Army Worries about 'Toxic Leaders' in Ranks

Army Worries about 'Toxic Leaders' in Ranks by Greg Jaffe, Washington Post. BLUF: "A major U.S. Army survey of leadership and morale found that more than 80 percent of Army officers and sergeants had directly observed a "toxic" leader in the last year and that about 20 percent of the respondents said that they had worked directly for one... The survey also found that 97 percent of officers and sergeants had observed an "exceptional leader" within the Army in the past year." The Army defines "toxic leaders" as "commanders who put their own needs first, micro-managed subordinates, behaved in a mean-spirited manner or displayed poor decision making."

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We are not out of Iraq or Afg yet and the Army is changing, yet again. Lots of lip service and phony "leadership" going on - everyone sees it. We've gone from some amazing super force of Soldiers to apparently not being disciplined, or fit. It's ok, our senior leaders in their ivory towers will show us how to be Soldiers once again.

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I have read all these posts with great interest. What I can't seem to find is how no one has even mentioned the toxic style of leadership that exists in USAREC. I am talking about SGM's standing on their desks and cussing people out. Telling outstanding soldiers in briefings that they are a pile of monkey ***** Just today we had our station commander stand up for almost an hour and basically cuss everyone out. And we are year to date on mission. No mention of soldiers made to do grass drills in their dress uniform. Or the fact that soldiers are made to drive in a GOV to their BN HQ (report time at 0700 and BN is over two hours away, and they were not allowed to get off work until past 2200 hours. Or made to go out and knock on people's doors at 2200 hours at night. Or the fact that good leaders get relieved for no reason other than the fact that they will not conform to the crap they are getting fed. Those type of leaders are still alive and well in the good ol' USAREC. Don't believe all that hype about us getting off at 1700. That was just lip service

I would like to see the reports that indicates that the Army is serious about addressing toxic leadership that M.A. referred to. Who has been removed from command for demonstrating toxic leadership traits? How many senior NCOs have been removed for being toxic leaders? Most people, including the toxic leaders, recognize and then ignore the problem. Unfortunately many toxic leaders have been successful at least up to LTC where we have close to a 100% selection rate (a large part of the problem) to promotion, and it is doubtful in my opinion that toxic leaders at that grade are going to begin removing their clones from the junior ranks.

Some examples of the publications are as follows:
1. Stars and Stripes, April 27, 2011, COL Stemple
2. Stars and Stripes, March 25, 2011, Col Johnson
3. Military Times, by Joe Gould, COl Zachar
4. Fayetteville Observer, Jan 23, 2010, LTC Jenio/CSM Puckett
These are a few instances; there is also another article in one of the most recent issue of The Army Times (either late July or early August), I believe it talks about a female BDE Cdr from Hawaii.
Although it does not say "relieved for toxic leadership", these articles imply their firings were a result of poor command climates or results of their leadership decision making.

In response to the article from the Washington Post, I agree that every Soldier within the ranks has come across a toxic leader at one point or another. I think it is sad that these individuals resort to intimidation or mean spirited tactics to lead other and feel they should be reprimanded if found guilty of these acts. After 20 years of service, I’ve seen my share of toxic leaders and the effects it has on an organization. It has been my experience that toxic leadership is breed from the top down. It is allowed or considered acceptable behavior from those the toxic leader answers too. That higher command (i.e. CO CDR, BN CDR, BDE CDR), for whatever reason, does not intervene or address the problem either because they agrees with the toxic style of leadership, or favors the results it generates, turning a blind eye allowing this behavior to exist. These results or favorable reporting statistics are what the “BOSS” is seeking to achieve and allows the behavior to continue in order to reach the desired end state, leaving subordinates as the helpless victim. In order to resolve this issue command emphasis must be placed on enforcing standards identifying and intervening whenever this behavior is present. Control measures such as evaluations, assessments, and command climates are tools currently in place to ensure toxic leaders are identified and removed for their actions. We have seen several commanders relieved and/or reprimanded for being toxic leaders in recent articles and publications. These actions are intended to send a clear message to those that lead by intimidation and fear, that this type of behavior will not be tolerated within the Army, now or in the future.

Major Marcus Cheatham
Intermediate Level Education Section 33A
Redstone Arsenal, AL

Reference The Army Times, "Army wants to rid top ranks of toxic leaders," (31 JUL 11) article on Toxic Leaders. The article and the statement of the desire to rid the Army of Toxic Leadership this of course sounds good and also briefs very well. However, the Army has talked about getting rid of toxic leaders since I was an enlisted Soldier some 27 years ago. I have served with toxic leaders at every level and will more than likely continue to serve with toxic leaders until I retire. They exist in officer and non-commissioned officer ranks. As we proceed forward in this endeavor to remove toxic leaders from this organization, it is essential to determine why they continue to exist in our organizations.

They exist and continue to flourish because leaders at all levels fail to apply those army values and fail to exhibit the intestinal fortitude to stand up and do the right thing. Our leadership wants and demands results and then looks the other way on how it is achieved. It is about the end state and mission accomplishment. Toxic leaders beget toxic subordinates because to achieve that top rating it is essential to do the toxic leaders bidding in order to have an above successful evaluation. Those who attempt to stand their ground and identify these toxic leaders are summarily crushed thereby ruining their career in the process or do nothing and then vote with their feet. We continue to bleed bright and talented officers and noncommissioned officers because senior leaders continue to kick this can down the road.

Evaluation reports, 360 assessments, and command climates are critical and valuable tools to identify senior toxic leaders. However, until subordinates understand that comments they provide will not affect their standing within the Army and leaders take it serious toxic leaders will continue thrive in our environment. It is essential to identify these individuals before they spread their style of leadership to young and impressionable junior officers and non-commissioned officers. The way we can accomplish this identification is through our military education systems. The small group-learning environment at every level from Warrior leaders Course/ Officer Basic courses to Leadership Academies for senior officers and non-commissioned officers can assist and identify these toxic leaders. The end state is toxic leaders are phased out of our Army.

