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Why Americans are Inclined to be Poor Advisors (and What to do About It …)

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Why Americans are Inclined to be Poor Advisors (and What to do About It …)

 

Mark D. Rocke and John M. Gillette

“What part of what I’m saying don’t you understand?  We are here to accomplish a mission …  and you play an important part of that mission.  And make no mistake … we’re gonna get it done!”

 

“But Sir … we face some serious challenges here …”

 

“’Challenges?’  I don’t care about the ‘challenges’ you identify.  Success is about overcoming ‘challenges.’  I expect results … as do the United States of America, NATO, and donors and troop providers from all over the world.”

 

“But Sir … have you considered that in this culture, these things take time …?”

 

“Time?  Time?  We are out of time.  If you can’t get it done, I’ll find someone who can.  I assure you, that’s what my boss would say – and will say – to me.  You got me?  We need to get this done!”

 

“Sir, I hear you … but have you considered the effects of ethnic differences in the Ministry?  These people hate each other!”

 

“Sure, I’ve considered the effects … but their ethnic differences are damn sure not gonna keep us from accomplishing our mission.  What else do I need to clarify for you?”

 

“Well Sir, could you provide us with some more senior linguist support?  Or some language training?  Or both?  We got nothing but a few phrases – and no serious advisor training –    in our prep for deployment.   It would really help.”

 

I will try … but you know that stuff ain’t all that important … You gotta make what you got work for now … and remember … don’t be an Ugly American ….

 

Undisclosed Forward Location

Somewhere in Theater, Post-deployment

Sound familiar?  Maybe you’ve played a role in a real-life vignette much like this one.  The “take away:” Advising is hard – but it may be made harder by our American military culture and the society it reflects.  Put simply, despite best intentions, American advisors may face unintended challenges, which require conscious, deliberate action on their part and that of their leaders – to mitigate.[1]  Such challenges compound the difficulties already associated with achieving success in the realm of advising – particularly   in seeking to build the capacity of counterpart institutions and the units they are intended to support.

 

It is well established, in lessons learned and academic research, that advisory success is predicated, or conditioned, upon three foundational requirements which depend on the ability to: (1) understand the historical, social, and cultural context in which the advising mission is being performed; (2) adapt individual behavior to operate effectively within this context; and (3) establish effective, productive relationships with counterparts.

 

Unintended Obstacles

 

The “Military Mindset” Creates Pressure to Achieve Results, is Fundamentally Impatient, and Rewards a Bias for Action

 

International and National Political Expectations are Often Incompatible with Historical, Cultural, and Social Realities

  

Training for Military Advisors Results in Only Limited Understanding of the Operating Environment (in terms of History, Culture, and Language)

 

Military Advisors Receive Little to No Training in Advising Principles and Skills     Prior to Deployment

 

Pride in America may be Perceived as Reflecting Arrogance or Hubris

In this article, we describe a set of challenges, or obstacles, which undermine the ability to establish these conditions.  These obstacles will be familiar to all leaders, both military and civilian, who have advised.  While they will not all be as easy to recognize as those we identify in our (admittedly contrived, alarm-bell-generating) vignette, some or all of them will no doubt be evident to all who serve in this role. 

 

Our objective is to stimulate some reflection and discussion centered on how these obstacles shape the environment in which our advisors operate; how they may affect our ability to set the conditions needed to achieve advisory success; and how – based on experience and lessons learned – their effects can be mitigated.  The areas we explore are big, complex, and enduring features of the operating environment.  Our focus is not to try to change them.  Instead, we seek to enhance understanding of them and to remind our advisors, and those who will lead them, of their unintended, adverse, and cumulative effects, which decrease the likelihood of accomplishing larger mission objectives. 

 

What may be most striking about the insights and recommendations we offer is that few are new.  In fact, many are actually quite old, and have been part of the conversation focused on assessing America’s advisory efforts for decades.  Taken together, they offer clear evidence of our national habit of being far better at documenting lessons learned than learning and applying them.  Perhaps this article can help, in some small way, to address this behavior.

