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The 12 Critical Areas That Require Addressing: An Army General Officer’s (Retired) Perspective
Donald C. Bolduc
There are 12 critical areas that must be addressed to ensure the Army is successful in the future. None of what appears here has to do with technology, but rather people, our most important asset. The 12 critical areas are as follows:
- Mission Command
- Counseling and Mentoring
- Talent Management
- Senior Leader Selection
- Get Public Affairs Right
- Get Multi-Generation Communication Right
- Military Service and Veterans Heath, Morale, and Welfare:
- Revise the Education System
- Mandatory Service
My concern is derived from personal experience and from what I continue to hear from our service members. Most of what I say here, I have said before as a Major, Lieutenant Colonel, Colonel, and Brigadier General. It was not popular then and will not be popular now. I put people first and loyalty to unit second, and mission third.
Let me begin by saying the military remains a noble profession filled with competent and committed officers. It was my honor to serve as both an enlisted man and an officer. I have studied previous eras and served in the post-Vietnam Army, the air land battle Army, the post-Gulf War Army, and the post 9-11 Army. I have seen today’s Army transform, develop, and struggle with what it is supposed to do and represent. I believe that it is not the emphasis we place on money and resources, but the lack of emphasis we are placing on leadership that is causing the Army significant problems internally and will eventually present vulnerabilities technology will not be able to overcome if not properly addressed. In my assessment there are 11 additional areas that logically arise when leadership is not firing on all cylinders.
I believe that for the Army to be successful in the future it is going to have to start focusing more on leadership and get leadership right. The ability of our Army to successfully lead our Soldiers and defend the nation depends on leaders that possess above all moral courage and understand how to lead in both conventional and unconventional environments. The military leadership we need is one that can deal with the strategic issues of the 1st world and the asymmetric challenges of the 3rd world. Our future success in large wars and in small wars will be dependent on leadership and their ability to adjust and change the institution to a mission command driven Army, make interoperability among services and Special Operations actually work, and discontinue petty differences for the greater good. Senior leaders default to lack of resources, budget shortfalls, and personnel shortages as their main readiness problem. These are valid concerns, but the real problem is the trust, resilience, growth and development of our people. We rarely talk about leadership in the Army outside of schools and other periodic venues because we are too busy with other requirements that in my assessment are less important than leadership. Queen Elizabeth II said, “I know of no single formula for success. But over the years I have observed that some attributes of leadership are universal and are often about finding ways of encouraging people to combine their efforts, their talents, their insights, their enthusiasm and their inspiration to work together.”
That said, the Army leadership needs to admit to itself it has a trust and honesty problem. These problems can be directly attributed to inadequate leadership engagement, not understanding mission command, poor talent management, requirement overload, and a lack of moral courage. This is a topic that many in the Army are uncomfortable discussing and many will not appreciate my observations. While Noncommissioned Officers, Captains, Majors, Lieutenant Colonels, and Colonels describe their struggles in maintaining their integrity in a culture that breeds dishonesty and lack of trust, senior officers say the right things, but are reluctant to take care of themselves, admit their mistakes or personal failings, and put their rank on the line for our people. The Army bureaucracy is so worried about protecting itself that it has lost touch with what is important to maintain resilient and ready Soldiers and units. Individuals and units are overwhelmed by the number of requirements and directives placed upon them. Therefore, they cannot properly focus on their core war fighting tasks. In the meantime, the issues with talent management, personnel management, education, organizational structure, awards, counseling, mentoring, and the promotion and selection of senior leaders are exacerbating the issues of trust and dishonesty. The Army profession rests upon the bedrock of good order, discipline, and trust. Unfortunately, an alternative reality where leading honestly, speaking truthfully, and reporting accurately has officers believing that they must be someone they are not, play along to get ahead, and be beholden to the person above you regardless of the consequences to the organization.
