, but we know there is an answer out there somewhere. The Army Design Methodology (ADM) or Systems Thinking v2.0 (DSRP) are ways to solve complex problems. This is like playing the game Wei-chi (aka Go).

Chaotic (Act-Sense-Respond) – This is the domain of Leeroy Jenkins and is one where an understanding of cause-and-effect is typically useless. Here, we don't know the information, neither do we know what to ask. The techniques offered in the book Left of Bang: How the Marine Corps’ Combat Hunter Program Can Save Your Life  offer ideal ways to approach chaotic problems.

Disordered – This is the domain to avoid. Organizations can easily slip into this domain from any other and it is hard to identify when you are in this domain. It's like playing a game of Twister. A Leeroy Jenkins approach here might be the only way to identify if you are in this domain. It’s like sticking your finger into an ant hill and is similar to the Complex domain, where you have to probe to see what comes out.

An understanding of the Leeroy Jenkins or “We’ll do it live!” Bill O’Reilly approach allows leaders to act or probe to see what anomalies are present. Think of this like possessing an intuitive glance or what Carl von Clausewitz describes in On War as coup d'oeil. Leaders who possess coup d’oeil can discern, at a glance, the tactical advantages. I argue that the “Chaotic Leader” possesses the ability to see, at a glance, the anomalies present in the fog of war. They recognize and can act on opportunities emerging in chaotic situations.

Finally, you can agree or disagree with this discussion, but, as Leeroy says, at least “I have chicken!”

Maj. Jamie Schwandt, USAR, is a logistics officer who has served as an operations officer, planner and commander. He holds a doctorate from Kansas State University. This article represents his own personal views, which are not necessarily those of the Department of the Army.

WATCH NOW: Gen. Petraeus Reflects On The Iraq War

On a military base, a black flag is bad news. That means it's too hot outside to do anything strenuous, so training and missions are put off until conditions improve.

As the climate changes, there could be plenty more black flag days ahead, especially in Florida, a new analysis from the Union of Concerned Scientists found. America's military bases could see an average of an extra month of dangerously hot days by mid-century. In Florida, they could quadruple.

Pentagon data shows heat-related illnesses and injuries are on the rise in every branch of the military. Last year, nearly 2,800 troops suffered heatstroke or heat exhaustion, a roughly 50 percent jump from 2014.

"I think most of us, if we hear there are tens of thousands of cases of heat stress in our troops every year, our minds would go to where they were deployed," said Kristy Dahl, a senior climate scientist at UCS and the lead author of the study. "But more than 90% of the military cases of heatstroke happened right here at home."

Read More Show Less
In this March 12, 2016, file photo, Marines of the U.S., left, and South Korea, wearing blue headbands on their helmets, take positions after landing on a beach during the joint military combined amphibious exercise, called Ssangyong, part of the Key Resolve and Foal Eagle military exercises, in Pohang, South Korea. (Associated Press/Yonhap/Kim Jun-bum)

BANGKOK (Reuters) - The United States and South Korea said on Sunday they will postpone upcoming military drills in an effort to bolster a stalled peace push with North Korea, even as Washington denied the move amounted to another concession to Pyongyang.

The drills, known as the Combined Flying Training Event, would have simulated air combat scenarios and involved an undisclosed number of warplanes from both the United States and South Korea.

Read More Show Less

An opening ceremony will be held Monday on Hawaii island for a military exercise with China that will involve about 100 People's Liberation Army soldiers training alongside U.S. Army counterparts.

This comes after Adm. Phil Davidson, head of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, spoke on Veterans Day at Punchbowl cemetery about the "rules-based international order" that followed U.S. victory in the Pacific in World War II, and China's attempts to usurp it.

Those American standards "are even more important today," Davidson said, "as malicious actors like the Communist Party of China seek to redefine the international order through corruption, malign cyber activities, intellectual property theft, restriction of individual liberties, military coercion and the direct attempts to override other nations' sovereignty."

Read More Show Less

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump on Sunday told North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to "act quickly" to reach a deal with the United States, in a tweet weighing in on North Korea's criticism of his political rival former Vice President Joe Biden.

Trump, who has met Kim three times since 2018 over ending the North's missile and nuclear programs, addressed Kim directly, referring to the one-party state's ruler as "Mr. Chairman".

In his tweet, Trump told Kim, "You should act quickly, get the deal done," and hinted at a further meeting, signing off "See you soon!"

Read More Show Less

It is impossible to tune out news about the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump now that the hearings have become public. And this means that cable news networks and Congress are happier than pigs in manure: this story will dominate the news for the foreseeable future unless Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt get back together.

But the wall-to-wall coverage of impeachment mania has also created a news desert. To those of you who would rather emigrate to North Korea than watch one more lawmaker grandstand for the cameras, I humbly offer you an oasis of news that has absolutely nothing to do with Washington intrigue.

Read More Show Less