 

The Impact of the Military Mindset

 

The military mindset is focused on mission accomplishment … and rewards a bias for action.  While mission focus is the distinctive hallmark of the military profession, such a focus can also pose challenges to a mission which requires time, patience, and innovation to produce enduring success.  According to noted theorist Samuel Huntington,

 

The uniqueness of the military mind lies in certain mental attributes or qualities which constitute a military personality.  Military and civilian writers generally seem to agree that the ‘military mind’ is disciplined, rigid, logical, scientific; it is not flexible, tolerant, intuitive, emotional.[2]

 

These attributes contrast directly with those identified in the Resolute Support Security Force Assistance Guide, version 3.12 (now being updated).  The Guide – which reflects both doctrinal and academic imperatives – identifies the attributes that will “significantly enhance an advisor’s ability to adapt and thrive in a foreign culture [to be]:  flexibility … tolerance … perceptiveness … [and] empathy [among others].”[3]

 

While admittedly a stark characterization, which Huntington introduces to compare prevailing perspectives on institutionally reinforced military behaviors, his description does help to personify an image of military leader(s) who are often assigned to lead advisory missions.  This image illustrates why qualities demonstrated by successful advisors – patience, relationship-focused, empathetic – are, in many ways, antithetical (or certainly counterintuitive) to those championed by American military institutions. 

 

It may be “a bit of a stretch” to contrast Huntington’s famous characterization of the military mind, offered in 1957 (and again in 1985) in The Soldier and the State, with the attributes identified in the 2014 (most current) version of the Resolute Support advisor handbook.  Nonetheless, we believe the institutionally reinforced behaviors Huntington describes are as relevant in 2018 as they were in 1957.  To mitigate their potentially harmful effects, military and civilian professionals must adopt certain behaviors which differ from those which are institutionally reinforced.  To model these behaviors – in order to become successful – potential advisors must undertake serious reflection and introspection.

 

Military culture generally rewards those who act boldly in pursuit of mission related “progress” (which may have a downside for advisors).  The adverse impact of this culture is compounded by the constant turnover of individuals, each assigned relatively short tour lengths.

 

An American officer assigned as an advisor normally knows how long his tour of duty will be.  From the day he arrives in-country, he hears a clock ticking off the days left in his assignment, and he may feel a subconscious compulsion to complete a check list of ‘things to do’ in order to satisfy performance goals.[4] 

 

The norms and behaviors reinforced by this culture emphasize the achievement of time- and outcome-focused objectives which, in turn, encourage transactional advising.  Transactional advising utilizes quid pro quos to produce change or cause desired behaviors (e.g., “I will get you X so long as you do Y.”)  This approach will not lead to sustainable outcomes and enduring change.  It merely addresses an immediate need, normally identified by the counterpart.  Conversely, transformational advising – a far more desirable style of advising – focuses on influencing counterpart thinking (e.g., “I know this problem concerns you.  Would you care to discuss it and see if we can identify ideas that might help you solve it?”)[5]

 

Building non-transactional relationships requires deliberate efforts to establish rapport.  It requires understanding the social context in which counterparts operate, which often prizes discussion about family and the exchange of pleasantries before plunging into business matters – a concept which is easy to write about but often hard to put into practice.  In commenting on his experience in Afghanistan, one experienced advisor offers,

 

It means engaging in small talk about families and other interests at the outset of an advisory meeting.  The more you get to know [one another] and sit and have tea, and [express your willingness] to talk about random things, [the more credibility you gain] that you can use to help [employ] other advising concepts.  It also means an openness to routinely accepting invitations for lunch or tea, even when no discernible business is at hand.[6]

 

The Tyranny of Political Expectations

 

The political pressures placed on Coalition policy makers often force unrealistic, unattainable timelines.  Put simply, advisors often face enormous pressure from superiors to demonstrate progress in comparatively – or historically – short timeframes.   Experience shows that it takes consistent focus, over time, to achieve sustainable progress. 

 

Institution building takes time.  Recent analysis comparing country experiences for institutional reform suggests it takes 15 to 25 years to improve institutions a single standard deviation—this is, not moving Haiti or Somalia to the level of … Canada, in terms of institutional quality, but rather moving them to something that is “good enough” to deliver basic government services.[7]

 

Regardless of the pressures they face, advisors must demonstrate the courage and integrity to report their assessments accurately.  Moreover, to build upon a theme discussed in the previous section, time-driven objectives established to satisfy political objectives normally mean little to counterparts. 