Jim Collins, the author of Good To Great, in his famous essay “The Hedgehog and the Fox”, noted Isiah Berlin divided the world into hedge hogs and foxes, based upon an ancient Greek parable. The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing. Hedgehogs simplify a complex world into a single organizing idea, a basic principle or concept that unifies and guides everything. It doesn't matter how complex the world; a hedgehog reduces all challenges and dilemmas to simple -- indeed almost simplistic -- hedgehog ideas. For a hedgehog, anything that does not somehow relate to the hedgehog idea holds no relevance. You want to know what separates those who make the biggest impact from all the others who are just as smart? They're hedgehogs. Freud and the unconscious, Darwin and natural selection, Marx and class struggle, Einstein and relativity, Adam Smith and division of labor -- they were all hedgehogs...the essence of profound insight is simplicity...Hedgehogs see what is essential and ignore the rest". I believe and assess the military’s “one big thing” is leadership.
Mission command in the Army is broken. If the Army leadership is not serious about recruiting, training, teaching, educating, and implementing mission command then it should stop talking about it. We must start by developing the right ideas and concepts around the Army Doctrine Reference Publication (ADRP) 6-0 by consolidating the six principles and then synchronizing it with ADP 3-0 and ADP 5-0. Regina Parker writes about this and gives an excellent explanation and a good road map to implementing change in mission command.
Much to the dismay of many of our current senior leaders, they do not employ mission command despite what they say in doctrine and promote to their subordinates. Mission command is not a command and control system, a technology, an undisciplined process, or a way to circumvent established procedures. Mission command is the highest form of professionalism and derives its purpose, direction, and motivation from the commander’s intent, shared understanding, and supporting initiative trust in your subordinates through empowering them to get the job done. Don Vandergriff explains this in detail in his essay “How the Germans Defined Auftragstaktik.” We cannot continue to operate in volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous environments where speed, agility, and flexibility is required under a restrictive command and control structure and expect our people to be effective. We must teach and educate our subordinates to operate under a broad concept of coordination and collaboration (the other and better approach to C2) providing the maximum flexibility through commander’s intent, authorities, resources, and top cover.
Mission command requires leaders to provide direction, delegate, and empower subordinates, but more importantly give the subordinates the latitude to use initiative, creativity, and imagination to get the mission done without delay due to excessive reporting requirements, limited authority caveated by permissions, and stifled by an onerous command and control process. Gerry Long talks about this in his essay on understanding and training mission command. I assess it is easier to train our subordinates on mission command then it is to train and get the senior commanders to employ it. To operate effectively in Afghanistan and Africa under an onerous process of command and control we developed a process in Afghanistan called OPERATIONS BOX (OPS BOX) and in Africa RAPID RESPONSE PRESENSE PATROL (R2P2). Both these tactical processes were designed to empower subordinates to act as fast as our partners and the threat itself while emphasizing trust, empowerment, flexibility, adaptability, creativity, initiative, and imagination. The subordinates were responsible for the detailed planning. My headquarters only required 4 slides to execute the mission through an established CONOP process driven by a 5 “W” notification process. Statistics revealed a 100% increase in activity and a significant increase in partner support and effectiveness against the threat. This was huge and really improved morale, trust, competence, and understanding. This also put the responsibility on the subordinate’s unit to do the right thing and changed the dynamic at the higher headquarters from the subordinate unit “works for us” to the higher headquarters “works for the subordinate unit.” This is significant because it lessoned the requirement burden, the reporting process, and balanced the responsibility for mission success between the subordinate units and the higher headquarters. Empower, trust, and protect your people and great things will happen.