The Army Times, "Army wants to rid top ranks of toxic leaders," (31 JUL 11) article on Toxic Leader's provides a few statistics of surveyed occurrence as well as signs and a way ahead for the identification of toxic leaders. As seen in the multiple sites of blog and comment chains, this is an emotional and important issue. For many, it is cited as one of the key reasons people discontinued their military service.

After 20 years of service as a Soldier in both enlisted and officer capacity, I can say that I have, as most who have served for more than a few leaders, served with toxic leaders at many echelons of command. With that being said, I want to briefly address my opinion and concerns with the way ahead.

Evaluation reports, 360 assessments, and command climates can and will be effective tools, but I believe that if implemented at the Battalion and/or Brigade level, those identified as "toxic leaders" will have done their damage.

In a normal career, it is safe to assume that a battalion commander has approximately 16 years of service. There are many key leadership positions such as platoon leader, troop/company executive officer, and company/detachment commander to provide ample opportunity to identify and quell budding toxic leadership behaviors. However, with masked evaluations and promotion selection rates in the past ten years in the high ninety percentile, it appears that we as an institution are missing the mark. I would argue that displayed personality and leadership characteristics early on at the commission sources (ROTC, OCS and Academies) and company grade ranks are only reinforced by advancement. It is much like a doctor prescribing a treatment without addressing the ailment. A top down approach may be the most effective implementation process for identifying toxic leadership, but it must rapidly reach to the source at the lowest level.

In the Army, an existing paradigm is that selection to command and positions of leadership is the result of excellent work as a staff officer. Make no mistake, there are parallels in performance in some areas (organization, concept of the "big picture," ethical decision making), but leadership, the art of motivating to accomplish the mission, is much more than being a good staff officer--they are similar but different. However, toxicity in staff operation or behavior will unquestionably be continued when in charge. Assessments should not only be conducted when in leadership positions but comprehensively to provide a holistic assessment of the individual. Identifying a "toxic leader" usually is not the challenge. The challenge is having the moral courage and intestinal fortitude to deal with the issue and not assume it away. The tools and ability to get at the heart of the problem are available. Now, it is time to put the results of all the "tools" to work and create positive working environments.

Major Joseph Swindle
Intermediate Level Education Section 33D
Redstone Arsenal, AL

Oops, meant 'You guys', not 'you guess'. Need to QC my posts more....

Wow, someone from 3rd ID back in 1998 actually saw that post of mine. Just more proof of how cool the internet can be. Good to see you survived all that has happened between now and then. You guess are true patriots if you can stick around the Army after being treated like that.

When leadership has no respect for the men they are trusted to, well, 'lead', it can result in some pretty ugly scenarios.

Case in point: The newest Wing Commander (a full bird colonel) at my base is a complete and totally douchebag. This man couldn't lead a pack of horny sailors into a cathouse, he's that bad. The morale of the entire base has plummeted since the Reign of Terror commenced. Endless staff meetings for the majors and LTCs (with him bitching about everything and anything). Stupid new policies. Asinine weekend drills. You name it, he has done it. And he's only been in charge a month! It didn't surprise me, though. I've known this sorry excuse for an officer for over ten years. He was a shitty company grade officer and he'll soon be a really shitty 1-star general, if he doesn't get caught doing anything illegal by the IG.

So there ya go. Toxic leadership at its finest!

In response to Pave Low John | July 2, 2011 11:22 AM post concerning Kuwait in 1998. I was a member (1LT Field Artillery) of the 3ID BDE. The "create your own FOB" days of Operation Intrinsic Action were extremely austere and ultimately proved to the troops how not to run a combined arms unit. Despite the poor leadership and terrible conditions, it provided junior leaders with a great experience in working around infrastructure limitations, training with a Muslim partner (Kuwaitis), and executing rapid change of mission when Iraqi units seemed prepared to move south in December 1998.

I agree that Ali Al-Saleem was the place to be back then. When I came over to coordinate JAAT with the USAF and Army Aviation folks, I was amazed at how well you folks lived and the fact that I ate hot dogs and wax beans 5 days in a row at one point. And you had a swimming pool! Nice!

Looking back on that experiene, I believe the whole slew of IN/AR/FA CPTs and LTs that I worked with joined 2 camps. The ones who bailed on the Army and REFRADed in the following 12 months and those of us who stayed in the Army and understood that Soldiers deserve the best treatment allowable.

I don't think we needed to live the way we did during that rotation, but that was the path chosen for us. Could our leaders have done better? Of course, but they didn't and taught every Soldier there a valuable lesson.

Take care of your troops!

It is not just the Army. All of the services have similar problems. I would argue that a lot of our other complaints are similar and start at the top as well: centralization, risk averse policies, stupid training requirements, etc. There's something that is socializing these things across the services at the upper ranks. What is more, there is a filter between these ranks and the rest, both cognitive and actual (i.e. sycophants insulating the generals) that makes them think that all the hubbub you see in professional journals, blogs, etc, is just whining or juniors that "don't get it." Despite the clamor, there is no dialogue going on.

All,

While I am sure senior Army leadership is looking down thinking "we've got a problem down there," I would just offer this single insight.

The problem is real, and such problems start at the very top.

Any Army that is chaptering out enlisted infantrymen with multiple combat tours for charges as trivial as an open container violaiton already tossed out by the DA and Judge is hard broke.

Looking for "Toxic Leadership"? Look in the mirror first Generals.

Bob

Gentlemen,
It is statistically impossible to avoid toxic leadership in an organization the size of the US Army. You can no more rid the Army of them than you can say, "We're going to design systems to rid the United States of dumb-a@@s!".

It comes down to systems and mentalities that discover and dispose of the toxic leaders along the way. Modifying time-in-service/rank, badge wearing and other policies will not work any more than saying you're going to extend the four-year requirement to get a BA to six years so we end up with smarter grads. You could even make the argument longer wait times would have no impact on the listless and lazy.

Toxic leaders will continue to exist as they do in any very large sampling of people, including the service. "Toxic" is a very subjective term in the first place; isn't a competant leader going to be percieved as 'toxic' by a slug?