 

Looking at his new environment, the advisor may feel that action is vital and should be immediate.  The foreign official, on the other hand, has a different view of time and a different perspective.  His focus is indefinite, and he will not be rated on one year’s performance. He generally will not share the American’s sense of urgency.[8]

 

Meaningful change is only achievable by attacking root causes, not symptoms.  In this regard, nothing takes the place of time.  True reality is rarely understood in a single visit or discussion with a counterpart.  Issues in need of resolution are typically complex, multi-layered, with the root causes understood only after considerable dialogue.  Creating change requires an understanding of root causes and foundational problems.  Moreover, change requires consensus and shared commitment.  For change to endure, it must result from internal, not external forces.  Advisors must work to influence thinking about change.[9] 

 

To Scale your expectations appropriately. To be effective, you must pragmatically and realistically assess the institution to which you are assigned to serve as an advisor.  U.S. capacity building partnerships might send you to advise a Foreign Security Force (FSF) or a ministry with as little as a few thousand personnel, or one with tens of thousands.  Similarly, the budgets supporting Foreign Security Forces may range from less than twenty million to more than five billion U.S. dollars. 

 

You may also find yourself working where there are no viable Foreign Security Forces, no ministries, and only limited human capital on which to build their capacity.  On the other hand, you might find yourself working in a location in which those elements are present, yet are so adversely impacted by other problems (e.g., corruption or extra-judicial conduct) that they are, in large part, ineffective. 

 

Systemic, often endemic, issues such as corruption have powerful negative impacts on achieving change.  When identified, you must report the issues to your chain of command and continue to perform your advisory duties.[10]  Clearly, you must scale your expectations according to your mission guidance, informed by the realities of conditions within the partner nation.

 

The Complexity of the Operating Environment

 

Understanding the key influencing factors of the context results from structured, focused analysis.  Most readers will not find it very hard to recall a well-publicized incident or personal experience in which cultural sensitivities were roundly ignored or unintentionally violated.  An unintended slight; a cultural misstep; a failure to see a situation through the eyes of the counterpart; a premature or unrealistic establishment of expectations; a discounting of the effectiveness of existing procedures; a promise that cannot be fulfilled; the adoption of an overly complicated approach in a literacy-challenged society; or the recommendation for a quick-fix, transactional solution that will not outlive the tenure of the advisor … all of these outcomes occur every day in deployed settings. 

 

Most can be avoided by demonstrating patience, courtesy, and awareness of self. 

 

The advisor must look at himself through local eyes and the local culture.  If the American officer’s ‘can do’ attitude is too highly developed, he may seem ill-mannered and abrasive to the official and his staff, who often operate at a different tempo than that in U.S. military circles.[11] 

 

Conscious consideration of how others perceive Americans will also prove to be helpful.  “It is important to understand American and military culture to [appreciate] how foreigners view Americans and how [the] actions [of Americans may] influence others.”[12]

 

Demonstrate a willingness to moderate behaviors to avoid acting in stereotypical ways – particularly in the early stages of relationship building.  “American culture may be unusual to people who are unfamiliar with it.  Understanding a foreign culture allows for better anticipation of foreign perceptions and … [correspondingly appropriate] modification of behavior.”[13]  A tendency observed on the part of Americans is an overt desire to “get things accomplished,” the purpose after all, for which Americans are deployed to serve as advisors.  “As a rule, Americans walk into meetings and begin right at the scheduled time and ‘get right down to business.’”[14]  Such behavior, particularly demonstrated by advisors who are working to establish rapport, is extremely counterproductive.

 

Gaining familiarity with languages used within the partner nation produces many obvious benefits and others less so.  Communicative skill is a key attribute of effective advisors and language proficiency improves communicative skill.  Ideally, all advisors serving overseas would be proficient in the languages used within their region – yet, in terms of time, resources, and aptitudes, this goal is wholly impractical and unattainable.  Regardless of the level of proficiency obtained, the willingness on the part of the advisor to try to communicate in language(s) used within the partner nation demonstrates respect for both counterparts and the culture in which they operate – and should be encouraged.