As stated earlier, mission command demands the highest level of professionalism. Chad Foster in his essay “The Liability of Emotional Leadership,” points out, “that while emotional leaders are capable of extraordinary highs in the best of times, they also take their subordinates down to extreme lows when things go wrong.” This is so true, I led this way as a battalion commander and as I reflected on my command effectiveness I realized I had to change. I made some changes at the brigade command level and became more effective, but I still had issues in being an effective senior leader until I sought help to improve my overall health by managing PTS, TBI symptoms, sleep disorder, and pain management. I realized that a leader that cannot take care of themselves has no business taking care of others. Public outbursts, recriminations, self-pity, and knee-jerk reactions by senior leaders are too common and negatively affect their climate and prevent their subordinates from bringing up problems. Moreover, this prevents subordinates need to raise emerging issues, telling the leader what they need to hear interferes with trust that is needed to establish mission command. Our senior leader ranks are loaded with leaders that are being counterproductive due to emotional leadership and this gets in the way of leading effectively through mission command. As Chad Foster describes the “Fire Breather” and how they are lionized and promoted in the military. He describes a fire breather as the worst kind of leader when the pressure is highest, and he is correct that this type of leader is dysfunctional. I believe that closely linked to this is how we are selecting our senior leaders and has to do with organizational nepotism, advocacy, group think, and endorsing someone in their image or at least who appears to be in their image. This club mentality at the senior leader level is causing problems and negatively effects trust, morale, professionalism, and the implementation of effective mission command.
Mission command drives accountability and places emphasis on fixing the problem not the blame. Mistakes that do not involve illegal, immoral, or negligently unsafe actions must be underwritten by superiors. Emotional leaders personalize everything. Those serving on a team headed by an emotional leader must ride the highs and lows like they are on a roller coaster from hell. Emotional leaders lead as if everything is about them, when in reality it is about the team. We want leaders with emotion, but we want them to lead with passion. Passionate leaders do not lead through their emotion, but instead turn that emotion to passion by underwriting mistakes, fixing the problem, working for their subordinates, not thinking out loud, and look for commitment not outbursts to channel energy. Chad Foster observed, passion is not about you it is about something bigger than you. As a leader, you can be more effective through mission command by understanding and being self-aware of your shortcomings and leveraging the strengths and understanding your subordinates to work together as a team to accomplish the mission.
Investigations in the Army and the military place large focus on fixing the blame and not solving the problem. An example is the recent 60 Minutes episode of the “Friendly Fire” incident in Afghanistan in 2014 and the “Niger” investigations. Both are examples of fixing blame and sloppy communication. I have asked both the CSA (on his twitter account) and SOCOM Commander via email to reexamine the contents of the investigation in Afghanistan to ensure the problem that was identified with the B1 sniper pod has been fixed and to review the blame placed on Captain Anderson as it appears he was unjustifiably blamed, and his career and reputation negatively affected. Bottom line, Investigations take too long, the communication plan is flawed, and as a result the officials leak information creating confusion. Public information is handled in an uncoordinated way and the military hides behind the investigation process to hold information and avoid communication. This must change as the process loses credibility with our service members, their family, and the public. The media tries to determine the truth and as a result 1 story turns into 10 stories. Investigations have lost their significance and are not trusted by our service members. Unfortunately, investigations are seen as a process to protect the services, senior leaders, and fix blame on the subordinates instead of getting at the truth and fixing the problem. The best learning occurs after an incident not 6 months to a year later when a 6000-page investigation is finalized.
The other issue we have that negatively effects morale is the awards system. We guard this system like the virtue of our daughters. The award process is not fair and is too cumbersome and very bureaucratic. In many cases it is personality-driven and in some cases, quotas are placed on awards. We need to give more awards to our hard-working people and decentralize the awards process to ensure it is more flexible and responsive. We will punish a service member in 72 hours but take a year or more to get them an award. We lose awards too often and then put the onus on the service member to put his award together and resubmit it. In 33 plus years in the military, I have never heard of an Article 15 or general officer letter of reprimand being lost in the system, this is not the case with awards and evaluations and it must change.
