In August and September, the Army asked tens of thousands of Soldiers to help select the next generation of brigade and battalion commanders and key lieutenant colonel and colonel billets by completing the Army Commander Evaluation Tool (ACET). Their anonymized feedback will provide an additional vector of information about candidates during the Colonels Command Assessment Program (CCAP) and the Battalion Commander Assessment Program (BCAP).
The ACET was developed by a team of research psychologists from the Center for the Army Profession and Leadership (CAPL) with input from current and former brigade and battalion commanders, general officers, the School of Command Preparation, and the Army Research Institute. It was then validated through extensive data collection to ensure that it provides the desired insights.
According to Dr. Melissa Wolfe, a senior research psychologist at CAPL, the ACET measures potential commanders along two main scales. The first is the Commander Behavior Scale, which measures a candidate’s effectiveness in accordance with Army leadership requirements as described in Army Doctrine Publication (ADP) 6-22 and Army Regulation (AR) 600-100. The second is the Counterproductive Leadership Scale, which measures the extent to which a leader demonstrates behaviors which violate Army leadership principles or creates a climate which prevents mission accomplishment, also found in ADP 6-22. Both scales measure observable behaviors, not traits, or subjective opinions.
“The Army has now formally defined counterproductive leadership, which in the past has been referred to as “toxic” leadership,” said Wolfe. “Counterproductive leadership encompasses a broad spectrum of negative actions ranging from relatively benign to very abusive behaviors. Army research shows that these behaviors have an adverse impact on unit cohesion, readiness, and performance – all things healthy Army organizations need to accomplish the mission. The ACET captures the frequency that candidates are using counterproductive leadership to accomplish their goals. So it’s not just about having a bad day; it’s about whether every day is a bad day.”
The inaugural BCAP, which took place earlier this year, collected 17,283 assessments from peers and subordinates to help the Army determine whether an officer was ready to lead a battalion of hundreds of Soldiers. It was the largest collection of peer and subordinate feedback in the Army’s history.
The Army used an algorithm to query personnel databases and randomly select peers and subordinates to complete the ACET assessment. Assessors must have worked with the rated officer within the past five years and were given the option to opt-out of the assessment if they did not know the candidate well enough to complete an assessment.
Maj. Gen. JP McGee, director of the Army Talent Management Task Force, said that although ACET is a tool which helps the Army identify counterproductive leaders, it also provides rich insight into the leader and how they operate.
The responses have been overwhelmingly positive.
“I think what we found is the vast majority of officers were ready for a command,” said McGee, “But for those officers who were not ready for command they were really broken down into two categories and one was what we would call counterproductive or toxic leadership.”
Wolfe agreed that most of the candidates exhibit desired behaviors more frequently than not.
“…we're also learning that our peers and subordinates have a really unique insight into their candidates, which is helping us to provide a really rich understanding of the candidates' capabilities.”
“We have learned that we have a lot of really good lieutenant colonels and majors promotable out there who are going through this process,” said Wolfe. “The vast majority of individuals are exhibiting the competencies and behaviors that we need them to. They are effective leaders. They delegate well. They create a clear vision. And we're also learning that our peers and subordinates have a really unique insight into their candidates, which is helping us to provide a really rich understanding of the candidates' capabilities.”
The Army takes great care to ensure the confidentiality of all ACET feedback. All ACET data is anonymized and then grouped into a report on each candidate for the Army Comprehensive Talent Interview (ACTI) panel to consider. Candidates do not have access to these reports and specific feedback is not provided to the candidate. Instead, an operational psychologist will interpret the results of ACET and provide generalized feedback to permit the candidate to improve their leadership while protecting detailed specifics. ACET respondents can provide candid feedback without fear of attribution or retribution.
Rather than replacing rater and senior rater observations on the Officer Evaluation Report (OER), the ACET complements this information. The Centralized Selection List (CSL) board score, which reflects an officer’s OERs, remains the most heavily weighted component in determining an officer’s final standing on the Order of Merit List. Instead, the ACET provides the Army with one more vector of information to help the panel of senior Army leaders develop a comprehensive understanding of an officer’s readiness for command during the Army Comprehensive Talent Interview.
The ACET is just one of many assessments a candidate will undergo during CCAP and BCAP, giving the Army a better overall assessment of an officer’s readiness for command and potential. For more information about these and other Army Talent Management initiatives, visit https://talent.army.mil.