Finally, remember no one is completely worthless; you can always be used as a bad example. While I've learned a great deal from those competant leaders I've worked for, it was informative through my years to observe the actions of idiots, if only to make a mental note to myself on behaviors/actions to avoid.

v/r
John

You know, Charles, I was going to dismiss your PT rant, but now that I think about it, it may have more to do with the Army's horrible leadership philosophy than I first thought. It is the first item of the day and sets the tone for the pecking order. I can't remember the hundreds of times my S3 or Bn Cdr (especially in my infantry unit as a LT) made their daily judgements of subordinates during PT and then they carried those attitudes on throughout the day. And I had widely-acknowledged "stellar" leadership back then.

PT and HT/WT are the easiest things to quantify and check the blocks. Judging tactical competence, creativity, adaptability, leadership, etc. is hard, and is why we don't do it very well. But every General Officer, S3, and G3 can run. And run and run and run. That ensures they can say that they smoked their _____ (Bn, Bde, Div, or Corps staff) when do their large-group runs for "esprit-de-corps" or whatever reason they give. Never mind the fact that they cannot plan their way out of a paper bag or drive their subordinates crazy with their dysfunctional leadership styles.

The Army has standards. As far as promotion of leadership goes, we should follow the standards and not promote based on TIS, or TIG.

Bill M.,

RGR on all, very good points.

I am suffering from extreme fatigue, dealing with the Army's approach to PT. 1) PT should be banned. Training for combat is what the standard should be. We have standards out there, and accomplishing them, with full kit (just like in combat) is PT, and damn good PT. An FA unit doing "2 minute drills" or whatever they refer to them as these days, is great PT and makes for amazing opportunities to do cross training across your formation. 2)Only one day per week should we be out there in shorts/tshirts/athletic shoes - the rest should be truly combat focused with your uniform and kit. But you addressed that issue. Still frustrating to me, despite knowing the reasons and reading them as you posted above. 3)Yes, leaders should be in shape. No issues there, but I'm exhausted dealing with poor standards, that suffer from serious issues in external validity. I'm tired of moronic ht/wt charts where Soldiers in good shape are getting taped and coming in 10% under the standard. But because they are over weight they are "red" on the tracking (ie: DTMS / AKO). It's a waste of time for the Army to tape these guys and causes ill informed idiots a the TMC to tell them they are "over weight" etc. 4) Your points about the yes men and the rater/senior rater complex that is developed is spot on, and it starts with PT, in my eyes. Thats the first thing we do each day and we continually reinforce bad perspectives on leadership because PT is so flawed. Not many of our gazelles can truly handle the heavy loads we are forced to carry. I currently have a LT that is above 300 on the APFT but couldn't carry two ammo cans 100 meters. But in the Army's eyes this LT would be labeled a stud and an all-star.

Serenity now....you are correct in your assessments. Ok, rant over, off to do some PT.

Charles,

We have numerous fat boys and unfit soldiers who continue to get promoted along with their peers because few leaders have the courage to hold them to standards. While I agree our fitness standards (the Army's) are not functional, and everytime the Army tries to impliment a functional PT test the Nancy boys manage to kill it by claiming it will hurt people's careers, etc. Um, I thought the objective was enhancing our combat readiness? However, physical fitness is a critical capability for a soldier in combat, and whatever the standards are (hopefully more combat focused) they need to be enforced. If a soldier isn't willing to invest the time to stay in shape, he doesn't need to be in a leadership position. It isn't about (it shouldn't be) looking good, but the ability to function so you are an asset in combat, not a liability to yourself and more importantly to others.

You asked a good question about how we manage our wounded warriors, and it has been my experience that the Army works patiently with them to get them back in fighting shape (if they so choose) and we now have a great physical therapists. I'm sure the approach isn't uniform across the service though.

Having served during the rapid downsizing post DESERT STORM, I too worry about who will get cut and who will get asked to stay. If you think about it that will determine the future of our force (especially the officers), and if we only keep the yes boys (me, my rater and me boys) then the issue of toxic leadership will only get worse.

Now that I'm retired I'm buying a pair of those toed shoes and I'm going to run every where that they're banned just to frustrate the small minds who focus excessively on petty issues like this :-).

..but not in toe shoes....

One thing I'd like to know, since some have brought it up: some OERs are now masked, some GOMORs are local, and so forth. I wonder if they will start requesting those be opened up. Additionally, with some people getting injured, I wonder if people coming back from combat that are injured, subsequently fail pt or body fat, get flagged, get healthy, get unflagged and so forth - I wonder if they'll be looking at those things in the future, even if someone has had a stellar record after one "screw up".

I'm guessing they will be. The Army is generally very eager to punish and document things that have numbers, like PT scores, rankings, etc. They pay good lip service to the "total Soldier" concept, but little else.

It won't be long until our "superstars" are the 6'3" skeletons that run like gazelles - once again. They may wilt under 80lbs of kit, but dammit they look good running across that parade field.

We're already seeing the new zero defects era. I know a number of people who had marks on their record as very junior officers, grew up, had great combat records, and got the appropriate remarks from their reviewers on fitreps to try to speak to the positive change and still did not get selected. Guys who got selected without doing their PME a few years ago would not get the nod today. Selection rates are going down, which could be good, but as usual, they will use the defects model to non-select rather than starting by selecting the most quality people. For all the talk about yes men, etc, I'd say that a huge problem in our process is that even saying that someone is "average" is defined as an adverse comment in the Marine Corps' performance eval software. You can't be honest. I'd like to see mandatory comments about every officer's weaknesses so that I can put in that a given guy is a high performer, but does so at the cost of morale of his Marines. As it is, there's no way to paint that picture.

Charles,
I strongly agree with most of your original statement. My opinion is that one of the problems we face is that there are too many "yes men" focusing too much of their efforts on their OERs and not enough strong-willed leaders standing up for what is right. On the contrary, I have observed that our recent years of combat have also driven many leaders to do what makes sense and take care of Soldiers as opposed to the pre-war days where many O-4s and above were products of the post-Gulf War drawdown / "Zero Defects" Army; a trend that resulted in too many risk-adversed senior leaders. Unfortunately, I think we're about to begin witnessing another Zero Defects era as we begin downsizing the military.

MAJ Carlos Moya
Student, Command and General Staff School
U.S. Army Combined Arms Center
Fort Belvoir, Virginia
"The views in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government."

