Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Checklist Leaders

Look, this is a rant, so be warned.

Also, this is non-attributional. If I work with you, don't think I'm pointing fingers. But if the shoe fits, then choke on it and die, because you're a horrible human.

OK. Checklist Leaders.

Thanks to my buddy Cap'n Sam for that one. It's a great phrase, referring to the guy who once read a book on leadership and made a checklist on "what leaders do" which he will break out once in a while as justification and self-gratification.

Item one: Greet Soldier. Hmm, ok. "Hello, [Soldier]. "
Item two: Ask ref: family. "How is your [Wife/Husband/Father/Mother]?"
Item three: Pick a franchise of a popular sport, and make that "your" team. Pick one per season. Ask Soldier about his/her team. "How about that [local sports franchise]?"

And that, these people think, makes folks a good leader. They've gone down the checklist, met the objectives, and then go home at night, regardless of their crappy decisions or utter selfishness, and can say, "I'm a good leader. Look at this checklist!"

To which I say, bull. BULL. Because yeah, good leaders are interested in their subordinates. But good leaders also make realistic plans, good leaders give credit publicly and blame privately, and good leaders are in it for more than themselves.


I'm not an idiot. I know that commanders ultimately will take credit for their unit's successes. Good commanders, however, subscribe to a philosophy that goes, "When it's bad it's me, when it's good it's us, and when it's really good it's you." And then they will also take blame for their unit's failures, because they realize that they are ultimately responsible for everything that happens or fails to happen in their unit.

But going by the checklist, I'm sure there are a lot of good commanders out there . He commanded a unit, check, where he gave some awards and promotions, check, and talked to Soldiers. Check.

BS. Check.

What happened to "Soldiers First?" What happened to earning loyalty instead of demanding it based on rank?

In an address to the US Corps of Cadets in 1879, MG John Schofield said, "He who feels the respect which is due to others cannot fail to inspire in them regard for himself, while he who feels, and hence manifests, disrespect toward others, especially his inferiors, cannot fail to inspire hatred against himself."

In other words, treat people how you expect to be treated. If you're a princess who demands respect based on position and doesn't earn it based on any kind of ability, don't be surprised when (1) your Soldiers don't respect you, and (2) you foster a command climate wherin your subordinate leaders act the same way as you, don't respect you, and don't have the respect of their own subordinates.

Then you raise selfish leaders, checklist leaders who can take their checklists and fool the Army educational system into thinking they're worthwhile because they can show all the blocks they've checked. It's a vicious circle.

The only way to fight it is, first, don't be a checklist leader. If you're the type of person who can't fathom actually learning something about your subordinates and being sincere, then do me and your Soldiers a favor and GET THE HELL OUT OF THE ARMY. Thank you for your service, but we don't need you.

And if you see that kind of crap going on around you, for heaven's sake, speak up. Force your junior leaders to be engaged-- empower them to make decisions and hold them accountable.

And seriously, if you can't, maybe the military is not for you. Maybe you should go be a budget analyst or a systems engineer or whatever else you want to be, as long as it doesn't involve leading and training Soldiers. GET OUT. Soldiers deserve better than you.


La Yen said...

So you are saying I don't deserve respect based on my position? Screw that.

Nigel said...

I don't think going down the checklist makes him/her a bad leader. But the next time Capt._____ runs into me, will he still remember any of my answers to those questions?

Obedience is mandatory, but respect is earned.