Comes now word from the Army Times that one of the leading reasons soldiers leave the Army isn’t the multiple tours to war zones, but a disgust with the quality of leadership they serve under.
Poor leadership is driving soldiers to leave the Army, reinforcing the service’s push to make leader development a top priority. The results come from a survey by the Army Research Institute that showed 26 percent of sergeants and staff sergeants and 23 percent of lieutenants and captains surveyed planned to leave the Army after completing their current service obligations.
Of those, 35 percent of enlisted and 26 percent of officers cited the quality of leadership at their duty stations as a reason for leaving.
Poor leadership was the top reason selected by the active-duty enlisted survey participants and the third-most popular reason among the active-duty officers surveyed. Among noncommissioned officers, leadership concerns were a greater motivation to quit than the relentless pace of deployments.
The Army has been down this road before. As the Vietnam was dragged on, and especially immediately after the war, the core of mid-grade officers and NCOs was weak. Many of the best and brightest, disillusioned by the war and tired from multiple tours, left the service to seek greener pastures elsewhere. But like nature, the Army abhors a vacuum, and someone had to be promoted to serve in those grades. That meant a lot of people who should have been thanked for their service and shown the door were instead promoted to positions that had an immediate and unfortunate impact on the lives of their subordinates. Which in turn drove the best and brightest of that tranche out of the service. It was a vicious cycle.
We are approaching much the same problem with the force today. While recruiting and retention have been very good, considering the blistering pace of deployments, the burnout factor has been very high for folks in the middle grades.
Good leadership is a lot of work. You have to go the extra mile to take care of your soldiers, and very often, the people that take that step only have a limited supply of strength. If you work hard, subordinate your own wants and needs to the welfare of your troops, sacrifice your personal life so your soldiers get what they deserve, and then look around and see that slackers are promoted at the same rate as you, wouldn’t you start to wonder if your sacrifices were worth it?
Even in this tough economy, many military leaders are highly sought after by private employers. This drain on the mid-grades, both officer and enlisted, is what drives the promotion rates in the upper 90% range that the article mentions.
“We’re promoting 95 to 98 percent of captains to major, 93 or 95 percent of majors to lieutenant colonel. We shouldn’t be satisfied … because 98 percent of captains don’t deserve to be promoted to major. Statistically, that’s an infeasible percentage. And we’ve got to do the same thing on the noncommissioned officer side.”
I suspect also, part of the problem is the uniformity of career progression, particularly on the officer side. Every commissioned officer is expected to be a leader, of course, but the Army also expects every officer to strive for and hold command at certain levels of their career. And frankly, a lot of officers just don’t find that a very pleasant prospect. They are more suited to staff positions than commanding large bodies of troops. I have no idea how to change the career path to address that problem, short of finding those people and showing them the door. But that only makes the problem of shortages of troops at certain levels even more extreme.
Training and leadership development are key components of fixing the problem. But how do you devise and implement a program to address that when the very leaders that are expected to do so are the problematical leaders in the first place?