For David...HRC is a topic that could probably generate as much discussion as this toxic topic has done. I see PowerPoints and hear dialog about officers gaining more control of their careers and assignments but I have seen zero proof of that yet.

Happy Independence Day, everyone. For everyone back home, I hope you enjoy your celebrations, whether big or small. Have a drink for me. If you are in the Washington, DC area, I HIGHLY recommend going to Generals Row on Ft. Myer to see the downtown fireworks. For everyone who finds themselves in some maddening province of Crapistan - wherever that is - may Peace find you tonight, if only for tonight.

The "enabler" piece is salient. Previously I was not an enabler. Speaking out and doing what I thought was right was certainly a bad thing: for me. It put me on the shit list and I paid a price for that.

I am now faced with another similar situation. I have approached people closer to the toxic individual than I am, people with direct influence. I have seen no results. They either don't care or have no desire to rock the boat. So, am I to continue being an "enabler"? I am due to PCS soon, my OER is due soon, and truthfully I want to move on to another destination in the hopes that the waters there are less toxic.

I am already labeled as a trouble maker for stating the obvious and addressing the truth (and regulations). Speaking up will undoubtedly cost me ranking/block check and so forth.

These are the concerns faced every day by E7s, O3s, O4s, E5s, and so on. The system punishes those who rock the boat. In this economy, with two theaters being withdrawn from, and every week bringing a new article about proposed cuts to manning, benefits, and promotions - the pressure to speak up and eliminate the toxins within our ranks will be outweighed by the need to not commit career suicide. At least, that's my perspective and my best guess.

As someone who's hanging up the towel after 8 years and two company commands because I was forced out of my basic branch (Armor) and forced into Public Affairs, I've got a few things to say about toxic leadership but I'll instead talk a little about another contributing factor aside from some of those above.

When I was forced int PA, I told HRC I absolutely would not stay in the Army to write Facebook postings for COLs for the next 12 years and got told tough luck. Even when I produced another guy in my year group and branch who wanted to go PA but who didn't get it when he _asked_ for it, I was told that "we don't do that."

If I'm going to work 80 hours a week for bosses I can't stand, chafe against silly rules that treat everyone like they're 12, and spend a year at a time away from my family while deployed, I'm only going to do it if I can get to be with soldiers and do what I signed up to do--lead men into battle. I sure as hell won't sign up to stay in and do a job that is all about telling things as we'd like them to be rather than as they are.

Why do we have toxic leaders in the Army? One reason might be an assignment system that rewards the ability to stick it out (and maybe the fear of doing something different) rather than attempting to truly put people where they fit. It isn't just CFD's either--everybody's got the story of that great SSG that just wanted an assignment to Riley after deployment so he could be near his aging mom but instead got told to pack his bags for a second stint in Korea and who instead packed his bags for home.

I know this: practically everybody I knew from my yeargroup who was way smarter, stronger, and sharper than I am and who I figured would be a general someday when I was a terminal LTC beat me out the door by 3 years.

I don't know that we're losing our best with the way we make personnel decisions, but we're definitely deleting some valuable traits from the Army gene pool...

Here's to hoping the Guard's got a little more sense than the Active Army...

CPT David Dixon

Id like to contribute my perspective on this whole "toxic" thing. Speaking from recent experience, sometimes subordinates force you to be a prime example of the so called, "toxic leader". Truth be told, you arent toxic leader, you are simply enforcing standards, policies and holding them accountable for their actions.
To be brutally up front, I nearly went down because of a select few (really talking about two people) who didnt like to be held accountable. Needless to say my reputation as a great leader was compromised because of two disgruntled individuals. Was I Toxic? I think not. But because of unwanted publicity with my BN CDR, I received a less than stellar senior rating upon my departure. Was that fair? hell no it wasnt, I was just doing my job, and Ill tell you I was damn good at it too.

All Im saying is, there are plenty of horrible leaders out there; But there are also great leaders out there who are perceived as bad ones.
At times its a lose/lose situation... . Your seniors entrust you to lead a unit, hold people accountable and discipline those who cant follow the rules. I did just that and ended up on the losing end of the stick. Go figure... ..
Lesson learned men, lesson learned... ... .

I think E-4 Specialist is on to something when he points to those who enable the toxic leaders. The passive majority. We can all sit around and talk in generalities, but when it comes time to actually call someone out by name, we lack the moral courage. Or, imbued by the culture of schoolhouse leadership, we only praise in public and reprimand in private. I think toxic or inept leadership should be called out painfully in public. "You're undermining his credibility." Well, if everyone knows he's an a-hole, how am I doing that? Is there any credibility to be undermined? Or am I showing others that this won't be tolerated and that they should not grow up acting like this? Also, since everything is supposed to be handled in private, we never acknowledge to juniors when things are screwed up and that it is an unacceptable state of affairs. We treat our charges like children who are ignorant to what is going on. It is a charade of idiocy and all the strictures are a cover-up for a lack of moral courage. People say they are going to handle something in private, but they really don't because it will be awkward. It is easier to let someone be a toxic leader than it is to call them out on it, especially when on the spot corrections are taboo.

I have only been in the Army for 22 months and am still by all means an "Army Baby". I have been deployed twice already though and am currently going through a deployment at a division-level command and wanted to share some thoughts on the leadership at this level.

Needless to say, leadership at the division level is poor, and the toxic leader politics and cronyism that goes on here on a day-to-day basis is sometimes unbearable to an E-4 such as myself. However, the most disappointing part about my situation is that even those who acknowledge that the current culture of the unit is flawed have stated bluntly that they dont want to see changes. Why? Because they decided to "play the game" despite those flaws and over time have become toxic leaders as well. The NCOs in my current unit are unwitting self-parodies of the things they profess to hate. They claim to hate brown-nosing yet enjoy the attention and platitudes that other brown-nosing E-4s lavish upon them; they claim to be all about their troops welfare but will push taskings on their unprepared and unqualified soldiers because the NCO wanted to take a helicoptor ride with the Commanding General and get some of the "face time" that they feel their time in rank entitles them to. Worst of all, the senior NCOs who do try to do the right thing refuse to call out the junior NCOs who mistreat soldiers and blow smoke up a WO or O's ass because doing that will give some the label of "problem soldier" or "prima donna" and people who rock the boat in the unit too much end up as collators or ECP guards. Still others will acknowledge in a low whisper that everything is indeed messed up but refuse to do anything because if the culture was changed, all the perks and priviledges that they acquired by "playing the game" earlier in their careers would evaporate. Thus the cycle repeats itself; good soldiers and leaders eventually flame out or leave the army, while mediocre leaders breed the next generation of mediocre leaders that will carry on the fine unit tradition of nepotism and stagnation.

