An officer and a creative man

An officer and a creative man - Mark Moyar, New York Times opinion.

As President Obama and his advisers planned their new approach to the Afghan war, the quality of Afghanistan's security forces received unprecedented scrutiny, and rightly so. Far less attention, however, has been paid to the quality of American troops there. Of course, American forces don't demand bribes from civilians at gunpoint or go absent for days, as Afghans have often done. But they face serious issues of their own, demanding prompt action. The American corporals and privates who traverse the Afghan countryside today are not at issue. They risk life and limb every day, with little self-pity. Despite the strains of successive combat deployments, they keep re-enlisting at high rates. The problems lie, rather, in the leadership ranks.

Although many Army and Marine officers in Afghanistan are performing well, a significant portion are not demonstrating the vital leadership attributes of creativity, flexibility and initiative. In 2008, to better pinpoint these deficits, I surveyed 131 Army and Marine officers who had served in counterinsurgency operations in Iraq or Afghanistan or both, asking them each 42 questions about leadership in their services. The results were striking. Many respondents said that field commanders relied too much on methods that worked in another place at another time but often did not work well now. Officers at higher levels are stifling the initiative of junior officers through micromanagement and policies to reduce risk...

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Schmedlap:

Agree that the article isn't all that coherent. I just wanted to emphasize that there is a culture on high that is not in the best interest of the Army -- and state that the Marines have their own problems...

"they are not feasible for the reasons you cite, and his added solution of senior leaders getting down into the weeds of "how" missions are executed, rather than the 5 W's is just an attempt to cure micromanagement by way of more micromanagement."

Totally agree with that.

I have no idea why I typed "glut." Is there an antonym that starts with "g" or rhymes with "glut"??? I blame the glut of egg nog.

Dunno. I thought maybe you were cueing on gluts, as in gluteal muscles of which the Gluteous Maximus is the largest and whose location frequently seems near the average micromanager's cranial location.

Thanks for reminding me I have not yet made the Nog; I need to get right on that... ;) .

Ken,

My issue is that he rightly identifies that "[t]he climate of risk aversion begins in American society at large, which puts a higher premium on minimizing casualties" and he then goes on to say that the solution is to put more intuitive thinkers in command. That doesn't make any sense. If casualties can hinder the mission more than less audacious operations, then the prudent commander will trade audacity for safety. Personality and intuition are irrelevant in that case.

Granted, he also cites the alleged lack of intuitive thinkers as another problem, as you point out. But the manner in which he reached this conclusion is weak, at best. But given that you agree and your observations of the trend beginning in the mid-70s pre-date my birth, I'll concede that for the sake of argument. But even conceding that, his solutions make no sense because they are impractical (test-takers will study what types of answers to give, rather than answering honestly), they are not feasible for the reasons you cite, and his added solution of senior leaders getting down into the weeds of "how" missions are executed, rather than the 5 W's is just an attempt to cure micromanagement by way of more micromanagement.

I have no idea why I typed "glut." Is there an antonym that starts with "g" or rhymes with "glut"??? I blame the glut of egg nog.

Michele Costanza,

There is not a way to compensate for the disparity being tipped against intuitive personalities in the American population. However the Army does not need all of its combat leaders to be intuitive. There will continue to be a need for structured leaders in the military.

The west becoming a more risk averse culture may be the root of the issue. This would take a change in the western education systems, probably needed but unlikely. The Army is a reflection of society, this reflects the cultural environment. As Rob offers preparing the remaining 70% to better recognize an opportunity to become more intuitive in the military education system may be a possibility.

Schmedlap:

I didn't perceive the article as you seem to have done. He presented a problem, risk aversion, true -- though one could argue the cause of that aversion, it certainly exists.

I would suggest a large part of it is attributable to societal pressure (not the same thing as 'public expectation') and, while there are many other contributors, I suggest one is distrust of subordinates due to too much individual rotation in units, therefor depriving the leaders of knowledge of subordinate capabilities; another is our mediocre state of training leading to lack of faith in subordinate knowledges and skills...

I didn't get a connection between that shortfall and the intuitive leader. You say:

"He argues, instead, that our risk aversion is the result of a glut of intuitive thinkers at higher ranks and, as a result, the junior ranks, which are allegedly more highly populated with intuitive thinkers, are having their initiative stifled.

