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Training Military Leaders on Management

On about a biweekly basis, my Battalion conducts a “Leader Professional Development” session. An Officer or NCO prepares a power-point presentation and then reads his slides to the assembled officers and senior NCOs of the unit. The topics vary. We have covered various evaluation reports (NCOERs and OERs in Army terminology), maintenance programs, accountability of equipment, and airborne operations.

Yet, we have never covered how to write emails effectively, how to present powerpoint properly, or how to manage time efficiently. In other words, we train on the big picture items and ignore the daily management tasks and habits that dominate our working lives. Frankly, our professional development ignores the daily reality of life in the Army. Like a football team practicing the statue of liberty play before learning how to tackle, the Army has decided that its junior and senior leaders implicitly know good management behavior.

The Army is wrong.

In the modern Army, these skills are combat skills, used everyday by leadership in a deployed unit. During deployment our company commanders spent hour after hour reading emails. Our missions and briefings came in powerpoint--often unclear and never well briefed. Every night our leadership spent at least an hour or more in meetings. Battalion and brigade staffs spent the majority of their time in poorly planned meetings. The result of bad time management and work behaviors is the loss of countless man hours. And more importantly, it makes us a worse fighting force in the field.

Of course, once a unit gets home the problem multiples. For example, in Afghanistan only company leadership and battalion staff had email access. In garrison, platoon leaders and platoon sergeants must use email to communicate. While our effectiveness is a concern upon redeployment, more worrying is the balance of work and home lives that often suffer when email and meetings eat up soldiers and leader's days.

The main reason the Army doesn't train on management is that the highest ranking leaders have never trained on management. If they didn't get taught management, how would they know how to teach management? Our leaders conduct professional development on topics like platoon attack and defense, and Airborne operations. So, when they must train their subordinates, they train them on what they know: platoon attack and defense and Airborne operations. Further, because our highest ranking leadership never trained on management, they are usually quite bad at managing their time and habits.

Training on management is about degrees. Improvements in email will help today, tomorrow and every day after. The potential gains in time saved are tremendous. In a battalion of fifty officers, if each saved ten minutes a day in doing email our battalion would gain 500 man-minutes, or 8.2 man-hours. Proper time management would essentially add an additional officer to our staff. Proper time management is the core skill all officers need to master in the Army, the blocking and tackling drills of the twenty-first century. The sooner we start the sooner we will see the improvement.

five comments

So, in your opinion, what adverse affects does this have on military efforts? Does this actually lead to miscommunication and operation failure or is it purely an issue of wasted time and efforts?

The Army never was the master of efficiency. To pointless formations, ineffective standard PT, badly planned ranges etc. etc. its very simple to see how wasted time accumalates in the Army, and the Army doesn´t necessarily seem to place priority on efficient use of its soldier´s time. There are tax payer dollars and a disgruntled soldier behind every pointless IC detail, 6 hour PMCS, rock painting exercise, and retarded/hilarious sometimes factually incorrect safety briefing. Its impossible to describe to you how many times the average jr. enlisted soldier is told to wait around for something to happen but “look busy” whenever a SFC or higher is around. “Hurry up and wait” has been the motto of the Army for a very very long time, and that is certainly not going to change anytime soon.

I’m not a person who in general hates bureaucracies, but the Army is easily the worst bureaucracy ever created.

To answer Matt’s question, from what I’ve seen, both.

I hate bureaucracies.

Eric is right, probably both. The worst though, is that it wastes an enormous amount of time and effort. From what I have read in management literature, I don’t think this is solely the domain of the Army, I believe government and business both suffer from them. But, being in the Army, I know how expansive this is.