Counseling and Mentoring
For mentoring and counseling to be effective we must do it. We also must be fair in how we counsel and we mentor. My observations lead me to concluded we are out of balance. Both should be used to enhance growth, reflect, and build trust, but we only dedicate our time to a few. We are supposed to use counseling and mentoring to improve our subordinate’s performance. Instead, when we use counseling and mentoring to support our guy at the expense of someone else. We exist in a system where mistakes are used to cull the herd instead of learning. Failure becomes feared instead of embraced to leverage experience. Grudges are held resulting in animosity and giving little chance for the subordinate to recover. One of the faults of our system is that it does not allow for mistakes to be corrected. Further, the judgmental and zero-defect environment prevents second chances at the junior level and senior level. This creates a culture of unhealthy competitiveness, zero defects, and lack of trust. I have seen in my counseling and feedback of subordinates and from officers that manage the personnel system, that the few that are “anointed” by senior leadership are given much latitude that others are not given.
Talent management is an area that perplexes us all especially when you see the outcome. It sits between the crossroads of relationships and our centralized personnel system which is part of the problem. Talent management in the Army makes ZERO sense and does not capitalize on experience, performance, and expertise. The Army’s model is based on move up or out, mediocrity, and time in grade and time in service limitations. The result is the most experienced are let go in their prime, a percentage of the best get frustrated and leave early, and at the senior levels promotion is not based on performance.
Each organization has a talent management process, but few people are familiar with or understand the process. Based on my observations, talent management is a stated area of emphasis, but it remains a constant challenge and few organizations get it right. The military promotion, award, and punishment system is designed to be merit-based so you would think that talent management would also be merit-based and equitable. The job does not matter so do your best, you get what you deserve and earn, and everyone has the same opportunity are common phrases heard from senior leaders. I am not convinced this is true and neither is anyone else. I am more convinced that the talent management system is based on my guy and not the right guy or the best guy. Your job does matter, who you work for matters, your branch matters, and the organizations you serve in matters. As a result, organizational nepotism, advocacy, go along to move along, and group-think drive this process. Loyalty to people, the organization, and the mission becomes less important than loyalty to the person despite the negative effect that may have on the former.
I have heard from many of my peers in private conversations and from subordinates during counseling that they believe talent management is broken. When I heard a senior leader describe the talent management process as the "Game of Thrones" I was taken back and realized just how "my guy centric" we have become in Army. I was struck that this seems to be viewed as a game where favoritism, power and influence win over experience, competence, and the right guy. I have seen general officers put into leadership positions without the proper assignment experience, promoted too early, and have a mediocre performance. This is a mistake and can be seen over time in their decisions, how incidents are managed, and that little was accomplished when leave their job and how much has remained the same.
A phenomenon known as “Mobbing” is also related to our talent management system. Mobbing is a phenomenon that happens during this talent management process. As it relates to talent management mobbing is "ganging up" by superiors to force someone out of the workplace through rumor, innuendo, intimidation, humiliation, discrediting, and isolation. In mobbing the officer has done nothing wrong, performance is above average, but is a victim of not being liked or have the advocacy of the leadership clique. I have seen many deserving officers overlooked for promotions, awards, and assignments because they are not somebody’s guy or a victim of mobbing by superiors. Relationships are important, but not at the expense of getting the right people in the right jobs.
There needs to be centralization put into the senior leader talent management process to ensure the right person gets the right job. More importantly, we must ensure they are properly educated and prepared for the next job. I listened to a 4-star opine how he did not have a job that prepared him to take command at his current 4-star command. How does this happen, but it happens too frequently at the 2, 3, and 4-star level and must be changed for the betterment of the organization and to improve the service to our people.
Senior Leader Selection and Assignments
The promotion process for 1-star and 2-star selections in the Army should be conducted in the same way as all other promotion boards in the Army. No one person should be able to prevent a promotion, nor should the promotion board be informally decided on before the board starts. The current process is not equitable and supports the current “good ole boy” system. By revising this system, we will mitigate the good ole boy, mobbing syndrome, and my guy process by properly opening the door for other qualified officers to be selected. This will also impact the 3 and 4-star selection process as the 1 and 2-star selections will be merit-based. Contrary to what many may believe the promotion process at the GO level is not merit-based, hence the saying, your last merit-based promotion in the Army is to colonel.