According to Ms. Lyle, my fourth grade teacher, a glut is an excess -- I didn't get the impression he thought the senior ranks of the Army had too many intuitive leaders, in fact what he said was "In the late 20th century, the Army gravitated toward standardization, as peacetime militaries often do, and consequently rewarded the sensing-judging officers who are now the Armys generals and colonels. But this personality type functions less well in activities that change frequently or demand regular risk-taking, like technological development or counterinsurgency." That makes sense to me; he's saying that the judgmental types who are the senior folks are stifling some of the junior Officers who are intuitive types.

Don't know about you but I saw that trend start in the mid-70s -- toward the judgmental types -- and through the 90s watched them (todays GOs) select similar types to advance -- those would be todays LTC / COL. Thus I think he's spot on. The judgemental types want metric or empirical data, proof that a plan will work. as one wag put it; "...they like to write history instead of make it."

No matter how you couch it, too many senior people do adversely impact innovation and decry initiative. That is fact.

As for intuitive types, no one should get wrapped around the Psycho-babble. If 30% are intuitive, good for them. No worries, though, the other 70% can be trained to be almost as good. Many who are intuitive are not necessarily good at warfighting; some who are good at warfighting are not intuitive.

What's really needed for superb performance is the intuitive type who has a real talent for combat. My guess is that less than 10% of all humans fit that template. Intuition is great but the combat skills come with practice and even then, recall that warfighting is an art, not a science. Most can do it, many will do it fairly well, only a very few will ever be superb.

As I said above, immaterial, largely. Congress will not allow the Army to get that picky in personnel selection and assignments short of an existential war.

Left an important assumption out of my previous post: they need to be 384 PURELY RANDOM samples.

I think it's reasonable to concede that the statistical methodology may be correct, for the sake of discussion. I really doubt that the NYT would have permitted an op-ed piece to be published if it was written like a peer-reviewed article with an entire section detailing the statistical sampling and means by which questions were drafted.

In spite of that, the conclusions are highly debatable, because he presents a problem (risk aversion driven by expectations of the public) and proposes a solution that bears no relation to it (finding more intuitive leaders).

He asserts that "a significant portion" of officers "are not demonstrating the vital leadership attributes of creativity, flexibility and initiative." Through a survey, he concludes that the problem is worse in the Army. That identification of the problem is open to debate. Keep in mind that he dedicated a full paragraph to explaining why the Army, if the allegation is true, succumbs to risk-aversion:

"The climate of risk aversion begins in American society at large, which puts a higher premium on minimizing casualties than on defeating the enemy. It continues with American politicians and other elites who focus on the abuses at Abu Ghraib and Haditha in Iraq, but rarely point out the far more numerous instances of American valor."

Inexplicably, after identifying this issue, he then ignores it completely and asserts the issue is something completely different. He argues, instead, that our risk aversion is the result of a glut of intuitive thinkers at higher ranks and, as a result, the junior ranks, which are allegedly more highly populated with intuitive thinkers, are having their initiative stifled. His solution is to incorporate personality tests from which we can select people whose test results reflect the personality traits that we deem, for whatever reason, to be more appropriate. The notion of personality testing and preferences for people whose test scores reflect intuitive thinking raises a lot of questions - particularly ones of the steps that leaders will take to prepare for the test to ensure that their test results reflect the "right" personality traits. It also omits such factors as intelligence, hard work, values and morals, and a slew of other factors that can render personality moot.

Im still trying to connect the dots on this one. We are risk averse due to the expectations of American society, so the solution is to... find more intuitive leaders? Anyway...

He also decries micromanagement but goes on to advocate for general officers to "repeatedly visit the colonels who command brigades and battalions to see if they are encouraging subordinates to innovate and take risks. Commanders who refuse to stop micromanaging should be relieved." Hello? Micromanagement?

How about you give your commanders an ambitious mission and intent. Perhaps give them some milestones to ensure they remain on the right "glidepath" so that they fit appropriately into the bigger picture. If they fail or perform poorly, then you relieve them or give them an OER that ensures their next duty position is within their level competence. Why the need to stick your nose into their business to see not only whether theyre accomplishing it, but if theyre doing so in a manner that you subjectively approve of for reasons unrelated to the mission and not stated in the FRAGO? Ive had commanders who did that. They did not have intuitive personalities, nor were they creative, dynamic, flexible, or willing to encourage initiative. They were micromanaging buffoons of the very type that the author asserts we have too many of already.

