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FCW : November 15, 2012
Bookshelf Countering a culture of complacency The military s rich history holds countless lessons. But which of them could help other agen- cies transform from sometimes troubled organizations into ones edging closer to excellence? In his new book, "The Generals: American Military Command from World War II to Today," Thomas Ricks scru- tinizes the history of the Army to determine how the world s greatest military descended into mediocrity. In an exhaus- tive and at times scathing analysis of the deterioration of leadership after World War II, Ricks concludes that there has been a pervasive decline of accountability. The repercussions from that decline would sound familiar to any number of agency leaders, military and civilian alike. In an era in which punishment often is reserved for the most egregious mistakes --- or the ones that garner the most media attention --- it could be argued that there has been a governmentwide abdication of responsibility and leadership. "What we have these days...is a situa- tion in which success is not rewarded, fail- ure is not punished and everybody is kind of treated as interchangeable," Ricks said in a recent interview. "The lesson is don t stand out, don t be exceptional, be an organiza- tion man, and the result is a military in which generalship doesn t look like guiding as a profession, it looks like union members taking care of each other." How did the military decline from a time when tactical daring and forward thinking were rewarded with success to a time when innovation is frowned upon and failures largely go unpunished? More importantly, in an era that demands innova- tion at all levels of government, how can that complacency be reversed? There are many sides to the problem but not as many solutions. In World War II, "people were encour- aged to learn to think critically because if you didn t adapt and succeed, you got red," Ricks said. "When there are no con- sequences for failure, when all you need to do is serve out your year and move on, why go to the trouble of trying to operate differ- ently and maybe getting in trouble?" He said that culture has been especially present in the yearly rotation of command- ers in Afghanistan. It s also true in the federal government, he said, where leaders can frequently move between jobs. "The civil service mentality --- I m going to get paid whether Idomyjobornot ---isworri- some," Ricks said. "When you don t remove failures, you wind up stymying talent below who see incompetence tolerated, and so younger talent leaves. When you don t remove these failures, you basically wind up with an organiza- tion that bends toward failure." You're red --- and it's not the end of the world In World War II, being relieved of command was rather common. It was not an automatic career-killer nor was it seen as a comment on the person s character. Often, those who were red were given second chances down the line. As Ricks said, "155 generals commanded divisions in the Army in com- bat in WWII. Of those, 16 were red, but of the 16 who were red, ve were given the chance to command another division as a combat leader in the war." "It s evident these days that people don t get red," he continued. "We won WWII. In our recent wars, we ve had a lot of stalemates and near-defeats. I think there s a direct connection there. These days, mediocrity is tolerated. Risk-taking is to be avoided." Yet even after 10 years and two messy and dif cult wars, Ricks sees a continued inability to take a critical look at the tough lessons the United States should have been learning. "There seems no inclination in the military establishment to sit down and look at the serious lessons. Rather it s A new book on Army generals explores larger questions of leadership and accountability BY AMBER CORRIN November 15, 2012 FCW.COM 31
October 30, 2012
November 30, 2012