I recently had a discussion with an Instructor from FT. Benning about a seminar he conducted with some Maneuver Captains Career Course students at FT. Benning, Ga. He shared with me that during the seminar a Captain said “I never thought about what I will do to develop Lieutenants as a commander." I thought “WOW, what kind of leader would not have a plan to develop his/her subordinates?” As I thought about it some more it was obvious that the captain’s statement was an indicator of a much larger problem, a HUGE leader development problem. Leader development was obviously not a priority in the units he had previously been assigned to or he would have had some idea on how to develop his lieutenants when he took command.
Commanders have a duty to provide leader development opportunities for their subordinates by regulation, but based on the example given above, there seems to be a lack of understanding about what leader development is. To have shared understanding, leaders need to speak the same language. The Army describes leader development as occurring “through the lifelong synthesis of education, training, and experience.” Over the past 10 years, leader development has mostly occurred from operational experiences. As a result of being at war for the past decade, the three pillars of leader development; the operational, institutional, and self-development domains have become out of balance. To bring the components back into balance there needs to be a common understanding of what a leader development program is.
I recently had a discussion with Col Tom Guthrie, author of “Mission Command: Do We Have the Stomach For What Is Really Required?” He agrees that there is a lack of shared understanding about what leader development is and that the language needs to be corrected.
He shared the four myths of Leader Development:
Myth #1: Leader development is just having unit Officer Professional Development (OPD) sessions and Non-Commissioned Officer Professional Development (NCOPD) sessions regularly. It is not. Although often great events, having them is not THE unit's leader development program; it is hopefully a part of a more consciously thought through, larger, holistic program.
Myth #2: Leader development is synonymous with one's assignment progression over time. When people believe this, we see the G1's of the world being the lead for leader development and although they do great work, when that happens, we end up boiling development down to how many months an NCO or officer has had as a squad leader or platoon leader and we miss the bigger picture.
Myth #3: Leader development is synonymous with counseling. Again, counseling is very, very important for the growth of our leaders, but it is just one piece (like OPDs/NCOPDs) of a quality unit developmental program.
And finally Myth #4: Leader development is something that Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) does – meaning it is synonymous with education or the Institutional Army. The TRADOC Commander is charged by the CSA to lead and manage Leader Development at the Army level and they do a great service, but the fact is that in a 20 year or more career, a leader is only typically in the schoolhouse as a student for about 10-15% of their career, so in terms of time, we must admit that most of our actual development happens in units like many of them in Forces Command (FORSCOM).
Leaders need to get the language right, and create a shared understanding of what leader development is in order for any approach to leader development to be successful. Until we have shared understanding we cannot hope to implement mission command and we will have more captains from the example given above with no idea on how to develop their lieutenants.
Jonathan Silk is a Major in the U.S. Army. He has served as a Cavalry Scout platoon leader , and has commanded both a Tank Company and an Infantry Company. He is currently an Academic Instructor and serving as the Operations Officer for the Center for the Advancement of Leader Development and Organizational Learning (CALDOL) at the United States Army Military Academy, West Point, NY. He was a recipient of the calendar year 2009 General Douglas MacArthur Leadership Award.