A Peek at Leadership

First of all, my buddy MonkeyPope just deployed to Iraq for his second time. Best of luck to you, bro, and I hope you get to do some cool shit over there! I heard from him that one of our friends just got stop-lossed for the “surge”. In better news, my buddies from my unit should be coming home soon so I will probably go to Nashville to see them when they’re free.

The Apprentice Candidates’ Web Sites

I googled Heidi Androl, one of the stand-outs on this season of The Apprentice, and found her site. Pretty silly: it’s a corporate site with corporate site design and lots of branding and no content. It also has a list of links to the other candidates. Now this cracks me up because their sites are all the same! Big huge images of them, boilerplate biographies (not autobiographies, mind you), promotions of their good deeds and accomplishments, and maybe token blogs. They have photo galleries. How vain is that?

I think it’s interesting that even the 2008 presidential candidates have more appealing web sites than these guys. Look at Barack Obama‘s, for example. The vanity is toned down and he’s at least attempted to use social networking sites (Flickr, Facebook) to do his branding and awareness. Without going off on too much of a tangent, I finished Obama’s book, “The Audacity of Hope”. What is interesting to me is that I don’t zone out like I do with most politicians — his writing seemed authentic and personal. His awareness of the complexities of certain issues, including those dear to mine like the Google-dominated Internet and the sensitivities of international relations as a study of people and not just as a way to get things from people, is quite refreshing. To me it’s the difference between reading a personal web site as opposed to an Apprentice candidate’s corporate-styled blog. The guy gets it, is what I’m saying. He’s highly intelligent and would restore the idea of insight and pragmatic thought into the reputation of the presidency. I’m sold.

I guess it’s impossible to ignore the fact that, despite the baseness of these Apprentice “personal” sites, that is the sort of image that must be conveyed in the business world. These are our future business leaders. They are trying to emulate the qualities that they think people want to see in them, amplified by their performances on The Apprentice. Those business qualities are the ones that are supposed to maintain the United States’ dominance as a business leader. I’m a little worried!

That Trump can throw a tantrum and kick off a decent guy just because he joked about himself being “white trash” shows that even blatantly playing the part of a blustery poseur in business is better than putting yourself down. “I don’t want someone who calls himself ‘white trash’,” Trump said, and it betrays his insecurity about the phrase being applied to himself.

I will add that the guy who got kicked off has by far the most interesting web site, including a blog about him done by his friends.

Leadership in the Military

Moreso than anything else I learned while being in the Army, leadership stood out as the key benefit reaped in my development. I should preface this by saying that I was not in long enough to become a more senior NCO (sergeant). I was eligible for staff sergeant but would have probably needed to stay in another 5 years at least to make sergeant first class, the first rank for senior sergeants. There also weren’t many leadership opportunities for me in my unit, which was dominated primarily by people older and higher-ranking than me. Privates were actually not that common except in the support elements. This worked out to be a positive in some ways because I was learning from guys who had deployed a few times, knew how to kill and how to survive, and knew what was important and what wasn’t. They were also confident but subdued people who knew how to have a good time while still maintaining families and responsibilities. I was protected from a lot of the stupidity that occurs in the military from dumbasses who get promoted despite their inabilities to lead.

I did however receive praise for my abilities as a sergeant. I did a lot of the hard work for my four-man team as an Arabic linguist and provided the grounding for its spirit. I did not receive an award for that time since I got in trouble, but the remarkable number of senior people who went out of their ways to defend me was heartening. I put one private through airborne school and helped him and another one prepare for Iraq. The people on my floor responded well to my personal approach to getting them to keep our barracks clean. I was commended by my bosses for providing critical assistance during the fluctuations of rear detachment, which in itself sounds like a pussy job but for a while I was pulling a job for a senior sergeant. The company commander said I was the only one in the S-2 (intel) who knew what they were doing, and the first sergeant attended my going-away lunch, which was awesome. Another older sergeant who is currently in ranger school told me that he had a vision that he saw me as a Green Beret.

These things mean a lot to me because these people were not the types who give praise to anyone. They also meant that I was seen as a very competent NCO and my co-workers lamented that I wouldn’t stay in and contribute more.

