Army Leadership is Catastrophically Broken

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The longer I’m in the Army, the more I question whether leadership can be taught in a formal manner.  The US Army heavily stresses “leadership skills”, and talks about leadership incessantly in manuals and throughout its training.  Ranger school is essentially a leadership school.

In all honesty I have never seen worse leaders than what I have encountered in the military.  People who are downright abusive and in some cases mentally unstable.  The Non-Commissioned Officer’s Creed states:  “I know my Soldiers and will always place their needs above my own.”  I’ve seen very few NCOs who live up to that standard.  In fact, it is quite the opposite.  Most NCOs use lower ranking Soldiers merely to make their own jobs and lives easier.  Obviously there is an accountability and rating problem in the Army, which I suspect is the same problem encountered in any industry that does not produce tangible goods.  The fact that many NCOs can reach the rank of E7 and higher while remaining tactless bullies to those under them speaks more of the Army’s rating system than of the rated NCO.  The Army is currently implementing a 360 degree rating system in which the lower ranking Soldiers rate their leadership, but even this will not present an accurate picture of what’s going on; lower ranking Soldiers will still be afraid of their bully superiors.

Just a small example of what I’ve consistently seen in the Army.  The senior NCO in my office routinely calls his Soldiers “fags”, “nerds” and other derogatory names.  Of course he presents this with a small dose of plausible deniability–like he’s joking.  He may be joking but I’m aware of what he’s really trying to accomplish: To psychologically subjugate those under him.  If he’s truly just joking around, perhaps he would mind if the E4 working for him called him a fag.  Doubtful.  He doubles his power by telling us all that he can’t stand people who can’t take a joke.  Again, can he take a joke?

This is far from the only time I’ve seen this kind of behavior.  In fact, I am surprised when I don’t see it.

The Soviet military held that there was no known way to efficiantly make leaders; leaders emerged and took charge through natural processes and those who displayed leadership characteristics were promoted.  I tend to agree with this.  A person’s psychological and ethical makeup, as well as his or her own personal experiences do more to determine leadership qualities than dreary doctrine.

In any case, it is my fundamental belief that the Army is broken in a deep way.  Not only does its leadership exibit a proto-fascist quality in many cases,  but the Army’s systems do not function well, systems that are used daily and should run like a smooth machine.  But a rough-running machine would be tolerable with consistently good leadership.  Instead the Army seems to attract and breed borderline sociopaths.    In three years I’ve witnessed ethical and personal violations by NCO that I never saw in any other job.  Daily verbal abuse, belittling, sexual relations with lower ranking female Soldiers (against regs), and other actions for which lower enlisted Soldiers would be counseled and punished.


8 thoughts on “Army Leadership is Catastrophically Broken

    Bill said:
    March 16, 2012 at 2:11 pm

    So comment & a question. First, it’s interesting you mention the rating problem. W. Edwards Deming (imho, one of the true geniuses of the 20th century) cited Annual Reviews as one of the “Deadly Diseases” in Corporate America, the Military and the Govt (link here ). If you read his red/white ball example, it’s a hard case to argue against.

    Question, what exactly is a NCO (I googled it but can’t really distinguish). If you have a 4 yr degree and go through OCS, you are ‘automatically’ a 2nd lieutenant from what I understand – which is the lowest rank on the Officer scale but still an officer. I have two very close family members who were high ranking naval officers and both spoke derisively off pretty much all the Army NCOs’ they came into contact with (even though they were in the navy, they dealt with quite a few as they were career officers). For instance, both of them emphasized that “Your men eat before you even think of taking a bite”. They were adamant that true power and respect comes from using your rank as little as possible. Similarly, that if you ever demanded that a report do something, you damned well better be willing to do it yourself if you had to. They talked about how Soviet officers were largely the opposite (and even more so with Iraqi officers before Desert Storm) and said that most NCOs’ they encountered had the same mentality. The behavior they both attributed to NCOs’ sound eerily similar to what you’re describing. You’d think that in general, you’d see an fairly even distribution of this sort of bad behavior as well as good behavior in each group. But from everything I hear, it’s much more prevalent in NCOs. It’s not likely that’s just a coincidence or a fluke or random chance b/c it’s been the same story since at least back in Vietnam. So how does a NCO differ markedly from a traditional officer? Similarly, if a traditional officer saw them bullying their men, could the officer ‘teach them a lesson’ by essentially bullying them the same way? Or would that never happen?

