Best Defense

‘Dilbert’ on the Army way of leadership; an admiral on a better way

Interesting that on Veterans’ Day, the comic strip "Dilbert" captures the way the Army manages commanders: "My job is to create an environment where employees feel safe taking risks," the pointy-haired boss says in today’s strip. "My other job is punishing employees who make any kind of mistake." By contrast, here is Adm. J.C. Harvey, ...

Arpit Gupta/flickr
Arpit Gupta/flickr

Interesting that on Veterans’ Day, the comic strip "Dilbert" captures the way the Army manages commanders: "My job is to create an environment where employees feel safe taking risks," the pointy-haired boss says in today’s strip. "My other job is punishing employees who make any kind of mistake."

By contrast, here is Adm. J.C. Harvey, Jr., chief of the Navy’s Fleet Forces Command, genuinely dealing (on his blog, btw) with current issues of leadership and accountability:

Expecting a ship to meet every mission requirement while providing only 70 percent of the resources necessary is not setting the conditions for success. The CO is placed in an untenable situation; we set the ship and her crew up for future failure. Ultimately, it is my responsibility, working through the chain-of-command, to balance the resources I provide to our ships, squadrons and submarines with the missions I expect those units to be able to perform.

But… our COs also have an obligation to seek the truth and act on it — to honestly assess their ship, take appropriate action, and forward their findings and recommendations up the chain-of-command for the betterment of the force. This feedback is absolutely critical. Decision-making and directing action (command) only achieves the desired outcome if there is a properly functioning feedback loop (control). We have occasionally disassociated command from control with often devastating effects that are difficult to recover from, even over a long period of time.

So we have to ensure we establish an honest flow of communication through the chain-of-command; indeed, it is critical we do this. It is not about whining up or down the chain-of-command — that is, simply complaining about problems without offering any solutions; it is about effective leadership in a culture where we work together to continually improve our ships, our squadrons, and our submarines.

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. @tomricks1

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