I have come to accept that in a volunteer Army you will always have your fair share of brown-nosers and unqualified leaders. It is the culture that enables them however, and the general apathy of those who do have the power to make changes within a unit but wont in the interest of protecting their own way of life that make me lose faith in the Army as an institution and the pride I once felt in calling myself an American soldier.

Having been around when there were no centralized enlisted promotions and after the centralized system was implemented and in full sway, I believe there are merits to both approaches.

In the pleistocene era (before 1967) local boards were occasionally as Charles describes, catering to favorites but more often they were not. The Sergeants Major and 1SGs of the day were not the minor gods many now seem to believe they should be and on most boards all votes were equal and the Board members kept each other honest. There were some abuses but not that many. The process basically worked but was the subject of many complaints (and Congressionals...) from elderly folks with long service who had not been promoted because they did not merit it (up or out was also intended to address that problem). This caused the Per community to spend a lot of time fielding mostly spurious complaints -- they decided to eliminate that problem by centralizing and by rewarding longevity.

The centralized system does away with possible favoritism and catering to pets but replaces those flaws with many of its own -- to include rewarding mediocrity. That comes about mostly due to the immense pressure throughout the Army to conform and to a perceived necessity for TIS and / or TIG to be 'objective'discriminators (they should not be IMO) plus a flawed NCOER system. The Officers promotion system also has flaws, many the Officer equivalent of those NCO issues but it adds excessive competition and more intense Congressional scrutiny as well (DOPMA, 'fairness' and 'objectivity' are Congroid pets) as well. Both systems suffer and benefit from an 'up or out' policy but that policy, on balance, is not good for the Army -- even if it is good for the personnel 'managers' and recruiting / accession.

We are now too devoted to centralization and consolidation as a cure for all ills so we're unlikely to go back to local promotions for SSG and below. There's a real simple fix to the problem of rewarding mediocrity for NCOs.

AR 600-200 says that the central board will select but a Commander can write a letter to have a person pulled from the list for cause. Few Commanders will take time to write a letter for a marginal performer, the result isn't worth the effort. However, if the Reg were changed to say that the individual selected by the board will only be promoted when the current commander writes a letter recommending he be promoted, then Commanders will take time to write letters only for well deserving candidates. The fact they have to go on record will keep the system fairly honest. It also puts the onus on the Commander, where it should be, to field complaints about not getting promoted and explain why the person was not recommended as opposed to a secret board and faceless bureaucracy not telling people why they were not selected...

The Dossier review by HRC could also be eliminated, saving time and money and allowing potentially good to great people to be promoted instead of not being selected due to minor disciplinary foolishness -- or even major problems. People change and grow...

Moot,

What you propose just won't work. Additionally, E7, E8, O2, O3 are selection boards at the DA level. In theory they should be more difficult than a local board.

And, when we talk about ease of promotion, let's not forget what's happened to the enlisted side. There are virtually no checks or obstacles on the way from E1 to E6. It's all about points. Get the points, make the score, get the rank. And, it's flat automatic to E5 now. A unit has to generate paperwork in order to stop promotion to SGT - that is a high crime. As a former enlisted guy that was insanely proud of earning my status as an NCO, I feel automatic promotion to that rank is an awful idea.

Local boards only make the 'popularity' contest even worse. Surely you've seen the garrison super soldier go to board after board, max the PT test, and look like an all-star, then fall apart when real Soldiering and leading must be done. I know I have. I have seen 1SGs and CSMs pick their favorites way too many times - and the connotation that race, group affiliation (Masons, anyone?), or similar hobbies, etc were all too often present.

But, you are dead on about command climate. This is where your blame on the E7-O3 levels is accurate. O3s are competing to have the best company, E7s want the best platoon, E8s want the best company. They too often focus on things the BN CSM sees (or pet peeves he cares about), same for the BN Cdr and BDE Cdr. The focus is on the top and higher, not down to their companies, platoons, and so forth.

You make a comment that strikes at the heart of all of this: you mention having to stand in front of your superiors and prove yourself. Well, if the command was so poor, just who (or what) are you proving yourself to? Don't you have to accommodate the bad leaders you speak of in order to earn that leadership position? Finally, let's not also forget the reality of these promotion boards: they are not tests of anything other than getting dressed and answering questions. Hardly a test of leadership. Distinguishing yourself in what manner...playing dress up? Answering questions about resection or current events? That's no better than a DA board reading inflated (or false) comments on an NCOER or OER and deciding one's ability to lead. Your validation suffers from the same pitfalls when it comes to external validity of the assessment model.

Not trying to pick you apart but want to highlight that the system is broke from the top down, all the way down, to the fire team level. While the enlisted Soldiers always questioned how I and other officers got promoted, I did the same for their system. Never understood how a board could equate to any measure of leadership. Not to be insulting but I've always looked at boards like a circus parade. They are entertainment it seems for the board members. I would be resentful of any officer placed over me due to an interview or board - and I've been in that situation. Some posts/units determine the next company commander by an interview process with BN Cdrs, (note the senior rater for that position is not even involved, tells you a lot right there). I'd rather the senior rater simply evaluate prospective captains based on their record of service and prior leadership positions, rather than a ten minute interview where personal bias manifests greatly. As an enlisted guy I'd rather someone's true performance put them above me rather than how well they are liked or how they acted in a five minute board.

As mentioned earlier, items from the ORB are brought up in conversation and they do nothing but introduce bias.