    Bill said:
    March 16, 2012 at 2:15 pm

    Also, I’m guessing you wouldn’t do something you knew could land you in hot water, but the way it’s written, it sounds like your observations are present tense – if that’s the case hopefully the NCO is too lazy to read the blogs of people he knows – definitely wouldn’t want to see you get in hot water for dogging the guy out (although it really sounds like he needs to be dogged for how he acts)

    magus71 responded:
    March 17, 2012 at 2:09 am


    NCOs are officers in the Army, but they do not have commissions. In the old days, officers had to buy their “commission” with money. The difference is a little semantics and a lot of pay and prestige. An E8 who’s been in the Army for 17 years is lower ranked than a 22 year old punk Lt. right out of college–and they get paid about the same–E8 a little more. An NCO’s duties in the Army differ from an officer’s in the Army, though in many cases both NCOs and Officer’s do each other’s jobs. An NCO’s primary job in the Army is training soldiers and maintaining discipline and regulations. They are the middle managers and handle personnel. In my office, I am the NCOIC, or, Non-Commissioned Officer in charge. This means I take directives for the duties that need to be accomplished for the day directly from the Officer in Charge and task the soldiers in the office accordingly. NCOs are generally doing more line work “down range.” An officer calmy (usually) gives his directives to an NCO then the Sergeant goes out and yells and screams at the soldiers to get the job done.

    As for your relatives description of how it’s supposed to be, they are spot on. There is definitely something wrong with army NCOs. Arrogance, belittling, you name it. Yesterday, an E7, whom I think was trying to impress the female E4 standing next to him, commented about my metal rank insignia on my patrol cap. The black is slightly worn so that it shines a little like brass. I have had it since Afghanistan and have not wanted to remove it for a new one because it’s like memorabilia. He said that he almost thought I was a Major and that if he would have saluted me as is due a Major, he would hae “tied my socks in a knot with [me] in them.” I acknowledged him while thinking I’d like for him to have tried it. It’s pretty much why I dont know if I can re-enlist. Many of these people are alien life forms to me. All the people I’m friends with in the Army leave after their first term; I’m friends with them because we have lots in common and they cant stand the stupidity either.

    As for fearing if the senior NCO will read my blog, I don’t think he reads anything but The Chive. (really)

    Bill said:
    March 19, 2012 at 4:24 am

    Thanks D. It’s a real bummer to hear this but more than anything, the fix to a lot of the military’s problems are that they really don’t listen to internal feedback. I have nothing but respect for the military and while it’s gotten a lot better than it was for Vietnam vets, they still don’t get the respect they deserve, especially in terms of support from the govt. Freaking loafers (and I’m not calling all people on public assistance loafers, I’m speaking about the loafers in particular) get more benefits in many ways than our military folks who sacrifice a ton. Sh*t’s heartbreaking every time you see a Youtube vid of a vet returning from Iraq or Afg and just seeing their families for the first time in ages. Every little screw up gets front page attention, but it’s seldom brass that you see getting skewered, it’s always guys on the front line. God bless all of you guys – and as always, if you ever need magazines, books or anything you can’t easily get (same for any guys around you ) – you know the email address 😉

    Bill said:
    March 19, 2012 at 4:26 am

    BTW, one of your frequent commenters (who I think is a personal friend of yours ) Michael LaBossiere – has a book called 42 Logical Fallacies (I believes it’s the same guy that comments here). I just got it there other day – partially b/c I was one of my undergrad majors was Phil and I just really love the stuff – the other b/c i figured if it was the same guy, it’d be a good book based on his comments. Definitely loved it. Always appreciate your book review btw – in all you’ve done every one has been rock solid.

    magus71 responded:
    March 24, 2012 at 12:28 pm


    I’ve known Dr. LaBossiere for about 25 years. We both grew up in Old Town Maine. He has a couple more books on Amazon for .99.

    Amy said:
    May 28, 2015 at 1:31 pm

    Your posting is spot on …I see this day in and day out. And if a soldier goes to their higher up/chain of command the soldier end up being belittled and retribution being served to him even worse…the bully Seargent teams up with his other bodies and dogs the soldier even more. Give them extra duty, stop them from being promoted, just constantly looking for things to get that soldier in trouble. I am so disgusted about this system…the bully keeps bullying while nothing happens to them.

    Amy said:
    May 28, 2015 at 1:33 pm

    *ends up

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