You need about 384 samples in a population of 1.4 million to achieve 95% confidence in the data.

Professor Mark Moyars OP-Ed in Saturdays NYT is a good start at a problem within our Army, but thats it - its a start.

There are several problems within the article. 1. The survey population is too small. 2. The survey lacks the diversity in both skill set and rank to accurately assess what Professor Moyar is trying to assess. 3. He appeals to emotion too much and not enough fact - I realize this is an OP-Ed and not a full book (which he writes as well). 4. Relying on past experiences (and those of others) is the basis of intuition/intuitive leadership.

1. The survey population is too small. To make an assessment of this magnitude of two organizations containing 1.1 million and 240,000 (US Army and US Marine Corps respectively) you have to take a sample of greater than .000097%. You cant make a statement like "Marine culture is different because the career Marine officers who shape it are, on average, less risk-averse than career Army officers" with a survey sampling of 131 of 1.4 million. Similarly, I dont think that with his numbers Professor Moyar can make a statement like "Today, the Army has more intuitive-thinking people among its lieutenants and captains than at the upper levels." Of course, when I was a lieutenant I thought that I was smarter than the battalion commander and my company commander combined. Who wasnt?

2. Professor Moyar works at the USMCs Marine Corps University so unless hes going outside of that population of majors and colonels attending the MCU, hes not sampling the people that hes talking about. To be able to make some of the claims that he makes, he needs to go down to Quantico to the Expeditionary Warfare School for a year with trips to Benning, Knox, Sill, Leonard Wood, etc to obtain the data that he would need for a survey of this size. (Bio of Professor Moyar http://www.markmoyar.com/About.php) Again the statement about "more intuitive-thinking people among its lieutenants and captains" cant be backed by what I think is the Op-Eds survey population.

3. He appeals to emotion too much - "Onerous requirements for armored vehicles on patrols, for instance, are preventing the quick action needed for counterinsurgency." His Op-Ed makes it seem like all the US Army does is drive around Iraq and Afghanistan. I assure you thats not the case. You need those to move around the battlefield in many places. In others, you can walk - except these days there are not a lot of places that are close enough to walk about and still be able to do what you need to do.

4. There is a reliance in every service (and I would surmise every Soldier) to go back to those experiences that worked and draw from them. Those who are successful on the battlefield are able to modify them to the situation - those who fail dont. Thats what intuitive leaders do daily - they look at a situation, compare it to something that they have experienced before (combat, training center, or surprise - in a book) and apply it to the situation. I do think that the Marine Corps does a great job at their staff college with staff rides and historical reflection, but our Armys TRADOC schools and our units are working to better themselves as well. There are great and wide-spread efforts to grow intuitive leaders. I know that they will continue.

This article is a decent start, but I - and many more - would like to see more of it to see if it is truly systemic. Our Army is not in as bad of a shape as many would think. We have many innovative leaders (this article from NPR/NYT this weekend is one of them http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=121675330) in our ranks.

Scott

Although Im not sure the survey as it is conveyed in the article does more than tell us how subordinates perceive leader attitudes toward the word risk, it does bring up some good questions:

- how does one define risk?
- how does one gauge risk?
- how does one communicate risk and consequence?

Im not sure the survey has diagnosed a problem; rather it may have captured a symptom. If we want to support decentralization of authority, we need to do a better job of preparing our leaders to understand the environments in which they are to operate, and what the range of tasks are we expect them to be capable of doing. Our processes (and Ill highlight the training and education pieces) did (and may still do) an adequate job of preparing our leaders to operate in most environments, and to take advantage of conditions as they are recognized. The problem I think occurs when conditions are not recognizable, and able to be communicated in such a way to support the common understanding needed to "accept" risk.

I think, based on my own experiences, that my commanders have most often given me a long leash. They have always tried (as I have with my own subordinates) not to provide so long a leash that I might run off a cliff and hang myself (and the ones I am responsible for as well). In some environments, I have to work a bit harder to communicate what was not explicit to my leadership, but generally I was successful where it merited being successful. In some cases I learned that what I viewed as a risk was in fact more of a gamble, and that there were factors which I had not considered. I think the process made me a better and more complete leader. There is also the notion that while a subordinate leader may in fact have a clearer perspective on what needs to be done and how it best may work, the nature of what makes that perspective possible may also limit what they see. A higher echelon leader may have to consider things which are beyond the purview of a subordinate leader, and may warrant not accepting the risk of acting at the moment. These things could fit into what a former SECDEF explained I think as the "knowns, known-unknowns and unknowns". Until you can move more stuff out of third category and into the other two, it will be hard to anticipate the consequences of what someone may define as a risk.