In conclusion though, the recent CSA stated that he wanted to focus attention on the squad level. The issues you bring up are a great place to start, in addition to the squad level focus. Command climate needs to be addressed at the platoon and company levels, in my opinion. Anything smaller and I think we have too many confounds to deal with. But, again, command climate is a huge issue. I've answered about 50 or so command climate surveys now and I haven't seen one bit of effect come from it. They are too often never read by the parent unit and almost always ignored by the unit of reference. After all, what 1SG or Co Cdr is going to receive the news that they suck all that well?

Let me frame my response by saying that I am no longer active, so I have no dog in this fight other than to see a better climate to serve in be realized by my brothers in arms. I last served in the lowest level of leadership, the rifle team leader. My perspective of toxic leadership is a bit different than most of the people who have responded thusfar. What I witnessed in my time while enlisted, was a large institution devoid of original thought and creative problem solving from the highest levels down. Much of the problem is command climate. Many leaders are afraid to make any sort of decision whatsoever, in the abscence of guidance. The reason for that was if that decision was deemed incorrect, the only thing a soldier could count on was that their supervisor would not stand up for them and, in fact, do everything possible to distance themselves from the situation. The endstate usually being disciplinary action for the subordinate so the supervisor could demonstrate how aghast they were that the decision was ever made in the first place. An easy way to weed out toxic leadership at the company level would be to require promotion boards for E-7 and E-8, as well as, at least, junior officers. Automatic promotion for someone who coud end up responsible for the lives of an entire company of soldiers is not only scary, it is reckless. In order for me to wear the rank associated with leading three other souls into combat, I had to stand in front of my superiors and distinguish myself from my peers. Meanwhile the officers who planned operations that had a direct impact on my safety and the safety of my men only had to stay in the Army and manage to not mess up that bad. What is wrong with this picture?

It often seemed that promotions were more directly corelated to standing within the regimantal association than job performance and the ability to lead.

Here, here, moot!

Bubba, What do you mean?

Re ask the same question of Intelligence analyst.

Bubba

Can't disagree with anything that Phil just posted. Once had my Co Cdr when I was a LT hold up every Soldier in the company for a 10% cyclic. It was the last day of the week before a long weekend. The cyclic and general admin stuff was all we had on the schedule. We had planned to get the Soldiers out early to enjoy their weekend, since we'd spent a lot of time in the field in the recent months.

Cyclic was supposed to start at 1000, done by 1130, safety brief, and start the weekend.

Cdr said he had a meeting with the BN Cdr. At 1030 I called, he said meeting was long. At 1100, same thing. At 1130, same thing - now the PSGs are getting antsy wanting to know if they can send Joe to chow. I was the XO.

Cdr said to sit tight. I said send everyone to chow. 1300, call the Cdr again, meeting going long. 1315, I ask if I can do the cyclic, he says he'll be there soon. 1345, I call back and tell him I did the cyclic, ask to give safety brief and dismiss the troops. He says to hold tight, he wants to do it. 1415, he calls and says to release the troops. 1430, Soldiers get released, 3hrs late, while Soldiers stood around at the motorpool for nothing.

He was the top Co Cdr in the BDE. On this day, his meeting with the BN Cdr was in civvies, at the golf course.

Still pisses me off to this day, thinking about that.

Toxic Leaders are hereditary its just like real world civilian status. If you were raised by a toxic leader more than likely you will accept some of those traits and become one yourself or you can make the right decision and look around you and grab onto someone else that does the right thing and guides you in the right path.I have seen many toxic leaders in the past and present and for the most part most of these toxic leaders are the ones that are singled out to be the top 10% in the unit or the pt stud or whatever they have been doing exceptionally at in their career. yes i understand that we should most definently recognize these soldiers for their accomplishments but at the same time it seems that command has stopped looking at promotion potential on an overall scale and more of a personnal basis. i see it all the time most of the people getting promoted are the men and women that are socially cool and excell in one aspect of the military. instead of looking at the guy to their right that meets the standard on all levels and but isnt the guy that goes out and drinks with the commanders or platoon leader.In my eyes the military has become a big highschool and it's not the same enviroment that i came up in the ranks with but now i see it more and more. You have your propm queens and prom kings which are your pt studs and expert marksmen. then you have the crowd that they hang with and it seems like thats the crowd that all the sudden pt cards get lost and or have profiles untill the day of the pt test but all the sudden promotion time comes around and they have 300's on their score sheet but never even seen them step foot on the track. All im saying is that with the enviroment today soldiers are looking around and saying i could be 100% squared away and make 4th on the promotion list or i could go hang at the bar with this group make myself socially acceptable and then ill make 1st on the promotion list.

i see toxic leadership daily i'm currently deployed to afghanistan now on a small fob. the s-6 oic is about to become my unit commander and there was a threat made that if we tell anyone how shity he is before he takes command it our ass. this idoit wasted over 250 feet of fiber optic cable and two weeks of work for a bullet on his oer. he treats us like we are his servants insted of making his soldiers in s-6 do there job he forces my platoon to do it for them since none of his soldiers are qaulified. he even borrows our personal property from our office without asking. he has no idea how to do anyting but say yes and lie. he knows nothing about signal but is a signal officer and about to be in command of a signal unit. i feel that the only way to fix the toxic leader problem is to treat stupidty eqauly without consideration for rank and to go back to enforcing regulations no more of this pick and chose the rules shit. i had never seen so many fat, undisciplined, disrespectful soldiers in 6 yrs until i came to this unit they actualy promote people who fail the pt test and height and weight on a regular basis. i feel the NCOs should be allowed to be the laeders they are needed to be insted of being micro managed at all levels by their officers i was actually told i could not give ucmj to a soldier who told me he did not have to do shit i said and i couldnt make him after he was 2 hrs late to work because my officer plays xbox with that soldier.the worst part is if you tell anyone they just act like your full of shit and then tell the toxic leader you said something.

The 'toxic leadership' problem isn't just in the Army. You see it in the Marines, Navy and Air Force. It exists in special operations as well as regular combat and non-combat units. It is a DoD-wide phenomenon because our military culture springs from our American culture and American culture is, to put it mildly, changing in some alarming ways.

If you had told me 20 years ago that practicing homosexuals would be allowed into the U.S. military before I retired, I would have laughed in your face.

