Systems thinking, West Point, GE and Girl Scout cookies

I was a Girl Scout once, for about 6 hours before I walked out on my first pre-mission arts and crafts class on that fateful Saturday morning. That outfit was way too rough for my taste. To this date I could not figure out where the martial arts and weapons training had gone and so I parted with that sweet dream. Clearly my perception of the Girl Scouts was not in concert with reality.

And so I joined the military. I was certain to find true leadership. So let us examine another issue with our military to follow-up on my previous piece. What exactly can new recruits and new officer cadets expect when entering service? Are they receiving the same education as their fathers or are we dealing with a new set of rules? Ask the folks at West Point.

There is no leadership program at West Point. At least that is what the head of its Behavioral Science Department, Colonel Tom Kolditz – author of In Extremis Leadership: Leading as if Your Life Depended on It  – said in a blog commentary on the Washington Post column ‘On Leadership.’ Even though every time I read the Post I have to don full HAZMAT gear and reach for the atropine; something in this blog got my attention. Colonel Kolditz’s analysis and discussion of a speech given by General Electric CEO Jeff Immelt following Mr. Obama’s speech in March pointed at the kind of education provided at the academy. Though a tough act to follow, as a gracious Mr. Immelt commented – the “Enemy Camp” speech to paraphrase a drooling Chris Matthews – Immelt had done a fairly decent job of addressing the importance of focused leadership during ambiguity. Like that’s not business as usual in the military, but I found the statement to be strange due to his position. Maybe there is something about West Point that is not well-understood.

“Systems thinkers who are comfortable with ambiguity”

I’m not taking away from the pep talk given to our future leaders but it was Kolditz’s dissertation on leadership (also take a close look at the great comments left on this blog post from wonderful Washington Post communists, it’ll warm your heart) that bothered me. Backtracking to March 2010 to Obama’s original speech prior to the sending of troops to Afghanistan (Obama’s Afghan policy speech at West Point)  Mr. Obama appeared to be just that; a man forced to take action when he’d rather be doing something else. Still, Kolditz claimed the academy has no defined leadership training program yet he’s the head of the program. Confused?

Kolditz extolled the virtues of a certain lady in his commentary, a true leader of the business world and the first civilian to hold a seat in Class of 1951 Chair for the Study of Leadership in the Department of Behavioral Sciences and Leadership at West Point. She held this seat during General Eric Shinseki’s tenure after retirement from the Army. If we’re going to address the quality of education of future military leaders then let’s take a look at the people who are directly involved in education and their personal and professional values. My issue is the overall mentality of the people who teach at the military academy and how that mentality will be instilled in our future leaders. Will it be the Army’s core values? Will they serve with honor above their personal needs in defense of this great nation? Or will many a young officer go into the battlefield someday with a completely inappropriate overview of military life?

One of Kolditz’s heroes is the former supreme commander of all girl scouts: Mrs. Frances Hesselbein.

‘Two things that make America great are public education and West Point.’

While it is a documented fact that West Point has produced some great patriots and leaders this remark about public school education seems rather odd. There is little redeeming quality to public education so what is she saying? Frances Hesselbein is considered in the business world as a business community leader. Kolditz goes on about Mrs. Hesselbein’s standing in the business community (another organizer?) and according to the original press release she brought “an element of diversity to the role” that of course only the first woman to hold this position could only bring to West Point.

Let’s talk about diversity. This is a recurrent theme isn’t it; perhaps diversity is truly the change that brought about the demise of the services or is closer than ever in accomplishing it. Chief of Staff of the Army, General George Casey’s  remark following the horrific terrorist massacre at Fort Hood said it all;

“As great a tragedy as this was, it would be a shame if our diversity became a casualty as well,”

Interesting right? Diversity supersedes the need to mitigate a serious security breach and the most devastating. So if we applied this kind of mentality to how we train military officers

Note on defense/war funding has ‘education’ bills attached. What education?

It was heartwarming to read just how excited Kolditz was after a visit to Rosie’s Broadway Kids  the way the program runs was so well organized my jaw dropped. I just can’t compare the fine cadets at West Point, high achievers and future leaders of this nation with people in the performing arts. I know this because I was once brought up in such an environment. When it comes to audition time it’s an individual’s achievement not team work that gets you the lead. It’s not unusual to see big time histrionics, back-stabbing, people who sing badly but loudly over others; all campaigning for leads. You name it; it’s all a cut-throat business. The objective of an artist is to entertain, not necessarily to inspire people but I suppose this depends on the particular work and audience.

I’m certain that Rosie and anyone associated with her will never come close to knowing what great courage and determination any person in uniform will ever experience in their lifetime when faced with adversity, ever. The fact that Rosie hates military people (support the troops but not the war and what about Abu Ghraib?) should make this physician and professor of behavioral science sick to his stomach but he’s the one singing the praises of her work. Incredible. Does the US Army advocate this type of thinking? Because you know that what he thinks will permeate the classroom and young cadets can be influenced to be leaders who only see themselves in the center of things or they can strive, as many a great leader has, to give their subordinates the best example possible.

I spoke with a friend of mine who is now retired from the Navy and he always said that his best accomplishment was the success of his people because of how their efforts made him look good.  It seems to me that the new age of leadership in our services will be driven mostly by what feels right, when the individuals achieve collective understanding, kind of like a Montessori thinking pattern. I can see it now:

“But sir, the enemy is advancing on us. We need to strike now!”

Easy does it; I’m still waiting for the consensus from the other officers…

The battle for the feminization of our armed forces continues in earnest and it is going to be even more challenging to reach the next generation and help them understand that what is going on is meant to weaken our defenses. Anyone who thinks we’re still living in the same country with the same values and aspirations of yesteryear I’ve got a box of cookies I want to sell you. It’s only a song and a dance; but for a limited time.


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