Another article on military leadership from Lt. Col. Paul Yingling
Lt. Col. Paul Yingling—then stationed at Fort Hood, Texas--made a name for himself when he published “A Failure in Generalship” in Armed Forces Journal in the spring of 2007. Shortly thereafter, a general brought in every single captain in the division and began to verbally berate Lt. Col. Yingling and his article. Yingling was then put in charge of a prison project in Iraq, but there was a bit of a twist: the assignment was to reform the detainee system in Iraq, and Yingling performed superbly, largely as a result of his unconventional thinking.
Today, he published an article in Small Wars Journal regarding the extreme micromanagement in the military, and the failure to develop innovation and initiative because of it. As someone who feels it strange that the Army wants to develop initiative, but makes Soldiers fill out a risk assessment form, pass request, "leader/soldier handshakes", vehicle inspection forms, and a Google Map itinerary just to drive to the next state on the weekend, I have to agree. Let’s see if you’ve had similar experiences:
When I was a battalion XO in Iraq in 2003, I served with a company commander whose vehicle was struck by an early version of an IED. The fragmentation shattered his windshield and severed his antennas, the smoke and dust obscured his vision and the blast temporarily deafened him. In the first critical seconds after the blast, the commander saw the ubiquitous white pickup leaving the blast area, but didn’t pursue it. His battalion commander was furious, and later harangued the captain for his failure to act. The company commander was crushed; he felt the battalion commander was questioning his courage, and in fact he was.
The battalion commander later complained to me about his company commander’s inaction. He was right on the tactics – in those rare moments when we make contact with insurgents, if indeed this truck contained insurgents – we must capture or kill them. I was less certain about his methods of leader development, so I asked about the company commander’s preparations for deployment. For example, prior to deployment, who had the authority to cancel PT in the event of an electrical storm? He answered, ‘the brigade commander had that authority.’ I then asked him, who had the authority to change the PT uniform, if for example it was warmer than expected? That decision was at the battalion level. This company commander, who only a few months ago lacked the authority to tell his troops to come in out of the rain or take off their hats, was now expected to pursue the enemy unto death.
Officers conditioned to conformity in peacetime cannot be expected to behave boldly and flexibly in combat. This phenomenon is not new. Writing in the late 19th century, Archduke Albert observed:
There are plenty of small-minded men who, in time of peace, excel in detail, are inexorable in matters of equipment and drill, and perpetually interfere with the work of their subordinates.
They thus acquire an unmerited reputation, and render the service a burden, but they above all do mischief in preventing development of individuality, and in retarding the advancement of independent and capable spirits.
When war arises the small minds, worn out by attention to trifles, are incapable of effort, and fail miserably. So goes the world.
Focus: Do you have a personal anecdote about the military squashing initiative? Ever go out of your way to report an accident, only to wind up in front of someone’s desk because you sent up an accident report on an outdated form? (Because that happened to me once as a lieutenant)