I think there are two components. Michelle put up a figure about 30% of the population being intuitive leaders. To me this means 7 out 10 leaders require more information and convincing to reach a common understanding than the other 3. It probably varies - but for our purposes it is good enough. If the anticipation is that those numbers will not change, then we have to cheat the ratio some by working harder on the front end to prepare those 7 leaders with the knowledge of the environment and the tasks through education and training so that as conditions change they will be able to distinguish between what is a true risk and a true opportunity to exploit. The other part is developing our communications - to include the hardware and software which conveys what are trying to communicate to our ability to express ourselves in ways that accurately convey what we are trying to say. Even then I suspect we will still be limited to our perspective, and we will still be frustrated -it is just the nature of trying to accomplish more in a short period of time than may be possible since it may be beyond our means to do so.

Best, Rob

Bc, you wrote, "However, personality assessments and tests would be a step in the correct direction for selecting the right leaders for the right positions."

Bc: When intuitive personality types make up about 30% of the general population, how will the Army account for the disparity?

The findings of this survey and article should not be startling to those still serving. There are many dinosaurs still commanding brigades and higher in the Army. The greater size of the Army also limits adaptability in comparison to the Marine Corps' smaller force.

Change is harder in the Army because of these two facts, see the Army's issues with its current uniform, the ACU. A failure of Army senior leaders, resulting in a uniform the soldiers and leaders in the field know does not function as the best camo in the current conflicts.

The old saying 'you can't teach an old dog new tricks' holds true in this case. The question is how to change the culture of the Army to encourage initiative in junior leaders. Even with best intentions, encouraging senior leaders to visit subordinate commanders will be viewed as micromanagement from above.

However, personality assessments and tests would be a step in the correct direction for selecting the right leaders for the right positions. Tests of this type have been successful in selecting the best leaders in the special operations fields for over the past decade. There will always be need for regular Army, big green machine officers and leaders. Assessments and tests will also help fill these positions with leaders who seek structure and standardization. COIN warfare is not for everyone, however if the Army fails to adapt it will only be for the Marines and special operators.

"The military should incorporate personality test results into military personnel files, and promotion boards should be required to select higher percentages of those who fall into the intuitive-thinking group."

The Myers & Briggs Foundation outlines ethical guidelines for using the MBTI, which includes NOT using the MBTI as a screening tool:

http://www.myersbriggs.org/myers-and-briggs-foundation/ethical-use-of-th...

There isn't one personality type that is better than another, and requiring promotion boards to select more intuitive types is a little too simplistic. It's possible that in the Army, as in other organizations, the dominant personality traits of SJs (sensor-judgers) have been rewarded and advanced and mentored by other SJs, until it seems that the SJ leadership style is what a great leader should be, know, and do. From my perspective, leaders need to be encouraged to accept and mentor those with different personality traits. To come to the defense of the SJ leaders in the Army, they may not be completely satisfied with how their personality traits affect their personal and professional lives. Why not work with sensors to develop their intuitive abilities?

I'm neutral on the article, but I question the sample size. Did he only interview 131 officer? I had a 150 officers in my basic course. I'd submit that the sample size is far too small to draw any meaningful conclusions. Moreover, the questions posted in NYT article were rather broad and could be perceived different ways by different people.

Mike

Typo in comment above, in third sentence. Replace "this Marine Corps Officer" with "the author" - I don't know whether he's a Marine.

Good article. One of my rare disagreements with Schmedlap. This quote from Moyar says it all:

"Today, the Army has more intuitive-thinking people among its lieutenants and captains than at the upper levels. Too many of these junior officers continue to leave the service out of disillusionment with its rigidity and risk aversion." (emphasis added /kw)

On a side note, I disagree with Schmedlap in part, notably on the intuitive commander portion. I do not agree that intuitive ability in combat is strictly a personality trait, I think it is rather a talent, possibly inheritable and is operable in some persons and not others regardless of personality traits.

A lot of service and reasonable amount of combat in two wars and a few minor interventions here and there make me a very firm proponent of the intuitive commander as vastly superior to his or her more mechanistic counterparts. Any competent soldier can be trained to command -- the intuitive folks just most always do it better.

