The One Lesson On Leadership That The Military Needs To Embrace

Photo by Staff Sgt. Shejal Pulivarti

In 2012, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Tom Ricks, wrote an article called “General Failure,” followed by a book on the same subject, criticizing America’s recent military and political leadership for tolerating incompetent wartime commanders like generals Tommy Franks and Ricardo Sanchez. After two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, each longer in duration than World War II, Ricks wrote that exactly zero of the U.S. Army’s hundreds of generals deployed to the field were relieved for combat ineffectiveness. On Sanchez’s underperformance in Iraq from 2003 to 2004, Ricks shared the conclusion of history scholar and retired Army colonel Andrew Bacevich: “Had Sanchez been a head coach or a CEO, he would likely have been cashiered.”

Sanchez and his colleagues, however, were Army generals and not CEOs or executives.  Consequently, they never faced the consequences of underperformance from a dissatisfied corporate board or group of stakeholders. When it comes to enforcing standards and firing executives, as Ricks and Bacevich both note, the private sector seems to take more action than today’s U.S. military when dealing with ineffective or poor leadership. It seems dollars fuel more action than blood.

To understand this reality, it is important to understand that government organizations and private businesses do share a similar goal: survival. When that goal is threatened by competition, both public and private sectors make unpopular decisions in order to survive. During World War II, when the American government’s existence was threatened by the Axis Powers, Army Chief of Staff, Gen. George C. Marshall took action and fired many of his underperforming generals. Yet, following 1945, arguably no American war involved an attacking enemy (e.g., Nazi Germany or Imperial Japan) who threatened the federal government or the U.S. Army’s very existence; consequently, the top brass could protect underperforming generals without any real threat to the Army’s survival.

When the federal government and its military lack an existential threat, they hold a monopoly on power; thus, innovation and accountability are not essential for survival. In private business, however, where monopolies are illegal and competition is real, innovation and accountability are essential. To survive and prosper, ambitious private companies must promote innovative leaders, enforce their standards, and terminate underperforming executives. Companies who don’t do this — for example, Blockbuster Video — eventually lose to the competition and go bankrupt.

So what does this all mean for veterans?

If you are frustrated by a military culture that rewards seniority and resists change, then the private sector is for you. In order to survive and prosper, private companies reward performance and fight the status quo. Like the U.S. Army caught in total war with its existence on the line, the private sector — faced with perpetual threats from competition — hires, fires, and promotes with one primary factor in mind: merit.

Merit is brutal, merit keeps score, and a merit produces a leadership team that defeats the competition in order to protect a company’s prosperity, and ultimately, its existence. Simply speaking, merit means results. Whether a company sells goods or provides a service, it competes with other companies that do the same. Consequently, score is kept and future earnings, promotions, and job security are based upon the employer and the employee’s final score for each quarter or year.

Like a NFL football coach, and less like an Army general, in the private sector we are paid to win the game.

NEC Corp.'s machine with propellers hovers at the company's facility in Abiko near Tokyo, Monday, Aug. 5, 2019. The Japanese electronics maker showed a "flying car," a large drone-like machine with four propellers that hovered steadily for about a minute. (Associated Press/Koji Sasahara

'Agility Prime' sounds like a revolutionary new video streaming service, or a parkour-themed workout regimen, or Transformers-inspired niche porno venture.

But no, it's the name of the Air Force's nascent effort to replace the V-22 Osprey with a militarized flying car — and it's set to take off sooner than you think.

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)

Task & Purpose is looking for a dynamic social media editor to join our team.

Our ideal candidate is an enthusiastic self-starter who can handle a variety of tasks without breaking a sweat. He or she will own our brand's social coverage while working full-time alongside our team of journalists and video producers, posting to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram (feed, stories, and IGTV), YouTube, and elsewhere.

Read More Show Less
Photos: IMDB

The only thing Hollywood might love more than a good-looking man named Chris — heavy emphasis on might — is a war film. And in recent years, a primary constant in contemporary war films has been facial hair.

Read More Show Less

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared on Business Insider.

The legendary former Navy SEAL Adm. Bill McRaven said at an event on Wednesday that China's technical and national defense capabilities were quickly approaching — and sometimes surpassing — those of the US, representing what he called a "holy s---" moment for the US.

McRaven, who was the head of Special Operations Command during the 2011 operation on the Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden's Pakistan compound, said at the Council on Foreign Relations event that "we need to make sure that the American public knows that now is the time to do something" about China's rapid increases in research and developments in technology that threaten US national security.

Read More Show Less

If the Army's Next Generation Squad Weapon program is supposed to produce the iPhone of lethality, then the service is looking for as many killer apps as possible.

Read More Show Less