 

Familiarity of partner nation language(s) also provides a way to learn about counterparts’ society, history, and culture.  Understanding the names of special holidays, events, and traditions is normally a part of language study.  As a result, the study of language(s) normally increases the ability to operate in foreign nations.  It also provides the opportunity to gain insights since advisors will normally hear conversations initiated by counterparts – before they are translated.

 

Learn to use linguists and cultural advisors effectively.  Regardless of whatever language proficiency may be obtained, advisors will normally depend on linguists and cultural advisors to translate their ideas and those of their counterparts.  The ability to speak a foreign language would prove to be an enormous asset for an advisor; however, attaining fluency during preparation for deployment is an unrealistic expectation.  For this reason, the ability to use linguists effectively is a key skill that will help, to some degree, to offset the challenges posed by language barriers. 

 

Skill in transmitting short, succinct messages – avoiding the use of jargon or slang – and maintaining good eye contact and “body language” will be helpful to establishing rapport, and over time, healthy, productive relationships.  The natural pause associated with a translated discussion also provides the opportunity to not only better understand a counterpart’s thoughts and ideas, but also to carefully to focus the message sent by the advisor in response.

 

The Body of Knowledge Referred to as Advising Skills

 

Relationships are the building blocks of advisory success.  In its most elemental sense, advising is a person-to-person, human-to-human endeavor.  Relationships which enable open communication and the productive exchange of ideas are foundational.  Ideally, and over time, trust – characterized by mutual expectations that agreements made will be honored – will be established.  A significant benefit of trust is that is creates a safe environment in which to explore deep-seated challenges.  Additionally, a high level of trust normally results in “counterparts [being] more inclined to accept and follow recommendations.”[15] 

 

Relationships don’t just happen – they result from the conscious application of rapport-building skills (and sometimes they don’t materialize as desired).  Consider the insights of one advisor with considerable advisory experience, “Rapport building … can be a challenge.  [It] requires natural relationship-building skills … [and] can take one to three months for an advisor to establish a meaningful and influential relationship with his Afghan counterpart.”[16] 

The constant turnover of advisors complicates this process of establishing rapport.  “Without personal and institutional reasons to bond, and given the short-term focus of advisors serving brief assignments, establishing rapport was a was a topic much easier discussed than accomplished.”[17]

 

Relationships can be jeopardized by imprudent actions on the part of the advisor.  In a report summarizing his experience in advising the Afghan Minister of Defense, Colonel Joe McLamb offered an extremely insightful account of his observations of U.S. advisors working within the Ministry.

 

Two highly ineffective approaches are to “threaten” and to “demand.”  It is possible ‘for the Coalition to threaten to publish the Minister for not complying with a Coalition request, typically by denying one or more of the resources the Minister needs to be successful.  Such an approach almost universally works in the short-term, but [fails in the long-term].’  The most common effect of “threatening” is the creation of a sense that the Coalition is ‘bullying’ the Afghans, which often translates into an unspoken commitment [on the part of the Afghans] to regain honor by defying the Coalition in some other area [without Coalition knowledge]. 

 

A slightly less [heavy handed] … approach is to simply demand that the Minister [comply with a specific Coalition policy or objective], ‘pointing out all the Coalition has done for him in the past.’  The observations from numerous advisors and, documented in many Lessons Learned reports, suggests strongly that even without a threat to invoke some measure of conditionality, Afghans [are most likely] to respond to demands in much the same manner as threats.[18]

 

The major idea, reported in countless reports and testimonials, is that “relationships matter.”  “Advisors must assiduously work [over time] to build relationships with their … counterparts.  [W]here possible, [as discussed earlier, they should] work [to establish] … non-transactional, [or transformational] relationships … through sharing meals, conversations, and other social activities – which may help to offset the effects of continuous cycling through people through theater due to tour lengths normally of one year or less.”[19]

 

In addition, even in the face of extreme, mission-focused pressures, advisors and their leaders must remain aware that that “everything takes time.” [20]  Consider the following example from Afghanistan.