My approach in leadership I think lacks in the department of assigning tasks out to people. It’s something I have little experience in. In the military you can easily just tell people to go stuff and they will do it with maybe a grumble but not always taking it out on you. Soldiers have been conditioned to follow orders and do not have that immediate resistance that civilians would have. Yes soldiers will disregard incompetent leaders but for general tasks soldiers will just go out and do things.

But I never had many people to boss people around. I think my leadership theory is to lead from the front and hope everyone follows. I wanted to provide an example that privates would be inspired by and follow. One major breakdown of leadership comes when leaders tell others to do things that they wouldn’t do themselves. We had a fat sergeant who would always smoke the shit out his troops for exercise, but he never actually did the exercises himself. Other leaders send their soldiers on shitty details and don’t even check up on them.

I believe that General Petraeus also believes in this, as he recently went on a walk-about of Iraq. From what I know about him, he believes in going out to meet the soldiers and talk to them, regardless of the ranks involved. Since he speaks Arabic, he was able to communicate with the Iraqi troops also.

People really have no clue how much this can mean to morale. I’m not talking about Bush or Cheney going to military bases and taking time out of everyone’s week because they have to prepare for their arrival. I’m talking about leaders going to see people at their own workplaces. I rarely saw my group commander and I don’t think most others did either. I don’t like the guy and he pulled me from my team but he doesn’t have a good reputation either. Our acting rear detachment commander however can always be seen walking around, talking to people, stopping in to say hi. I served with him in Iraq and he had a reputation for okaying all of our missions, even the toughest most dangerous ones. Eventually I hope that man becomes the new commander.

And all this ties in to current events. I wanted to explain my thoughts about leadership so I could bring up the Walter Reed scandal. Now military facilities are notoriously bad — I lived and worked in buildings built in the WW2 era and it was no big deal — and some of the things cited as wrong at Walter Reed seemed like overstatements. But the response of people to the investigation has been abysmal. I have read right-wing blogs and read Republican congressmen’s responses to the investigation and they treat it as if it is a non-issue. As if it’s just liberals making a mountain out of a molehill.

But the bureaucratic paperwork inherent in the military system needs to be streamlined for the wounded. Perhaps it’s not as bad as non-military folks have said it is, given that timelines for recovery and paperwork can be complicated. And when civilians got a hold of the story they were ASTONISHED as they typically are, even if it’s not as bad as they think. Testimony says that the facility was due to be replaced shortly, thus maybe influencing decisions and renovating the older parts.

But this is Walter Reed, the shining example of how our country is supporting and caring for the troops who dedicated their service to the country, to use the Republicans’ line of thinking. This story is an example of how there is weak leadership by those who claim to be strong on it. THAT is the problem.

At Fort Campbell (and most of the medical facilities I saw), the facilities were excellent. I visited one of my senior NCOs and his wife at the maternity ward when they had their baby and it was extremely nice. The hospital is fairly new and quite well-kept. Why is it better there than at the main American hub for returning wounded?

I also take issue with General Kiley’s response, documented at the Washington Post. He claims that all that stuff was below his pay grade, basically. It wasn’t his job to inspect the barracks. His subordinates he trusted to do the job.

In the officer corps, people are fired for bad situations. That is the way it works. On the enlisted side, people are not usually fired — they are told to fix the problem no matter what. But officers are leaders and should take accountability instead of blaming junior-level NCOs like Kiley did. I am willing to bet that there were a bunch of E-5 buck sergeants and grumbling specialists who couldn’t handle the explosion of patient levels in the cramped facilities. They probably bitched about it every day, about how they should have more help, more wings of patient rooms, etc. They probably said their leadership didn’t give a shit so why should they work their asses off for those guys when they could do their best with these returning wounded soldiers?

Kiley wouldn’t know this of course because he is not responsible. He’s probably responsible for quasi-productive things like endless meetings and signing memos and viewing Powerpoints and typing e-mails in Outlook.

What a leader to look up to.

Here is the Daily Show’s take on what they call jokingly Waltergate.