We need less GOs in the Army. We are top heavy. We also require organizational changes to lessen the burden a bureaucracy pushes down to subordinate commands. We should be in the business of effectiveness to conduct military operations not efficiency driven by a bureaucratic structure that interferes with gaining effectiveness. Our GO structure is an autocracy promoting privilege and special treatment that is not consistent with selfless service. Too many 4-stars is like having too many chefs in the kitchen, nothing gets done or takes forever to get done. There should only be two 4-star billets (CJCS and VCJS). All other 4-star positions should be reduced to 3-stars. All current 4-star jobs should become 3-star jobs, all current 3-star jobs should become 2-star jobs, all current 2-star jobs should become 1-star jobs, all 1-star jobs become colonel jobs, colonel to lieutenant colonel, lieutenant colonel to major. We are promoting general officers too young, too quickly and this negatively effects the Army at the senior levels and the men and women at the lower levels. The above-the-zone and below-the-zone promotions are no longer needed and should be removed from the promotion system. Today’s Army is too talented to promote early. By promoting officers early, they lose time and much needed experience. To promote above the zone delays, turn over in the promotion system.
Get Public Affairs Right
The other important area for senior leaders is Public Relations and Affairs. Alvin Adams said in the 1800’s that, Public relations are a key component to any operation in this day of instant communications and rightly inquisitive citizens.” The Army senior leadership gets a D+ on the effective use of media. The Army is not proactive in this area, usually late, defensive, and not transparent. There is a lack of trust in the media that permeates the military at the senior levels and it is completely unnecessary and gets in the way of effective communication, transparency, and understanding the environment. It is my observation that Public Relations and Affairs exists in the military as a defensive tool and not an offensive tool. Often the public affairs plan and guidance is “RESPOND TO QUERY” or some canned response that begs more questions. When senior leaders get in front of the camera they give their prepared comments and then stumble through the questions and often hide behind classification, ongoing investigation, and current operations to not provide answers. This approach lacks imagination and is so detrimental to our ability to be effective and stay ahead of the information cycle. Our unwillingness to provide information, answers, and tell the story will not stop the media from getting the details. Because of this approach we turn 1 story into 10 stories. We are comfortable with recruiting campaigns, telling good stories, but lack the same approach to explaining what we are doing, why we are doing it, and when things go wrong we lack the transparency to get the information out and hide behind the investigative process. In Special Operations we hide behind “Quiet Professional” and this hurts public affairs and the military. Our public affairs and relations personnel are professional, experienced, and good at what they do. We must trust them, support them, and become less risk averse in this important area of military relations. Bill Gates said, “If I was down to my last dollar, I would spend it on public relations.”
Bridging the generation gap in the military is hugely important and requires study and understanding by military leaders in order to leverage the full capacity of the people in their organization and understand family dynamics. The military does not do this well and must begin to teach multi-generation communication. Baby Boomers comprise 31 percent of the workforce (56 percent of whom hold leadership roles) and own 4 million companies. Baby Boomer brain drain is a significant problem: nearly 70 million are expected to retire over the next decade. This generation views work as a career rather than a job and prefers face-to-face communication. Generation X is considered the . They are known for leading the dot-com boom and taking charge as entrepreneurs. Generation X values straightforward feedback, a hands-off management approach and work-life balance. Millennials see the world differently from other generations. They are the first generation of digital natives and the . They crave meaningful work that contributes to their organization’s mission. But, they are also prone to frequent job changes as they seek employment on their own terms. Generation Z is new to the workforce. More digitally connected than millennial, they spend most of their time on a device. Their entrepreneurial spirit is strong with 72 percent wanting to start their own business, and 3 percent already have.