 

A newly assigned advisor … was at first unable to … obtain unlimited access to the minister [he was charged to advise].  Within a few months, [through the skillful application of relationship-building techniques,] the advisor had gained the minister’s confidence to the point where he could sit in on all his meetings and obtain immediate access [to the Minister’s office] [original emphasis].[21] 

 

Again, much like the armchair, Monday morning quarterback, such insights and observations are easy to identify but hard to implement

 

To be an effective advisor, you must understand the true nature of the problem and your counterpart’s capacity – from the perspective of your counterpart – before you can recommend courses of action, plans, and initiatives.  Further, the problem should be defined, in a mutually accepted way, as the gap between “required” and “current” capacity.[22] 

 

All advisory efforts should be associated with closing this gap.  High quality, productive relationships, characterized by open communication, mutual respect, and ideally, trust, provide the means to identifying potentially gap-closing initiatives.

 

Beware of the Dangers of Arrogance and Hubris

 

Understand behaviors that may be perceived as arrogant or hubristic.  Arrogance is defined as, “an attitude of superiority manifested in an overbearing manner or in presumptuous claims or assumptions.”[23]  Hubris, often includes arrogance in its definition, and is effectively defined as “extreme pride and arrogance shown by a character that ultimately brings about his downfall.  Hubris is a typical flaw in the personality of a character who enjoys a powerful position.  As a result of [being consumed by power or self-importance], he overestimates his capabilities to such an extent that he loses contact with reality.”[24]  

 

Americans manifest a tendency to be less than mindful of hubris which produces undesirable behaviors on their part.  This tendency is compounded by the reactions of international actors to Americas’ role in the world, routinely criticized as being imperial, self-righteous, “imperial,” adventurist, and more. 

 

The concept of “American exceptionalism” often elicits anger and criticism from groups or nations around the world.

 

Americans, generally, value open and direct communication, while other cultures, particularly those in the Middle East, view these traits as abrupt and rude behavior.  American culture tends towards individualism and encourages competition, innovation, and materialism.  Collective societies may view these features as selfish preoccupations and aggressiveness.[25]

 

Model the behaviors you desire to be emulated.  A central premise in all international advising training is the principle that, much like the Golden Rule, advisors should treat their counterparts with respect, empathy, and humility.  Put into simplest terms, “The advisor should be humble.  He should always remember that his [counterpart] may not have his resources, his background of living in a peaceful, orderly society, or his confidence in a good future and a guaranteed pension following retirement [original emphasis].”[26] 

 

Begin with the problem, not the solution.  Looking at a situation through American eyes can reinforce the tendency to impose solutions.  A more beneficial approach – again, easy to write about and hard to implement – would be to begin with the problem, not the solution.  All too often, as advisors, we begin by offering solutions.  Solutions should result from questions discussed within the context of a deeper, perhaps common, understanding of problems to be addressed.  Advisors’ understanding of problems and challenges is enhanced by efforts to be empathetic, in other words, to be able to see and to understand a situation in the same manner as does the counterpart – without getting emotionally attached to either the situation or the desired outcome.

 

Don’t confuse deference and agreement.  At the point of exhaustion or to avoid conflict, the counterpart may simply “agree to do it your way.”  To be enduring, change requires persuasion with ideas and doctrines understood and embraced by the counterparts.  A foreign advisory force cannot simply overlay its doctrine and assume success will follow; history has proven it will not. 

 

On countless occasions, advisors have pushed in a determined manner to obtain an action or a certain outcome.  At some point, not unlike a poorly negotiated situation, the counterpart is likely to temporarily concur with the advisor’s recommendation or advice – just to eliminate a point of disagreement.  If the counterpart’s views are not taken into full consideration, it is likely that the counterpart may state, “OK, OK, I will do it your way, but when you leave I will go back to the way I believe this situation must be addressed.”  The outcome in this case clearly reflected deference to preclude friction in the short-term.  The more desired, less expedient outcome, which required agreement, not simply deference was not achieved – which virtually ensured an unsustainable outcome.[27] 

 

Don’t be an Ugly AmericanTaken from the book of the same name, an Ugly American is an American citizen who visits a foreign country and views everything from an American standard, refusing to acknowledge local culture and standards. [28] Because of this ethnocentric viewpoint, the American is often ignorant to, or dismissive of, the foreign culture and is perceived to be insensitive or rude, or both.  In simplest terms, such behavior undermines the ability to establish healthy, productive relationships, ideally, over time, characterized by open communication and, ultimately, trust.