If you had then informed me that in 20 years that every last aspect of the U.S. military, up to and including elite special operations units, were one to two years away from being forced to accept women, I would still be laughing but now with a shadow of doubt in my eyes.

Finally, if you had rattled off the personal biography of our current CINC (wow, that was painful to write) and informed my 21-year-old self that THAT was the man leading the U.S. Armed Forces in two decades, I would be staring in dawning horror as I realized that those three things could only mean one thing.

That 'one thing' is that our country is dying. I don't mean people dropping dead in the streets. I mean the rapid decay of civic virtue. A fish rots from the head down. Conversely, a society rots from the top down. Our leadership is rotten, be it government, religious, academic, media, business, and yes, most especially military. Our military is only reflecting the 'toxic' nature of all the other pillars of leadership that a society rests on. This is nothing new, however. The same thing happened to Babylon, Greece, Rome, France, Great Britain and now us. Our misfortune is that we get to watch the slow degradation and destruction of a truly unique organization, the United States Armed Forces.

It starts and ends with the leaders. Whether it's a four-star general or a squad leader, people will willingly follow a competent leader who truly cares for his troops. It's not rocket science. Know your job. Set the example. Care about your men. Execute the mission. That's pretty much all it takes.

But I think it may be too late for us. The overall culture is too poisonous now. True leadership may be an increasingly rare commodity, that becomes all that more precious because it is now so hard to find.

We may see true, 'non-toxic' leadership return but I fear that it may require a conflict on the order of a World War for something like that to manifest in the U.S. military. God help us all if that is the case....

Peter, the culture change I witnessed during my three decade career addresses yours and Anymouse's points. When I first came in officers and senior NCOs would fall into the chow line like anyone else, or take up a position in the end (leaders used to huddle outside and talk to one another until the line was short enough to stand in). Now it is common place for senior NCOs and officers to cut to the front stating that tax payers aren't paying them to wait in line with junior soldiers.

If people had something to do that was more time sensitive and couldn't wait regardless of whether they were an a PVT or LTC, it was understood they needed to go to the head of the line to make mission. Outside of that, I think we're ingraining bad leadership habits by accepting this arrogance. What you learned by going last was the quality of the chow the troops were getting. Some of the poorly managed chow halls wouldn't make enough food for the entire unit, and if the leaders didn't bring up the end of the line they wouldn't realize they had a problem they needed to address. Of course if the cooks got used to seeing a 1st SGT, CSM or Commander at the end of the line the problem would self correct.

Part of the problem is we're busier than we have ever been with "busy work" (making slides for worthless briefings), and the busy work is distracting leaders from they should be doing. Time management now means taking short cuts on leadership responsibility. I really think if we did an honest evaluation of what work was valuable and what work was just busy work (a first things first appproach). We would find a lot of free time to focus on interfacing with troops to see what was really happening, disciple, mentoring, etc., and just as importantly put meaning back into our professional lives. People know when their lives and time is being wasted. I'm a big believer of the if you don't have nothing to do, then don't nothing here (in other words, get a life). We'll get our pound of flesh out of you later (we always do).

The parking issue is a dumb one. You want good parking, show up before other people. Is an extra 75 meters or so really so important that some privates or post/base public works people have to come out and paint, put up signs, etc? Pretty thick on the ego, I'd say.

As to this "Millennial Generation"...yes, they are a bit jacked up. However, it's not their fault, regarding their behavior in the military. They respond to good ole fashioned tough training like most generations have: they don't like it at first, but eventually they get the hang of it, see where it's beneficial and just tolerate what they don't see as beneficial.

Now, yes the new generation does speak up more often - welcome to the information age. No big deal, really.

Here's the real problem with the new generation: I have lost count of the number of times I see the FG & above levels out there kissing that millennial ass. "You're all so special to join in a time of war...you're all the future of democracy...You're the next group of generals...your generation will cure cancer, end terrorism, fix global warming, and do it all from your facebook homepage"

It's disgusting. We are bending over backwards to try and accommodate these new people and we're creating every excuse to change training, implement smartphones, and cater to them. "We" have told them, essentially, that we can't exist without them. We waive everything possible at MEPS, we don't kick anyone out of entry level training regardless of behavior, performance, or academic shortfalls.

So, generational issues are of our own creation because our senior leaders just didn't have the guts to uphold a standard for entrance and training for the past few years. Those same leaders are the ones that come to us in the middle and tell us to suck that egg, that they've made so rotten. To me, that is toxic leadership at the institutional level.

Picking up on Peter's observations, on which I agree concerning sycophant staffers, it has been my observation that these reserved parking places are used in large part by spouses and children of the "privileged". It was pounded into my head as a newly minted 2nd Lt at Quantico, and constantly afterward, that the troops go first.

So even if it is some base staff weenie who implemented special non-duty related perks it only takes one GO to say stop this madness now. Guaranteed the neatly stenciled spray-painted reserved warnings and signs would be gone by zero-dark early the next morning.

Bill M.,
Not trying to defend the Marines because we have an unacceptable track record on toxic leadership in my opinion and I've said as much. But with things like these parking spaces, I often wonder if the leadership could really be that tone deaf or if this is the work of sycophant staffers that do such things without the principals' knowledge. There is plenty of this.

The whole parking spot thing at gyms, clubs, commissaries, etc, just goes against everything we stand for. Aren't officers and senior SNCOs always supposed to take the back of the line, letting their troops get taken care of first?

I think an important point to remember with such a survey is the shift in generational standards that is among our younger Soldier, NCO, and Officer ranks. Currently, generation Y is serving the bulk of our ranks, this generation is extremely sensitive to authority, treatment, and generally feel more capable than their leaders. While I don't necessarily discount their opinions of what is "toxic", I do feel think we may have more of an issue operating with two distinctly different generations - both Soldier development generations where younger SMs have grown up in a war time military and older SMs growing up in garrison...and...the generational differences in American society.