Research shows that there is not a lot of difference in the generations. Military training levels displace any other differences. A recent survey shows striking similarities in what people expect from a workplace. All generations agreed that:
They want their organizations to succeed. They want the same thing from their leaders. They want some measure of success in their careers. They are aging: All generations have different needs at different life stages. All will face challenges in the future.
Military Leaders must develop tools that allow them to leverage each generation’s contributions while emphasizing areas for collaboration.
- Cultivate leadership. Develop a culture that empowers and supports decentralized decision-making, encourage all to lead by example and hold staff accountable, and support programs that help identify and foster future leaders in the organization.
- Create communications strategies that reflect generational preferences.
- Help staff face workplace changes through change management programs.
- Build diverse teams of all ages, cultures, and genders.
- Be able to relate to all generations: Understand their music, clothing, slang, sports, entertainment, and politics etc.
Service and Veterans Heath, Morale, and Welfare
I recognized I had significant shortfalls as husband, father, and leader. My disposition and judgment were clouded by the long-term effects of PTS, TBI, pain management, and sleep disorder. At the urging of my wife and the realization I needed to get help, I enrolled in a program to get diagnosed and receive care and treatment. My thoughts were that at this point, I did not deserve the family and leadership opportunities I had in my life, so I better do something about it. To become a better version of myself, a better family man, and leader I needed to change. I had a loving, caring, and patient wife (Sharon), friends, nurses, and doctors that helped with my recovery. I learned that if a leader cannot take care of himself/herself, they have no business leading and taking care of others.
After two years in the medical program, I was doing much better and becoming a better version of myself. I realized that helping myself was not enough. I decided that I needed to establish a program in SOCAFRICA that provided the same opportunities to my service members, civilians, and their family members. By gaining the full support and buy in of the leadership in SOCAFRICA and coordinating with Landstuhl Regional Medical Center (LRMC) along with the assistance of Sarah McNary we were able to put together a program that began to make a difference in the lives of our service members, civilians, and their families. With the help of my senior enlisted advisor (Master Chief Rich Puglisi) who shares the same emotional and physical medical diagnosis as I do, we told our story and encouraged participation. The act of the most senior ranking members of the command standing behind their program, being transparent about their issues, talking about their personal and professional struggles, guaranteeing that getting help would not result in termination, labeling, stigmatizing or loss of security clearance resulted in many people in the command seeking treatment. There was only one service member that could not return to duty and that was due to a brain tumor being discovered during his medical screening. He was transferred to Walter Reed for surgery on the tumor, got a much-needed hip replacement and is back serving as a trainer in Special Forces.
The final thing I did to demonstrate moral courage, was to stand behind the program and tell my story to the New York Times. At the time of the publishing of the article, I was the senior most ranking officer on active duty to come out publicly with my struggles with the effects of PTS, TBI, pain management, and sleep disorder and how that was negatively impacting my personal and professional life. I received an outpouring of support from many people except for my chain of command. I also took my message to other media outlets, Colleges and Universities, Veteran Organizations, and Conferences to learn and share the stories of our service members. I visited medical and academic institutions to learn more about the science and therapy strategies. In addition, I spoke to many service members, civilians and their families to ensure they had my support to help destigmatize and promote seeking help. By June 2017, SOCAFRICA helped diagnose and provide care and treatment to 52 personnel with PTS, 421 with TBI, and numerous people with pain management issues, and sleep disorder. The results were a more productive command. A better command climate, a reduction in alcohol and drug incidents, a reduction in suicidal ideations, and an improvement at home with family relationships.
The health of our service members is a serious leadership issue and must be addressed in a better way. We take care of our equipment better than we do our people. Our people need an oil change too. If a race car never takes a pit stop it will never complete the race. The pit stop is as much a break for the driver as it for the car.