 

The advisor must be a true American, but not an Ugly American.  Whatever his own religious and political convictions, the advisor must show respect for local culture and tradition to be successful.  He will not judge [original emphasis].”[29]  The advisor must also be informed and balanced in the advice he offers and its implications for the American or coalition policy objectives.  “The advisor interprets the American viewpoint to [his counterpart] … and helps him avoid misunderstandings that can affect both countries.”[30]  

 

The bottom line, in this regard, is that building relationships is hard work – and it means venturing into spaces well outside normal “comfort zones.”  Such behavior, which requires determination and resilience, is needed to be successful.  Conversely, the unwillingness or inability to establish relationships will undoubtedly lead to failure.  In this regard, the caution offered by Lederer and Burdick in the epilogue of The Ugly American, is particularly telling.  “If we are not willing to pay the human price, we had better retreat to our shores.”  They add, “We might as well pull out before we’re thrown out.”[31] Their warning remains valid and timely today, well over sixty years since they first offered it.   

 

Effective Advising Requires Deliberate Action, Self-Awareness, and the Ability to Adapt

 

Mitigating the Effects of Unintended Obstacles

 

Moderate the Potentially Harmful Effects of the “Military Mindset”

  • Remember that Military Culture Normally Rewards those with a Bias for Action
  • Guard against Unrealistic Pressure for Action which can Lead to Transactional vice Transformational Advising

Establish Realistic Goals to Achieve International and National Political Expectations

  • Understand that Political Pressures Often Force Unrealistic Timelines
  • Remember that Meaningful Change is only Achievable by Attacking Root Causes, not Symptoms
  • Scale Expectations Appropriately

  Reinforce Training for Military Advisors which Results in Limited Understanding of the Operating Environment (in terms of History, Culture, and Language)

  • Understand the Key Influencing Factors of the Context
  • Demonstrate a Willingness to Moderate Behaviors to Avoid Acting in Stereotypical Ways
  • Understand the Benefits of Language Proficiency … Even if Fluency is Well Beyond Reach
  • Become Skilled at Working with Linguists and Cultural Advisors

Military Advisors Receive Little to No Training in Advising Skills Prior to Deployment

  • Invest in Building Relationships which are the Building Blocks of Advisory Success
  • Develop the Ability to Understand the True Nature of the Problem(s) – from your Counterpart’s Perspective

  Pride in America may be Perceived as Reflecting Arrogance or Hubris

  • Understand Behaviors that May be Perceived as Arrogant or Hubristic
  • Model the Behaviors You Desire to be Emulated
  • Begin with the Problem, not the Solution
  • Don’t Confuse Deference and Agreement
  • Don’t Be an Ugly American …

To sum up, effective advisors find ways to accomplish the following imperatives:

  • Establish productive relationships with the counterpart leaders they advise which are characterized by relatively open communication and, ideally, mutual respect
  • Contribute to the development of individual and collective competencies (in functional and organizational requirements) within the organizations they support;
  • Work with their counterparts to introduce processes and systems needed to achieve enduring, sustainable capacity growth;
  • Avoid “becoming part of the organization” they are tasked to advise and perform no executive functions;
  • Demonstrate the confidence, resilience, and agility to adapt to the challenges they will encounter.

Prudence, discipline, and patience – all learned behaviors – are required to apply the observations and lessons learned we’ve identified.  The challenge many senior advisors face is that they are often (unknowingly) victims of their own professional success.  While they may be earnest and sincere in their desire to be effective advisors, they may feel no need to assess themselves, their social styles, and how they interact with others.  “Our previous success often prevents us from achieving more success,” offers Marshall Goldsmith in What Got You Here Won’t Get You There.  He describes that often what “stand[s] between you and the next level of achievement [, or mastery of a difficult new challenge,] may be one small flaw – a behavior you barely even recognize.”[32]  He also describes the effect success may have, over time, of reinforcing behaviors.  Many of these behaviors might be perfectly well suited to commanding a military organization or supervising a team of professionals; however, they are not well suited to establishing a meaningful relationship – intended to assist a counterpart to be successful – in a foreign culture. 