I may have to retract my positive comments on Marine leadership. Going back to the gym story, the Marines just decided to block off around six parking spaces for E-9s, COLs and GENs on a small base. Really sad to see that those with these ranks think they deserve and need a special parking spot at the gym. I see a lot of retirees that use that gym that have a hard time walking, but few parking slots for retirees. Senior members should have reserved parking at their office spaces, anything else is getting excessive and just demonstrates IMO the toxic leadership trait of "I'm special and deserving of special treatment". Toxic leaders will create a caste system if allowed to.

Charles, that was very well written. Many excellent points expressed clearly and tactfully. Thanks.

For those who can't get enough discussion on this topic there is a thread at the Quiet Professionals board concerning the original WaPo article with observations on the subject by QP members.

Not sure where this discussion will lead or when/where it will end.

My perspective is that promotion timelines will most definitely affect this issue. Seeing the next rank, doing the mental arithmetic and seeing how much younger you could be than the previous generation when you make BN or BCT Cdr and all that stuff...just leads me to the conclusion that greed starts to become a huge factor. As mentioned above, toxicity exists in a person before they get promoted to such & such level. However, when the system seems to reward that, we get problems such as we have now.

Our system rewards superficial measures, not substance and leadership.

I saw a CSM with the 82nd while in Iraq, he had a huge living quarters, big plasma tvs, and made a shower and latrine trailer off limits so he could use it all by himself. He directed a formation and stated that only clear lenses could be worn, then he showed up in dark lenses. The 3ID story reminded me of that CSM. Douche bag was the exact term that came to mind.

Not sure about the "anonymous" email suggestion. While I think it's a good idea, I see big Army throwing a wrench into that way, way, too much and too often. What would happen if a Soldier used that to say he/she was contemplating suicide? What then? Or, it's possible that the Army could view that as insubordination, perhaps? Since it involves different levels of the chain of command with subsequent action directed at other levels? Not sure on that, but the 'CYA' in me certainly does raise some red flags. Again, I see it as a good idea, but the sad part is that someone felt it necessary to do such a thing.

In the end I believe we must start eliminating privileges and things that were once viewed as simple courtesies - just outright deny that stuff and give a loud, clear, overt message to leaders that "you are not special". For instance, time to stop allowing post CGs the ability to change parking regulations. Just stick with the Army regulation and keep it simple. Keep reserved parking to GOs and handicapped and nothing more. Stop dedicating government vehicles to drive anyone around, other than the GOs. No more "executive secretaries". And, if it has to go into a regulation then so be it - but the 3ID stuff mentioned above as well as the 82nd stuff I saw first hand should be outlawed and even a mandatory inspection made to verify abuse, double standards, and toxic practices are not being carried out. You should never be living in the AC and stipulating that your Soldiers must do without. I've seen that type of crap as far down as the company and platoon levels - it's awful and Soldiers see that stuff immediately. Bad thing is, when one officer in your unit does it, the rest of the officers get labeled immediately thereafter.

In the summer of 1998, I was deployed to Ali al-Saleem Air Base, Kuwait with an Air Force special operations unit. Right next door to us was a brigade from the 3rd ID. To our amazement, they had no air-conditioning in any of their tents (dark-green GP mediums, no less) and no washing facilities. We felt bad for them, so we let them hang out in our chow tent between meals (it had A/C) and use our washers and dryers for their laundry.

Soon after, though, the brigade commander and his SGM came over and complained that we were making their guys 'soft'. Then it came out that both of those fine 'leaders' slept in air-conditioned trailers and had their own washers/dryers in said trailers.

Needless to say, we continued to help out our fellow Americans as much as we could. The leadership of the 3rd ID treated their men worse than dogs, it was embarrassing. Even the ODA guys from 5th SFG that we worked with were appalled at the situation.

If it was that bad for the regular Army back then, I can only imagine how much worse it is today....

All interesting comments...I am a current Battalion Commander deployed to Iraq. I do have to say that my only goal in the Army was to be a Battalion Commander. I have now reached that goal (be careful what you wish for). In my 19-year career in the Army I have had varied assignments and leaders...I can honestly say I have no idea if my team considers me to be a toxic leader. But I have seen leaders that I wish I was more like and other leaders that had serious issues. For me, leadership is very simple...be accountable and responsible, trust your people and protect them, and accomplish the mission.

I do not agree that the Army system needs to be changed...it is like most systems I would think; not always does the "right" leader get selected to lead...but our system has evolved over hundreds of years...and will most likely continue to evolve. The good leaders will continue to lead no matter what the system is that selects them...bad leaders will continue to be selected as well. But where I do think more responsibiliy lies is in the peer...in my mind, nothing hits closer to home than having a peer confront you about your issues and leadership style. Subordinates should not have to tell you that you are a toxic leader.

I am one of those leaders/Commanders who is working outside my designated career field (as mentioned in a previous post above)...not sure that is a bad thing...under my branch, I was not considered "competitive" for Battalion Command...but I am thankful for the honor and privledge to lead my team today. As I am quickly approaching my change of command, what I believe my measure of success or failure will be is the condition in which I hand the unit over to the incoming commander...only after I am gone, will I be judged a success or failure or toxic leader by my team.

Gentlemen,

I was going to direct you to a Facebook site where mostly enlisted (and some junior officer) talk about the things they see wrong daily every day. Fearing the possiblity that someone might get soldier in trouble for something they say, I won't do that. Suffice to say that 80k soldiers who are fans of the page are quite well aware of the problems of "Leader Toxicity". These are the guys and girls who fight your war, and as a moderator of the site, I see their complaints daily.

One of the things that amazes me as a senior NCO with 20 years in, both Active and Guard, is the "cover your ass" culture that has taken control of the Army, in the middle of a war. AS a young soldier, I was taught that I was to stand up, conduct a personal AAR, and drive on, and that I was responsible for my ctions, no one else. Now I see the expression "throw someone under the bus" and "blue falcon" as becoming the norm. Also the CYA attitude with the PT belts, etc, and the abuse subordinates take when they speak up for common sense.

I publish an online comic strip, Power Point Ranger, which daily points out the foibles of the Army. It's extremely popular with the troops, but at times I get disgusted with the very institutional problems that allow me to make fun of it.

I'm glad I'm getting out. Nor will I recommend to my sons that they join the Army.

~SFC H