We need to as senior leaders ensure our people get their oil change. Senior Leadership must take an active role in this area to ensure resiliency and readiness and not sit on the sidelines and promote programs without personally standing behind them. Given the divorce rates, suicide rates, drug and alcohol incidents, family violence issues, sexual harassment and assault incidents more needs to be done by the senior leadership in our military. The health of our active service members and families reflects directly on the health issues we are having with our veterans.
The other area of this is transition from military service into civilian life and veteran status. This not an optimal process for our service members. It is truly a break in service that I describe as the “Point du Hoc.” You literally fall of a cliff and have to battle your way back up again, but instead of bullets it is a barrage of bureaucratic process that drain your will to live and leave many feeling hopeless. There is no warm hand shake on the other side and no introduction from the side you came from. The VA and DoD system do not talk to each other effectively and it is difficult for the service member and their family to make sense of everything and know where and how and which program is best for them. I assess that this exacerbates the suicide rate, unemployment rate, homelessness rate, divorce rate, crime rate among veterans, family violence, and drug and alcohol abuse.
What is required is for the military services to actually enforce the transition system to give the appropriate to the service and his/her family to prepare for civilian life. This would require leadership to enforce and to move some of their programs to the right of the transition process and link this to VA programs through a care coordinator model. By doing this the service member and family will experience a smoother transition that will make both the military service and VA more effective and decrease the problems we are experiencing with our veterans.
Sun Tzu said, "Regard your soldiers as your children, and they will follow you into the deepest valleys. Look on them as your own beloved sons, and they will stand by you even unto death!”
"To care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan" by serving and honoring the men and women who are America's veterans.
Revise the Education System
Our education system must be reorganized. Trying to teach and educate Colonels at the War College to think strategically is too late. We need to start when they are Senior Captains and Majors and reinforce this with appropriate assignments. Currently, the prestigious commands and those that put officers on the promotion are tactical commands. All commands must be valued equally and if not, the garrison, institutional, and training commands should be weighted higher. It is these commands that have the most impact on the Army. To better align education, experience, and assignments I propose that the War College curriculum replace ILE, CGSC and the ILE/CGSC curriculum and should be taught to captains at the career course. The commissioning system must focus teaching leadership. I assess that the current training system we have in place to train our new lieutenants for their occupational specialty remains unchanged. Our Colonels should go off to fellowships at universities, think tanks, and the interagency to apply strategic thought and then on to equivalent assignments. General and Flag Officer education needs to be curtailed significantly and should focus on generalship. It is amazing that with all the generals we have we cannot put together a quality course on generalship. As an example, the education should focus on making decisions, selflessness, intuition, importance of reading, talent management, time management, mentorship, guidance, grooming, counseling, teaching, delegation, and mission command. Tradition should not impede progress and effectiveness. I value tradition, but I am also an iconoclast and we must determine if there is a better way to train, educate, organize and develop our nation’s military junior and senior leaders.
The volunteer force has run its course. It served us well post-Vietnam and through 2001, but it is now time to move to a two-year mandatory service obligation for all American citizens. This system must be a ZERO exemption system with only specific and limited medical exemptions. We must have equitable representation from all levels of our society. This will ensure America is invested in everything our military does. It will ensure we have a stronger base to draw from in times of crisis and more familiarity with the military in all professions of our society. Our businesses, professions, political system will also benefit from veterans in all businesses, professions, in Congress, the White House, and throughout the interagency. Veteran’s Day will take on a new meaning because everyone will have skin in the game. A broader base of America from all levels will result in investment and improvement in the veteran’s system as more of our society will understand the requirements of the veteran and their family. The first check our government issues should be for veterans, the second for national security, and the third for critical infrastructure (highways, education, medical, and rule of law and law enforcement etc.).