How the Army can square that with Congressional pressure to be 'objective' and 'fair' in promotion selections is another story...

Schmedlap gets an 'Attaboy' for this:

"That mission poisoned the Army's organizational culture. For years, our mission was to go hang out in Bosnia and ensure that nobody got injured or killed. That had a crippling effect upon the Army's readiness for combat."

Perceptive. It is perhaps noteworthy that a number of very senior people served there...

Assuming reasonable if unscientific accuracy in the Moyar survey, the Marines appear to have changed little in philosophy and principles since I was one long ago -- though they have other problems not least being trigger happy, having a fetish for frontal attacks and a terrible propensity to bunch up (I always blamed that on the tight quarters afloat...).

Being ancient, I can recall the Army prior to Viet Nam when risk was assessed -- and courted by Commanders at all levels. Very successfully, I'll add. The Army has changed mightily since I entered it after leaving the Marines and that change, emphasized by the bold text in the Moyar quote above, has not been for the better.

Being a masochist, perhaps, after I retired in the late 70s, I went to work for the Army as a civilian employee. I retired from that job slightly earlier than intended due to being fed up with attempting to cope with and bypass those changes when they were operating at full tilt.

Disillusionment has always been a reason for departure (mine included); rigidity is a bureaucratic and military phenomenon but is bearable. However, risk aversion is something else. It is not and should not be inherent. Not least because it will eventually kill more people, including own troops, than will a little audacity and imagination...

Moyar is right, our society is sadly and dangerously risk averse -- but Armies are not supposed to be that way.

Sad.

I think the author took a glaring problem and completely misdiagnosed it.

First off, I have a minor quibble with the survey. How did this Marine Corps Officer go about choosing his survey samples that led him to the conclusion that the Marines are better than the Army? Did the Army sample have the same proportion of MOS? I only ask because the Army generally provides all of the logistics, so the total mix of MOS's is significantly different in the Army. Attitudes often correlate with MOS. They also tend to correlate with mission set. Did he account for this, as well? If he interviewed, say, Army and Marine Infantry Officers - were they doing similar missions? One way to royally p.o. an Infantry outfit is to put them on a low-risk mission while other units are getting some. This could be a function of risk-aversion. It could also just be a matter of timing. I also wonder if the culture of the Marines is such that Officers are less likely to criticize their superiors (I know this is not the case among their enlisted!).

I would also add that my Soldiers griped a lot about their "hands being tied" and the chain of command "not willing to take risks." Once they began to "get" COIN, those complaints plummeted. So what changed? Did the Officers become "less risk averse" or did the people griping finally grow up?

"Today, the Army has more intuitive-thinking people among its lieutenants and captains than at the upper levels."

It's easy to be a hard-charger when you're an LT responsible for fewer than 50 people. I've seen plenty of hard-charging Company Commanders who are a bit too motivated after casting off the shackles of their staph position. It should come as no surprise that LTs/CPTs want to take more risks than their LTCs/COLs. That, it seems to me, is more likely to be a function of age. I think we all did far more reckless things in our youth than we would consider doing now.

"The military should incorporate personality test results into military personnel files, and promotion boards should be required to select higher percentages of those who fall into the intuitive-thinking group."

This is a horrible idea and if we are going to seriously consider it, then I hope that we are absolutely sure that there is truly a problem with peoples' personalities, rather than the organizational culture and the mere perception of risk aversion that younger officers have of older officers. I seriously doubt that the problems he discusses are due to personality. Quite the contrary, I think they are due precisely to what he earlier identified...

"The climate of risk aversion begins in American society at large, which puts a higher premium on minimizing casualties than on defeating the enemy. It continues with American politicians and other elites who focus on the abuses at Abu Ghraib and Haditha in Iraq, but rarely point out the far more numerous instances of American valor.

That's not personality. If the Army is any worse in this regard, it is probably due to the 10-year head start that the Army had. What was the proportion of Army to Marines in Bosnia? That mission poisoned the Army's organizational culture. For years, our mission was to go hang out in Bosnia and ensure that nobody got injured or killed. That had a crippling effect upon the Army's readiness for combat. Were the Marines equally subjected to that? Or did the low-risk pressure for them begin after Haditha and Fallujah?

Many highly successful businesses factor personality testing into promotion decisions

And how do we know that it is (a) necessary (b) works as intended and (c) equally relevant to the Army?