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.

A Purple Heart and Silver Star (Atlanta Journal-Constitution photo)

An Army veteran from Columbus claimed he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder after a deployment in Afghanistan that earned him a Purple Heart and Silver Star.

As a result, he collected $76,000 in benefits for the mental condition.

He admitted Wednesday, however, that all of that was a lie.

He was not deployed to Afghanistan, never suffered PTSD and never received the two honors, which are among the highest bestowed for military service.

Read More Show Less
Rep. Duncan Hunter (AP Photo/Denis Poroy)

SAN DIEGO — Days after Rep. Duncan Hunter pleaded guilty to a federal felony related to a yearslong campaign finance scandal, he has finally stated explicitly that he will resign from his congressional seat before the end of his term.

"Shortly after the holidays I will resign from Congress," Hunter, R-Calif., in a statement. "It has been an honor to serve the people of California's 50th District, and I greatly appreciate the trust they have put in me over these last 11 years."

Read More Show Less
A Coast Guard Aids to Navigation Team Kodiak boat crew displays their new 38-foot Special Purpose Craft - Training Boat in Womens Bay Sept. 27, 2011. (Coast Guard/Petty Officer 2nd Class Charly Hengen)

A collision between a Coast Guard boat and a Navy vessel near Kodiak Island, Alaska on Wednesday landed six coasties and three sailors to the hospital, officials said.

Read More Show Less
(U.S. Army/Staff Sgt. Jamarius Fortson)

The Navy has identified the two Defense Department civilians who were killed in a shooting Wednesday at the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard in Hawaii.

Read More Show Less
(U.S. Navy photo)

A shooting at Naval Air Station Pensacola in Florida has left four people dead, including the gunman, law enforcement officials said at a Friday news conference.

The shooter and two victims were killed at the base and another victim died after being taken to the hospital, said Chip Simmons, deputy chief of the Escambia County Sheriff's Office.

Another seven people remain hospitalized, including two sheriff's deputies who engaged the gunman, Simmons said at Friday's news conference. One was hit in the arm and the other was shot in the knee. Both are expected to recover.

Read More Show Less