 

With a practical measure of self-awareness as a foundation, conscious actions, and often self-regulating measures, are required to become effective as an advisor.   In this article, we’ve identified many behaviors and pitfalls which will compound the challenges associated with serving as an advisor in a foreign culture.   We’ve also identified many of the behaviors which are characteristic of successful advisors.  Again, there is no formula that will yield success; however, the first step in modeling such behaviors is honest self-reflection to improve self-awareness.

 

The authors are both Senior Facilitators for the Ministry of Defense Advisor Program who work to impart these lessons to students attending that training.

 

End Notes

 

[1] Across our Armed Forces, principally in our unconventional forces, in which advising is a mission essential task, excellence in advising is well documented.  The members of these units undergo extensive, comprehensive training and education.  The insights and recommendations offered in this article are provided for military and civilian advisors who belong to conventional units or organizations in which advising has not been considered a primary mission focus, and therefore, they have not been afforded the training, education, and experience this mission requires.

[2] Samuel P. Huntington, The Soldier and the State, Belknap/Harvard, revised edition, 1985, pp. 59-60.

[3] Resolute Support Security Force Assistance Guide, Version 3.12 (now being updated), 2014, p. 19.

[4] As quoted from Michael Metrinko, in The American Military Advisor:  Dealing with Senior Foreign Officials in the Islamic World, Peacekeeping and Stability Operations Institute, August 2008, pp. 12-13.  Hereafter cited as Metrinko.

[5] Summarized from John Gillette, unpublished paper, p. 5. Building Institutional Capacity, drafted for the Center for Army Lessons Learned (CALL), 2018.  Hereafter cited as Gillette.

[6] As quoted from Todd Helmus, Advising the Command:  Best Practices from the Special Operations Advisory Experience in Afghanistan, RAND Corporation, 2013, pp. 13-14.  Hereafter cited as RAND.

[7] Lant Pritchett and de Frank Weijer, Fragile States, Stuck in a Capability Trap?  World Development Report, Background Paper, 2011, p. 37.

[8] Metrinko, p. 13.

[9] Summarized from Gillette, pp. 10-12.

[10] Ibid., p. 13-15.

[11] Metrinko, p. 10.

[12] Advising:  Multi-Service Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures for Advising Foreign Security Forces,                ATP 3-07.10/MCRP 3-03D.1/NTTP 3-07.5/AFTTP 3-2.76, 9 June 2017, p. 83.  Hereafter cited as Advising.

[13] Ibid., p. 83.

[14] Ibid, p. 119.

[15] Metrinko, p. 13.

[16] RAND, p. 10.

[17] Ibid., p. 12.

[18] Reprinted from Colonel Joe McLamb’s excellent report, Advising the Minister of Defense, A Mid-Tour Report, contained in CALL Bulletin 18, January 2018, p. 4. 

[19] RAND, p. 15.

[20] Metrinko, p. 12.

[21] Ibid., p. 17.

[22] Gillette, p. 19.

[24] As found on the Literary Devices website, https://www.literarydevices.net/hubris

[25] Advising, p. 213.

[26] Metrinko, p. 5.

[27] Summarized from the article, Confusing Deference and Agreement, published in Small Wars Journal, December 2011.  The author describes numerous situations in Vietnam, Afghanistan, and elsewhere in which deference was obtained, only to be rapidly undone when the advisor advocating for a certain outcome was removed from the situation.

[28] Summarized from the work of William Lederer and Eugene Burdick in The Ugly American, Norton, 1958, pp. 266-9, in The Factual Epilogue of the book, which offers the clearest depiction of the traits and attributes which have come to be known as the “ugly” aspects of The Ugly American.  Wikipedia characterized this personification of qualities as representative of Americans operating abroad “whose insensitivity to local language, culture, customs and refusal to integrate was in marked contrast to the polished abilities of Eastern Bloc (primarily Soviet) diplomacy and led to Communist diplomatic success overseas.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Ugly_American)Hereafter cited as Lederer and Burdick.

