5 Irrational Reasons Military Leaders Hate Red Teaming

The Long March
The Red Arrows roll upside down in tight formation during display training over their headquarters at RAF Scampton in Lincolnshire on May 31, 2008
Duncan Hull/Flickr

There are five basic reasons why leaders are fearful of Red Teaming. None of them are very good, but you need to know them so you can anticipate these objections. The U.S. military has some really insightful Red Teaming operations, but in my experience, the majority of Army leaders fail to embrace this work — and often reject it entirely.


  1. Leaders are confused on what red teaming actually is. They typically think red teaming is only Threat Emulation. In fact, while it does that, it also does many other things. It can help explore alternatives in planning, and point out weaknesses in an existing plan. It is a way to educate people to cultivate curiosity, while becoming more aware of their own  biases and patterns of faulty behavior. Used right, Red Teaming will help a team think differently and more effectively. 
  2.  Leaders are like many people: They simply do not like to be questioned or challenged. Some leaders view Red Teamers as the enemy looking to find a leader’s weakness. For some reason, they feel threatened when you ask “why?”--yet that is when Red Teaming is needed. When someone refuses to allow you to challenge them, just know you are being pointed in the exact direction where the challenge is needed. 
  3. Leaders fear they will be exposed as frauds. When you see that, keep in mind this saying:  “When what must be said can’t be said, multiply your risk by ten. If the denial is tainted by arrogance or fear, multiply your risk by ten again.” 
  4. By the time a problem reaches a leader, a majority of the relevant information and facts have been filtered out. A staff will simply data mine until they find the information they need to confirm a problem or course of action (this is known as confirmation bias). They will not know they need Red Teaming or have a problem until it’s too late. 
  5. Leaders like predictable and linear solutions and are not comfortable with ambiguity. Nor do they like to be reminded that life is ambiguous.  

Leaders who dismiss Red Teaming do not see a need to change as they will always have “yes men” waiting to please them. These people (yes men) are a virus. Red Teaming helps clean up such viruses, which is why staffs will support leaders’ decisions to simply avoid Red Teaming.  

Major Jamie Schwandt is a U.S. Army Red Team Member and Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt. He has served in various roles, such as an S3, Commander, and on the Army Staff. He is also an adjunct professor, a published author, and has a doctorate from Kansas State University.

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