Nothing is more important in our military than leadership. Leaders can fix and make anything right or they can be the source of all the problems. To be a good leader, you need training, education, knowledge, and experience, but leadership goes beyond the mechanical and into the compassionate. The compassionate part of leadership is where leaders are uncomfortable and short change their people. The “suck it up” attitude that saves lives in combat can kill you in garrison and at home. It is the responsibility of the leader to maintain the fighting spirit and balance this with the wellness of our service members and their families. I consider the most important developmental attributes of a senior leader are character, moral courage, intuition, sympathy, and empathy. These attributes give the experienced leader the advantage in creating a positive and balanced command climate, make decisions and set the tone for respect and decision making within an organization. It also guides the leader in how they should act to ensure consistency in their leadership approach. Jim Collins said, “The moment a leader allows himself to become the primary reality, you have a recipe for mediocrity, or worse. This is one of the key reasons why less charismatic leaders often produce better long-term results than their more charismatic counterparts.”
The priority of leadership must focus on the people, family, and mission. A leader should be doing three things; (1) attend to the mission not meddle in it, (2) develop leaders, and (3) take care of their service members and their families. Leaders must ensure our system and leadership approach remains merit-based, values-based, and faith-based. A published vision and leadership philosophy backed by consistent behavior and messaging is critical in leading and managing a military organization. This keeps the leader focused and on message. It cuts down on confusion and provides the left and right limits to the members of the organization to utilize initiative and accountability. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”
Leaders are not born they are developed, so to succeed we must develop them to want to be role models. A leader in an organization should be working to be a role model. Simply being a leader does not make you a positive role model. A leader has a lot to prove before becoming a positive role model. People will do what leaders say, but they will follow a positive role model to the end of the earth and back. I learned that understanding sound character, moral courage, sympathy, empathy, and intuition is hugely important in leadership and developing the habits to be a positive role model. I assess it is essential in setting the right climate in an organization. Your character sets the tone for your credibility to lead. Moral courage is the least understood and recognized attribute. Although valued, it is not rewarded as much as it is feared. Integrity is often defined as doing the right thing when no one is watching. Moral courage is doing the right thing when everyone is watching. Moral courage is feared by organizations that have insecure leaders, are afraid of change, support organizational nepotism, and support group think. Moral courage is so feared that there are undue command influence policies and regulations and whistle blower laws to protect those that have the moral courage to point out wrongs in an organization. Sympathy and empathy should not be confused with weakness. Personal understanding and understanding the experiences of others is hugely important to be a successful leader. A leader’s ability to use these sentiments supports the leader’s ability to demonstrate compassion and humanity. This is a deep and more profound understanding and acceptance of others that can be seen as being derived or enhanced by knowledge and wisdom. Compassion recognizes the "me" in "you," the shared commonality of feelings between individuals. Both sympathy and empathy imply caring for another person, but with empathy, the caring is enhanced or expanded by being able to feel the other person's emotions. The capacity to sympathize and empathize are considered vital for a sense of humanity —the ability to understand one's fellow humans and their problems. If a leader successfully develops these emotions the people around him will see his actions as genuine and not as obligatory or following some checklist on how to act in this situation. Nelson Mandela said, “A good head and a good heart are always a formidable combination”.
I learned that it is the differences of people in a unit that gives the unit it’s strength. It is up to a leader to devise a functional leadership and management process that leverages and balances the differences of people in an organization for the betterment of the organization. It is about creating the right combination of people to ensure unit physical and emotional strength. Intuition is a very important developmental leadership skill. Largely dependent on experience, personality, and disposition. Intuition is what a senior leader possesses over their subordinates if the leader is balanced, confident, and centered. The number 1 thing that distinguishes intuitive leaders is that they have the experience to listen to rather than ignore their gut feelings. What interferes with the exercise of intuition in an effective way is lack of confidence, arrogance, and lack of trust in your subordinates. Intuition should not be confused with knowing it all. There is a difference. Knowing when to listen and keep quiet as a leader can be very productive. Socrates said, “The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.”
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