Leadership on the Objective: Flawed Leadership

Leadership on the Objective: Flawed Leadership

The Troop Command blog is designed to engage as it informs. The purpose is leader development along with casual solicitation of ideas from the force. We’ll let each string run until it looks like it has culminated and introduce another topic. Here we go:

Soldiers have high expectations and demand leaders of character with drive and initiative. Leaders are far from flawless.

The brigade commander has been quoted as telling leaders to “tolerate learning, but not incompetence” and to remember “incompetence and learning often times look the same.” What do you think he means by this?

What kinds of flaws are allowable? What kinds of flaws can never be tolerated?

As you ponder your responses, consider replying to another’s thread instead of starting your own. Let’s work towards a discussion!

Wendul G. Hagler

15 thoughts on “Leadership on the Objective: Flawed Leadership


    This is a difficult balance that we must keep and pass on to our Jr. leaders.

    One easy way to combat this is to teach your subordinates that it is ok to make mistakes. Small ones and big ones. Just don

    I really like your analysis on the question. Your category approach is well defined. I am less smarter so I like

  3. SFC Walling makes an excellent observation in that mistakes are tolerated once, but repeating a mistake can be viewed as a sign of incompetence. When Soldiers make the same errors, they are failing to learn from their previous experiences. Mistakes and incompetence can look similar to some people due to our varying backgrounds and knowledge bases. What may appear as common sense to one Soldier may appear as difficult as analytical calculus to another Soldier. However, errors in judgement that place Soldiers’ lives in danger due to gross negligence or misconduct are not something that I feel should be tolerated. We are in a profession in which we may be required to intentionally place our lives, or our Soldiers’ lives in harm’s way. But an intentionally planned combat mission is not in any way comparable to a leader’s gross negligence or misconduct leading to needlessly endangering the lives of fellow Soldiers. As a member of the less than 1% of the population who is a member of the Armed Services, and as leaders of America’s sons and daughters, we owe it to our Soldiers and their families to not allow gross negligence or misconduct that risks the lives of our Soldiers.

  4. Right on sir. It is totally important to keep in mind the soldier’s individual attributes. For example, what about a SSG who reclasses to another skill? Say a soldier was formerly an admin (42A) and then comes to the MP corps or Sapper company? Surely you would give them a little more slack as being new to the MOS. But, how much do you tolerate them learning what their team leaders and specialists already know? What would be a good way to spin them up to speed?

  5. I think that the whole question is one of integrity. We have all had good and bad leaders. The fact of the matter is that we have probably all had leaders that were of questionable morale character. Mistakes are okay…God knows that most of us have made our fair share of them. A good leader has told me ‘It is okay that you screwed that up…just don’t do it again.’ He would then discuss with me a better approach or lead me in the direction of success. I learn from that type of leader. Another leader I have had in the past would make me drive across the state to tell me how horrible of a job I was doing and threaten my employment. I learned little from that. It is the intent that counts and the learning that takes place through these mistakes. When the intent breeches the immoral/unethical or causes a leader’s integrity to come into question, that is when followers must question the ability of their leadership. Incompetence is a trait that a good leader can often correct through education and experience. Once you lose your integrity, you can’t get it back. The issue remains that in all organizations, immoral activities and unethical behaivors do take place, sometimes covertly and sometimes overtly. The problem is that when these activities occur with people in positions of power, it is often difficult to correct because, quite frankly, those individuals can directly influence your career.

    Long story short…mistakes are a very important tenant in the educational process. Incompetent leaders are generally either trained to competence or relieved because their flaws are evident and uncorrectable. The most dangerous leaders are leaders that lack integrity. Unethical and/or immoral leaders can often linger behind a guise of competence while destroying over time the fabric of an organization through their misdeeds. That is the flaw that cannot be tolerated.

  6. I think you make an excellent point that I may have overlooked. Although we all make mistakes, the degree of the mistake may often look quite different depending on the perspective. Example…a new platoon leader that gets his convoy stuck in the mud because he was trying to get to an objective on an alternate (or better in his young opinion) route simply made the mistake of not doing an appropriate IPB or route recon during mission planning. To the grizzled, old PSG this is small-stuff and to be expected from a new LT. He takes it in stride and chalks it up to his LT gaining experience. But to the SPC that has to wade through the mud to dig out his HMMWV, it would seem like incompetent leadership. There is a very wide margin for defining mistakes vs incompetence.

  7. It looks like we few, we very few, have come to very similar conclusions. But this all leads me to wonder, “What after that?” Lets say we have recognized strengths and weaknesses in our leadership. What do you do with the ones that are making honest mistakes? What is the best way the handle the ones that have allowed their rank to exceed their ability or morals?

    I have come across both in my career and the first seems simple. You give quiet, behind closed door, corrections and suggestions. then let that leader work it all out. (a little encouragement helps too)

    But I have found no good solution for the latter. I have tried multiple approaches with not the results I was expecting. How do you bring up to par the less than brilliant leader?

  8. Good question…I guess in the latter all we can do is hope that the senior Officers have the right set of skills to 1. recognize the deficient and 2. do something about it. The traditional open door policy works as well if used within its conceptual intent…if a junior leader notices a trait or traits in a leader that they know they can’t effect directly, there has to be a way for that junior leader to go around that person to the next in the chain and be able to express their concerns without the fear of repercussion.