[29] Metrinko, p. 5.

[30] Ibid., p. 8.

[31] Lederer and Burdick, p. 124-5.

[32] Marshall Goldsmith, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There.  These comments were summarized from the Foreword and pp,7-8.  The title of this book says it all.  This text was Impediments to success and self-awareness are subjects that are easy to talk about but very difficult to address.  To effect change, feedback – provided ideally in a non-threatening, supportive way – is key.  Providing such feedback is a mainstay of the Minister of Defense Advisor (MoDA) course.  One of mandatory tasks our students must complete to graduate is contained with the MoDA Evaluation Program, Essential Task #11, Demonstrate Awareness of Self.  This task requires students to identify two strengths and two shortcomings in the manner in which they deal with people and problems.  This identification – along with their efforts to manage these aspects of their social and commun-ications style – occurs during a mandatory, mentor-led facilitated discussion conducted during the initial phase of the Final Exercise.

Categories: advising

About the Author(s)

John Gillette is a former infantry officer and private sector business owner with ‘on the ground’ experience from Viet Nam to Afghanistan. He served a two year tour as a member of the first team deployed under the MoDA program in Afghanistan he served as the senior advisor to an Afghan Major General with whom he traveled extensively within the country. Today he serves as the Senior Facilitator for the MoDA and remains heavily involved in Afghanistan aw well as a variety of advising missions in other countries.  His length and breadth of experience across fifty years offers candid, passionate insights of the pitfalls to success he has seen repeated again and again, the actual state of our mission today and what we must do in order to be successful in the future.

Mark Rocke is an independent consultant focusing in: (1) developing U.S. policy and strategy for Afghanistan, South Asia, and the Middle East; and (2) preparing advisors to serve in overseas posts through training and instruction in leadership, strategic planning, relationship building, and institutional capacity building.  Mark is a former Infantry officer, who served in the Senior Executive Service from January 2008 to June 2016.  He served twice as a Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army; directed the Partnership Strategy Group for US Forces-Iraq (USF-I) in Iraq; and directed the Department of the Army’s European Infrastructure Consolidation Task Force.  He concluded his public service as the Deputy Advisor to Afghanistan’s National Security Advisor.  In this role, he worked in a complementary fashion with the Commander, Resolute Support, who served as the Principal Advisor.  While in Afghanistan, Mark advised and assisted the National Security Advisor to develop and adapt all aspects of policy, strategy, organization, and process for Afghanistan’s national security establishment.

Comments

Thanks for pointing this out, it is increasingly clear many people who refer to the book have no idea what it means. I can't recall the name of the character referred to as an Ugly American, but he was a civilian engineer advisor who had good character, but an ugly appearance hired to advise the Vietnamese on building large infrastructure projects (sound familiar, Afghanistan and Iraq), but he insisted on helping the locals develop their own home grown infrastructure.  For example, he taught the Vietnamese to use bicycles to power a simple irrigation system.  Meanwhile the princes in Embassy focused on hosting VIPs, rarely visited the country side, and focused on spending a huge amount of U.S. money to win the fight against the communists.  The characters in the book replicate the reality of U.S. policy today in many places.  It certainly should be read again, or a first time by the many how their who incorrectly refer to it.  JFK loved the book, and sent it to several senior government officials.  It is an easy read, just a couple of hours of depression.   

 

 

One-eyed Man

Tue, 06/05/2018 - 2:14pm

John and Mark,

Thanks for this article. It's clear that it is the product of much experience and deliberation.

I strongly recommend that you read The Ugly American, not just the factual epilogue. In the novel, engineer Homer Atkins, the Ugly American, is the admirable character. He's the guy who eschews the high life in the country's capital and is out living and working in the villages, getting dirty, interacting with the people, and coming up with results for the people.

'Ugly American' has come to mean the exact opposite, and, of course, this is the irony and impact of the title and the book itself. So, the admonition should not be, "Don't be an Ugly American." It should be, "Be an Ugly American." Perhaps such an admonition could lead prospective advisors to read the Lederer & Burdick book and absorb the book's still powerful and relevant lesson. David