Talking Management: Leadership message from a four-star general
August 14, 2009
- The essence of leaderdhip has remained fairly constant.
- Constantly reinforce task and purpose.
BodyKARL MOORE: This is Karl Moore, Talking Management for The Globe and Mail. Today I am speaking to a four-star general in the U.S. Army Aca,!" General Martin Dempsey, Commanding General of the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command in Fort Monroe, Va. The topic: The evolution of military leadership.
MARTIN DEMPSEY : Good afternoon, Karl. Toujours prAfA(th)t! [Always ready.]
KM: Do you see that there are differences between when you were a young leader, and what was required then, and what is required among young leaders today' Has it changed in the last 30 or so years since you started out Aca,!" the nature of what leadership is'
MD: The essence of leadership, and the way you interact, the way the leader interacts with the led, has remained fairly constant, it seems to me. But, the complexity in which the leader must operate Aca,!" the world was very simple, as you know, before 1990, relatively simple Aca,!" especially for a military leader. Contrast that with what our most junior leaders face in the fight today. I am in awe of what some of these young leaders do on the streets of Baghdad, or on the streets of Kabul, in terms of dealing with complex problems; and their ability to frame a problem and understand it is quite remarkable.
And, in fact, one of the big questions we've got for ourselves, as an army, is how do we take these young leaders who have been dealing with complexity at the tactical level, the lower levels, and then educate them through the course of their career to be able to deal with those same kinds of complexities as senior leaders' So, the answer is that the environment has become so much more complex, and that's the big difference I see, in the challenge we've got in developing our leaders Aca,!" to deal with that complexity and uncertainty, in a way that I didn't have to until I probably became a colonel.
KM: It's interesting, because in the business school we might talk about leadership and management as being two different ideas. Do you see a need for management within the military, as well as for leadership'
MD: You know that's a distinction, that won't surprise you, we've wrestled with for some time ourselves. From my personal way of thinking about it, a good leader has both the attributes you describe as leadership attributes, but, also, increasingly, as you gain seniority, it just is inherently a set of management skills you must have to be a leader.
I mentioned that some of the way we develop our young brigadier-generals, for example. We send them to business school, which may or may not surprise you. Because they have certain leadership skills that have been developed over time, in them, but what they lack is some of the management skills to be good leaders.
So, I don't know whether I've further confused the issue. Clearly, the attributes that make a good leader over time, must include management skills.
KM: So, you wouldn't want a leader who can't manage, particularly at a senior level'
MD: That's right.
KM: Nor, would you want a manager who doesn't have any leadership at all, because that would be dispiriting.
MD: That's correct.
KM: It's interesting, because you use the idea of team. When I think of military, and this may be outdated, I think of hierarchy, of saluting, of a set of officers above me. But you see it more as the reality, as a team effort. Does leadership move around the table in the course of a week's work within a military unit'
MD: Yes, it does actually. And, I think that is something we're trying to understand about the Aca,!" I mentioned this Aca,!" we call it the operating environment. The change in the nature of the security challenges, in this century, for any number of reasons that we could talk about, whether it's demographic shifts, or globalization, climate change, the information technologies Aca,!" the environment is changing.
And as the environment changes it occurs first to us that the threats we face will be much more complex, much more hybrid Aca,!" that is to say, multifaceted, including syndicates of irregular nation-states and criminals, in cases. With globalized logistics networks.
I mean, think of opium emanating out of Afghanistan, or think of al-Qaeda, as a network. And, as result of that, the notion is that, to defeat a network and think of the threats we Aca,!" and there are some nation-state threats to be sure, but we think our more likely threats we'll encounter will be networked. And we have a phrase, that Aca,!Eoeto defeat a network you have to be a network.'
I don't know if you've read The Starfish and the Spider by Ori Brafman. He talks about networked decentralized organizations, and how hierarchical organizations have a very difficult time encountering them. And this is a business book; think Napster and the record industry. And, in our case, think al-Qaeda and the United States military.
So, I think where we're heading is to more trust than control. And we have been the quintessential hierarchical organization. And, in that capacity, leadership will move around the table. Now, we'll always have our rank structure. We'll always have our disciplines. But I think that you will see us evolve into an organization where trust is as much the coin of the realm as control is.
KM : So we see the decline of hierarchy, but not the death of hierarchy. But you see hierarchy has declined significantly within the military.
MD: I think the way you phrased it is exactly the way I would've phrased it, had you asked it in the form of a question. The hierarchical part of the Army is that which functions and aligns itself to our budget cycle. And that will never change. I mean, there's a very deliberate process where we take concepts and turn them into requirements, and requirements and turn them into resources.
And that has to happen in a hierarchical fashion, so that the government can continue to function. And we have to Aca,!A"nest intoAca,!A? that process. So, at the Department of the Army level in particular, there will always be a hierarchical structure that essentially allows us to compete for resources based on concepts and requirements. But, below that, I think, absolutely we are seeing that there's real potential in decentralizing.
KM: We see kind of the outside view that the military is very rational, very unemotional Aca,!" just the facts. But what is the role of emotion in terms of leading people in the military' How important are emotions'
MD: They are vitally important, actually, especially [for] an army that is at war, and is paying the price for promoting the national interest in terms of blood and treasure. And so emotions run high actually. I was reading one book, The Strategy Paradox , and there's a phrase in there that says, Aca,!EoeThere is no thinking without emotion.' And I find that to be very true. I mean, the arguments we have with each other Aca,!" and I use the term arguments not pejoratively Aca,!" but the arguments we have with each other internally about how to provide the best army possible, given the available resources and demands, are often emotional arguments. But emotion in a positive sense. Of course, there are times when the emotion is corrosive. But, fundamentally, I would suggest to you that an army at war ought to be emotional.
KM: How do you maintain hope in tough times that you've faced, at times that you'd faced in your time in Iraq' It looked bleak at times, it was difficult, lots of losses. Aca,!A| How do you maintain hope in a tough environment like that, in a time of great change'
MD: Constantly reinforcing the task and purpose. Soldiers will do anything. I mean it's just mind-boggling, the degree to which they will seek to accomplish a mission Aca,!" if they understand it Aca,!" and especially now.
Remember I said what's different about the young men and women today, their desire to understand things, because they've had access, almost complete access, to information. You know these are the same kids that can look you dead in the eye and send a text message, without you even knowing it, unless you happen to glance down and see that they're doing it. So they are connected in a way that certainly you and I were not.
But as a result of that, they have this intense desire to understand, and I also believe, to contribute. So, there was a time in the Army, just 10 years ago, when we fought that Aca,!" you know, it's something bad. Something bad would happen in the unit or something good, or mostly something bad, and the idea would be, let's shut down the access to the network. Let's shut down the Internet cafAfA, so that the bad news can't spread. Well, that's absurd.
I mean, the ability to connect Aca,!" their ability to connect Aca,!" far exceeds our ability to prevent them from connecting. And so what we've decided is that rather than fight that, we should actually leverage it. And so we do. We have 57-year-old, four-star generals blogging Aca,!" I never thought I would see the day. But we're communicating with our soldiers in ways that I think maintain that sense of purpose, allow them to see what we're trying to do, even in some cases take their advice. But I think it's the power of their knowledge; what inspires them is their access to the knowledge. And so we've just got to continue to find ways to do that.
KM: Thank you! This has been Karl Moore, Talking Management for The Globe and Mail, and today I've been speaking to Martin Dempsey, a four-star general in the United States Army.