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The One Lesson On Leadership That The Military Needs To Embrace
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.
A Marine grunt stationed in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina is being considered for an award after he saved the lives of three people earlier this month from a fiery car crash.
Cpl. Scott McDonell, an infantry assaultman with 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, was driving down Market Street in Wilmington in the early morning hours of Jan. 11 when he saw a car on fire after it had crashed into a tree. Inside were three victims aged 17, 20, and 20.
"It was a pretty mangled wreck," McDonell told ABC 15. "The passenger was hanging out of the window."
‘I made promises to the people that I lost’— How the Iraq war forged a Navy SEAL’s path to Harvard Medical School and NASA
Navy Lt. Jonny Kim went viral last week when NASA announced that he and 10 other candidates (including six other service members) became the newest members of the agency's hallowed astronaut corps. A decorated Navy SEAL and graduate of Harvard Medical School, Kim in particular seems to have a penchant for achieving people's childhood dreams.
However, Kim shared with Task & Purpose that his motivation for living life the way he has stems not so much from starry-eyed ambition, but from the pain and loss he suffered both on the battlefields of Iraq and from childhood instability while growing up in Los Angeles. Kim tells his story in the following Q&A, which was lightly edited for length and clarity:
New Vietnam War movie 'The Last Full Measure' takes some well-deserved shots at the military’s award process
Todd Robinson's upcoming Vietnam War drama, The Last Full Measure, is a story of two battles: One takes place during an ambush in the jungles of Vietnam in 1966, while the other unfolds more than three decades later as the survivors fight to see one pararescueman's valor posthumously recognized.
With ISIS trying to reorganize itself into an insurgency, most attacks on U.S. and allied forces in Iraq are being carried out by Shiite militias, said Air Force Maj. Gen. Alex Grynkewich, the deputy commander for operations and intelligence for U.S. troops in Iraq and Syria.
"In the time that I have been in Iraq, we've taken a couple of casualties from ISIS fighting on the ground, but most of the attacks have come from those Shia militia groups, who are launching rockets at our bases and frankly just trying to kill someone to make a point," Grynkewich said Wednesday at an event hosted by the Air Force Association's Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies.