War College professor talks Millennials, future of Army leadership
December 6, 2013
ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. (Dec. 5, 2013) -- An Army research professor lectured engineers on the link between generational differences and the Army's readiness to develop leaders in accordance with the Army core doctrine of Mission Command here, Dec. 3.
Dr. Leonard Wong, a retired lieutenant colonel and research professor at the Strategic Studies Institute at the U.S. Army War College at Carlisle Barracks, Pa., was invited to speak at APG by the Research, Development and Engineering Command's communications-electronics center, known as CERDEC, which develops new mission command technologies for the Army.
After hearing Wong speak at a previous event, John Willison, the director of CERDEC's Command, Power and Integration Directorate, invited Wong to speak at APG. The lecture explored Army culture, societal generations and mission command while referencing historical and current events, parenting styles and common stereotypes to keep audience members engaged, regardless of age.
"I knew the message would resonate with our workforce," said Willison. "It is directly relevant to the work that we do and thought provoking, both professionally and personally. It is good for our employees to hear other perspectives and to challenge them to think and to act on what they learned."
The current warfighting philosophy within the Army and the Department of Defense is Mission Command. There was a deliberate shift away from Command and Control which gave Soldiers specific orders and directives with little room to deviate. Mission Command empowers Soldiers to operate more dynamically based on broad commander intent and trust, rather than the traditional top-down hierarchical command structure, Willison said.
According to a white paper published by General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, future leaders must be adaptive, comfortable with uncertainty and given room to exercise judgment as the future operating environment becomes increasingly complex and asymmetrical.
However, generational differences coupled with the traditionally rigid Army structure and a lag between society and Army culture can make Mission Command and developing adaptive leaders a challenge, Wong said.
In order to fully outline the problem, Wong explained his research about the human and organizational structure of the Army, including the positive and negative characteristics of the Baby Boomers, Generation X and the Millennials.
Within the Army construct, the Baby Boomers, born shortly after WWII, are now senior leaders and general officers who came into the Army in the late seventies, at a time of complete reorganization. They turned the Army around and brought in major systems like the Blackhawk helicopter and the Abrams tank that earned them praise, Wong said.
Members of Generation X, born in the sixties and seventies, are now lieutenant colonels, colonels and majors who entered in the early nineties during a period of large downsizing after the end of the Cold War. They experienced little to change their generation's less than favorable outlook toward authority, Wong said.
The Millennials, born during the eighties and nineties, are now captains who will soon enter leadership positions and are often touted as incapable of making decisions on their own, he said.
"The Millennials show up [in the Army]…and we ask 'are they going to be able to lead the Army in the future?'" Wong said. "But who does the thinking for them? We do. We removed all the uncertainty because we felt it was our job as parents and a society to make life better for this generation."
Wong's lecture also explored how the current Army culture, reinforced by older generations, complicates the problem for young Soldiers moving into leadership roles and the successful execution of the Mission Command Philosophy.
"We have a culture [in the Army] that loves to tell people what to do and how to do it -- we can't help it, it's just the way we think," Wong said. "And this is the type of leader we create in the Army. They're very good at doing what we tell them to do."
Mission Command, however, demands the exact opposite. This shift to mission command came as Soldiers were increasingly asked to operate in dynamic, fast moving environments that require adaptability, Willison said.
The lecture ended with discussion and advice from Wong regarding small steps toward changing the Army culture in favor of developing the next generation of leaders. Wong urged both Soldier and civilian members of the Baby Boomers generation and Generation X to create opportunities for younger individuals to lead, rather than leading for them.
"Dr. Wong's message cleverly appealed to the entire audience by enlightening existing leaders to delegate responsibility to the younger generation, while encouraging the younger generation to proactively take on that responsibility," said Ray Schulze, a CERDEC CP&I branch chief.
The implementation of Mission Command, as pointed out by Wong, poses challenges. Engineers at CERDEC CP&I develop new Mission Command technologies for the Army, and in order to do so effectively they must understand who Soldiers are, what they do and how they do it -- including the cultural complexities within the Army, Willison said.
"My hope is that our employees walked away having looked at the problem differently and having a deeper appreciation for the challenges we face in developing capabilities for our Soldiers," Willison said.
Major Shane Sims, a former Military Deputy for CERDEC CP&I and one of only a handful of Soldiers in the predominately civilian audience, reiterated the need to connect technology developers to the true reality Soldiers operate within.
"I tell our developers all the time that we have to understand our customers. This lecture was all about our customers, the officers who command and lead our forces through mission command. Any event which allows us to understand our users better is extremely valuable," Sims said.
CERDEC is part of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, which has the mission to develop technology and engineering solutions for America's Soldiers.
RDECOM is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Materiel Command. AMC is the Army's premier provider of materiel readiness -- technology, acquisition support, materiel development, logistics power projection, and sustainment -- to the total force, across the spectrum of joint military operations. If a Soldier shoots it, drives it, flies it, wears it, eats it or communicates with it, AMC provides it.