Army worries about “toxic” leaders in ranks – The Washington Post

A major U.S. Army survey of leadership and morale found that more than 80 percent of Army officers and sergeants had directly observed a “toxic” leader in the last year and that about 20 percent of the respondents said that they had worked directly for one.

The survey of about 22,000 Army leaders was conducted by the Center for Army Leadership and comes during a year when the Army has removed or discipline three brigade commanders who were en route to, or returning from war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan. Selection to command a combat brigade, which consists of about 5,000 soldiers and is commanded by a colonel, is highly competitive in the Army.

via Army worries about “toxic” leaders in ranks – The Washington Post.

I’ve worked for some toxic leaders in my time. Some were tyrannical, and others simply were incapable of making a decision. Oddly, the wishy-washy unable-to-decide types were worse.

And while I have only the slightest combat experience, my impression is that toxic leadership really seems to impact troops more in a garrison environment.  At least in combat, you’re usually spread out enough that you aren’t under the leadership’s microscope  very often.

There’s good news in the article. 97% of the troops surveyed noted they’d observed outstanding leadership. The question is, are those leaders leaving the service and moving to greener pastures? Or is the Army doing a good job of identifying them and grooming them for future roles?

7 thoughts on “Army worries about “toxic” leaders in ranks – The Washington Post”

  1. Hard to say as to your last question. Being a military wife, I see things from a slightly different perspective. IMO, most of the effective ones are hindered by those who play politics and tow the PC line. This has lead to a rift in several areas, with many of those who excell in leadership leaving for the private sector. That’s what I have seen in the BAMC microcosm.

  2. Yes, the army generally does a good job of Identifying good leaders and preparing them for future leadership roles. In my opinion, anyway. I seemed in the minority last time we went around on this topic. A couple of points I would make from the maneuver officer’s perspective:
    1. Some of the best, and some of the wost get out. A mix stay in.
    2. From the time you are a platoon leader, you are stacked against your peers, directly compared, and the best are selected for the best positions, i.e. scout, mortar and support platoon leaders and HHC XO. This selection is made by the BN CDR, who has personally observed you.
    3. As a captain, you are again stacked against your peers and only the best are chosen for a second company command. This selection is made by the BN and BDE CDR, who again personally observe you.
    4. After CGSC, you return to line units as a major, and again directly compete with your peers. The best are chosen by brigade commander to come up and be the brigade S3 and / or XO. Again, this is by direct observation and feedback from the battalion commanders. I have witnessed it, sat in discussions and provided my input to the BDE CDR, as his XO. These decisions are made by direct observation to select the best available to be in “the best” positions.
    5. When I say “compete” I do not literally mean it, though some do. For me, i do my best, and let the chips fall where they may. Yes, some officers (and NCOs) attempt to highlight themselves, but non-team players and spotlight rangers are totally transparent to their leaders.
    6. As LTCs, these officers for the first time go before this nebulous “the army” to compete for BN CMD. They make about a 20% cut to get selected for CMD. Those selected were invariably the same ones that were selected as LTs, CPTs and MAJs for the top jobs by their leaders. Granted, they are the top of what is available, as some sharp guys got out. But nonetheless, they are pretty sharp. Duds slip through but are the exception.
    7. On a different note, I have observed officers that commanded at one echelon successfully while did not do well in the next echelon of command. Why? I don’t know, but at a certain point personal leadership is no longer in the equation. Some fail as organizational leaders/managers.
    8. I think what is “toxic” is evolving, as is what is acceptable for leaders’ behavior. I had a PSG when I was enlisted that routinely hit soldiers. I would describe him as a lot of things, but not “toxic” as defined in the article. Younger Soldiers in particular did not grow up in the same way that we (many of the readers here) did.
    9. Many Soldiers’ primary concern now is for time off particularly after deployment, or before deployment, and leaders who sacrifice down time for combat readiness are often derided by their subordinates, as oppposed to Rommel’s maxim about more blood in training…

  3. I am positive this has been a problem since the first days of the Continental Army. Back when I was in (92-97) I used to state with about 80% seriousness that I learned everything I needed to know to be a good NCO by watching the NCO’s in my unit, then doing the exact opposite of them.

    I watched an E-5 LAUGH about getting a member of her squad kicked out of the Army for failing PT standards. I wanted to kick the shit out of her. Had I been an E-5 at the time, I’d have told her that it’s her JOB as an NCO to get that soldier to meet standards, not enjoy the misery of a member of her fucking squad. I watched NCOs REQUIRE soldiers to go to Soldier of the Month boards (you know… a voluntary thing) and then punish them if they didn’t win with extra duties. I had exactly TWO good NCOs in my platoon (and this is permanent party, NOT AIT or basic or any such nonesense), and thankfully that was my PSG and a SGT in another squad (sadly he wasn’t a Squad Leader). My 1SG was a decent guy (actually, I can honestly say I never had a bad 1SG in all five years).

    I tried my very best to follow the principles I learned in PLDC, but so many that I worked with seemed to be little tinhorn dictators that I would have loved to had input into their NCOERs (“would follow this NCO into combat only out of curiosity” is a bullet point I’d give several). But unlike today, no one ever gave me a survey about “toxic leadership”. I suspect it would turn out much the same then as now.

    1. Well said. Bad leaders, as well as good, and even great ones, exist in all ranks and positions. The military can only do so much to identify and pick them, and then it is up to them to lead or not. Most rise up; some are abject failures.
      GEN Dempsey has included an initiative to incoporate a 360 degree assessment in the next generation of Officer Evaluation Report to help ID those that need identifying, one way or the other….

Comments are closed.