  9. I must say that I appreciate your perspective on this topic. The CPT’s and SFC that have posted tend to look at things from a BN and below level because that has been our exposure. To hear the perspective from a BDE and above level is actually quite nice. In regard to the question posed “is it possible that a good mentor must also be willing to be mentored?” – I have often posed along the same lines the question to my peers “can you be a leader if you don’t know how to follow?” – is very valid.

    I had a full time NCO that was EPS selected into a leadership position as PSNCO in this BN. He had spent his career as a single focus, specialized NCO that had had very limited exposure to leadership roles. A PSNCO must posess certain leadership abilities that this individual just didn’t have. Many people dismissed him as a lost cause, but we did not. He just needed tactical competence to accompany his technical proficiency. The turning point for this individual was when we requested another PSNCO within the BDE to come over and mentor this NCO. After about 2 months of this peer-to-peer mentorship, this individual began to show signs of improving. And now, 3 months later, our PSNCO’s overall abilities have taken nearly a 180 degree turn for the better.

    Point of this is that mentorship can indeed be multi-modal in it can be given up, down and laterally. It works if all parties involved actually take an active part in the development.

    There is no difference, in my opinion, when it is an issue of technical competence. Leaders at all levels can learn invaluable lessons from their subordinates if they will just listen. These ‘kids’ are actually pretty sharp and have a wealth of knowledge they can impart on the Guard.

    Bottom line – Henry Ford once said ‘If I had asked them what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.’ -the more open to new ideas we are, the faster and more agile we will become.

  10. Sorry for the late reply, everyone. I have been away at NCOES and left my reply on my work computer. Brace yourselves!

    To answer the first question: YES. A good mentor must be willing to be mentored. This is true at all levels. If there is someone so perfect they do not need to be corrected, they would be in charge of the whole planet. Everyone must to pay attention, both above and below them on the rating chain. The only real difference between the high ranks and low ranks is their focus. Higher echelons look years in advance and think in ideas and concepts. Lower echelons look seconds to days in advance and think in terms of mastery of tasks. (please correct me if I am wrong, but this is where I derive my opinion) That being said, any good leader seeks to be corrected. In my experience, there are two types of people. Type 1 will sharp shoot your uniform if you quietly tell them they have a boot lace hanging out. Type 2 will thank you for telling them about the boot lace. To me, it is obvious that

  11. This topic really hits home. When I was preparing to Commission, I was asked what Branch I wanted. I asked back, ‘What do you need?’ Chemical Officers were in very short supply.

    As a 2LT, I arrived at my unit, and it was entirely Greek. ACADAs, M12s, persistent agents, I tried my best to confidently nod in feigned awareness, and read a lot. After several months, I was able to speak conversational Chemical.

    Knowing about some kind of CERFP mission, I went off to CBOLC with the focus on the NG additional responsibility of Mass-Casualty response. What I found at the MANSCEN at Fort Leonard Wood was an incredible source of Subject Matter. We were being trained at TRADOC with a stronger emphasis on Post 9/11 threats than I realized from my reading of FM’s and discussion with Unit NCO’s.

    I like to consider that my world experiences involve empirical skepticism, and I am not quick to make leaps of faith, but I was certain after Chemical BOLC that there was far more responsibility on my shoulders than I could have ever imagined; that I was specifically tasked to develop an effective CBRN Mass-Casualty Decontamination process.

    When I returned with some good exposure to the CBRN Branch mindset, the Greek language I had learned at the unit was, in fact, Ancient Greek, and that nearly all of the CBRN training we did was in anticipation of a Soviet incursion into Eastern Europe with all kinds of bad weapons. It was as if my Senior NCO’s didn’t get the memo that the National Guard CBRN units should put more training weight into home games.

    As a 2LT as OIC of a CBRN Mass Casualty Decon team, upon realizing the full magnitude of this responsibility, not just to the National Guard, but to people of every walk of life who might, one day, need our hand to pull them out of the rubble, clean them, treat them, and get them to safety, I became rigid to the intent and purpose of the CERFP mission. If not just for the safety of the Soldiers and Citizens who depend on us, but also to just be able to sleep at night, knowing I do not have the solutions I need to succeed.

    I completely immersed myself in this mission, and the greatest problem I had was the all-too-often simple answers. Ask most Soldiers what to do if Contaminated Casualties show up with their pets. 4 out of 5 will say ‘shoot em.’ (Gunfire from a DECON footprint discourages participants.) How do I convince that 80 year old woman that she needs to remove the wedding ring that she has worn since she was 18 with no means of returning it to her? We can’t persuade her, she has stopped the line, and people behind her are dying, or persuade the cowboy to relinquish his arsenal of firearms.

    I could digress for many hours, but the root is that the Senior NCO’s just didn’t have the current series of ‘thought map’ to consider these (and many other) issues, but the Junior Enlisted, the ones who had just finished AIT, often had remarkable answers. These young Soldiers knew nothing about the ‘Good ol’ Cold War days,’ but had fresher perspectives on the contemporary threats. I believe TRADOC has positioned these young Soldiers to more easily embrace Defense Support to Civilian Authorities, and from that, we are less likely to stumble in response.

  12. Your overall point is well taken, but I do have some reservations about micromanagement and empowerment.

    Drill and Ceremony is certainly micromanagement, but it is also precision, and precision doesn’t happen by chance.

    With the CERFP DECON setup, micromanagement resulted in a 66 minute setup; several months later, we tried empowerment and it sincerely took at least 4 hours.

    As the Commander during the 66 minute setup, I didn’t do anything but announce the time elapsed. But no doubt, the training that led to that setup was precisely communicated.

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