09 March 2010

Military Leadership in the Information Age

In the past two months, the milblogosphere has been abuzz over the sackings of several military commanders, such as Captain William Reavey, the former commander of Naval Air Station Pensacola; Lt. Col. Frank Jenio, the former commander of the 2nd Battalion-508th Parachute Infantry Regiment; and Captain Holly Graf, the former commander of the guided missile cruiser USS Cowpens. These incidents are particularly interesting, as they offer a case study of military leadership in the world of Web 2.0.

The web has not been kind to Captain Graf, relieved last month for "cruelty" towards her crew. Nowhere is this more apparent than on a on blog entitled "I Like the Cut of His Jib", which is administered by a retired US Navy captain. One entry regarding Captain Graf's relief and administrative action was met with--as of right now--nearly 200 replies, replete with horror stories from posters claiming to be sailors who had served with Captain Graf. Other blogs have even showcased pictures taken by the crew during an incident in which Captain Graf allegedly took the crew of the Cowpens drag-racing alongside the destroyer USS John McCain (more at CBS News).

If anything, the world of Web 2.0 has merely reinforced that lesson that military officers live their lives in the proverbial fishbowl--transparent and open for all to see. Indeed, leaders in the 21st Century can't afford to act like tyrants, as our new forms of media hold leaders accountable.

The military has always had its own form of "social networking". A number of closely-knit communities, such as the special forces or aviation communities, constantly compare notes and provide character references for one another. For instance, the US Army's senior warrant officers--particularly instructor pilots--have been known to warn each other when reckless pilots transfer from one unit to the next. Who's to say that, with modern technology, a similar system might not arise to compare notes on commanders?

It's not entirely without precedent, either. For years, college students have been maintaining unofficial public databases on professors, providing students with ratings and feedback--sometimes quite harsh. A system like this might actually push the Department of Defense towards adopting "360-degree evaluations", where the opinions of subordinates and peers matter just as much as the opinions of one's superiors.

New technology, unfortunately, can also be warped into an instrument far beyond its creators' intent. In the case of Lt. Col. Frank Jenio, spouses from Fort Bragg gathered on Tom Ricks' The Best Defense to hurl vitriolic insults at one another. (And that's all I'm going to say about that particular issue). Certainly, it has its ups and downs.

Focus: How do you see these new technologies affecting leadership in the 21st Century?


Unknown said...

I’ll believe this is serious when I see a couple of flag officers relieved.

limabeanium said...

This might help clear the issue: