Home > Current Events, Leadership > Is the Army Finally Getting Serious About Toxic Leaders?

Is the Army Finally Getting Serious About Toxic Leaders?

January 12, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

col-frank-zacharCOL Frank Zachar was relieved of Command of the 172nd Infantry Brigade after just over seven months in command.  The reason given by the Acting V Corps commander, BG Allen Batschelet, was “loss of confidence in his ability to command.”  Curiously, BG Batschelet added that, ““There weren’t any illegal, immoral or unethical activities,” and, “His (Zachar’s) leadership style wasn’t really effective and over time the command here lost confidence in his ability to command.”

It very well may be that COL Zachar was relieved for toxic leadership.  An article at Military Times asserts that Zachar was not exactly a popular commander with the troops.  Some Soldiers, writing anonymously, were very critical of COL Zachar: 

“He was a monster to work for, unless you were one of his favorites.”

“He took a perverse joy in making life absolutely miserable. It was disgusting and disheartening to experience.”

“Zachar ran his troops into the ground, every morning I would wake up saying to myself ‘today is going to suck’ ”

“I never seen the number of AWOLS, drunk driving incidents, suicides and homicides, and domestic issues in any command as much as I had in his.”

There is evidence that toxic leaders not only work, but thrive in the Army.  A study entitled TOXIC LEADERSHIP IN THE U.S. ARMY by Colonel Denise F. Williams from the US Army War College concluded:

Toxic leadership exists in the U.S. Army, and the Army seems to tolerate it.

Perhaps the most obvious reason, albeit disturbing, is that toxic leaders seem to get the job done, at least in the short-term.    The harsher toxic leaders who bear traits the Army values, such as rigid, controlling, enforcing, and confident, but take them to the extreme will find more success.  Their superiors are either oblivious to the toxic behavior or, more likely, are so satisfied with the results in terms of  mission accomplishment that they choose to overlook the human cost of getting the job done.

From my own experience, I was once told that when students at the Army Command and General Staff College were given an assignment to write on a difficult leadership experience (called the “Crucible” paper), more than 70% wrote on toxic leadership.  This would be remarkable in and of itself.  What makes it extraordinary is that nearly 100% of the officers in that CGSC class had combat experience.  When toxic leadership is a more defining leadership experience than combat, you know you have issues.

Perhaps COL Zachar owed his stellar resume to a long list of previous leaders who were too oblivious to notice that he was a toxic leader, or more likely, deluded themselves into believing that he was a good leader with a “strong” leadership style.  The fact that he was relieved is an embarrassment to the colonel.  The fact that he made it as far as he did is an indictment of the officer management and leader development system.

The fact that BG Batschelet took a stand and fired the guy – well, that shows that maybe there are good leaders out there after all.


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Categories: Current Events, Leadership
  1. Sean Fitzwilliam
    January 13, 2011 at 3:12 pm

    Well written article – On point! I had this situation pegged before reading this and other articles.

    • January 13, 2011 at 10:12 pm


      Thanks for the compliment, and thanks for stopping by to read the post. Cheers, ML

  2. Anonymous
    July 17, 2011 at 4:22 pm

    I agree! Well written article. While there are several wonderful, competent Leaders in the army, many toxic ones remain.

    Will someone please take a look at COL. Ross Brown, AR; BRG Commander for JTF- BRAVO in Honduras. It is a TOXIC command; with another monster running the show. Col. Brown, intimidates and is a DR. Jekyl/Hyde personality.

  3. Anonymous
    September 16, 2011 at 6:01 pm

    Does anyone know how to report a taxic leader that is out of controll????

  4. Anonymous
    September 16, 2011 at 6:02 pm

    Does anyone know how to report a toxic leader that is out of controll????

    • September 16, 2011 at 7:53 pm

      Good luck. I’d recommend an anonymous note to the first general officer in the chain of command. Better yet, a letter to your congressman.

    • March 8, 2012 at 11:11 am

      yes I do, and if fact did with Col. Zachar

  5. Leader in the Army
    October 7, 2011 at 11:02 pm

    Toxic leaders are every where, in war zone and here at home it seems Army is finally getting why it’s loosing great Soldiers in war in accidents and suicide. Decision made by one of these idiots did cost life of my fellow brothers not too long a go. The so called leaders have some thing more important than Army’s number one operational resource (The Soldiers) that’s their next rank, they don’t work to serve but to get promoted to the next higher rank. If you are a LTC and just trying to deploy after 10 years of war; all you are looking for is your full bird rank. If you have a fat, stupid and toxic leader where they belong is not in the Army! Army is here to fight not to baby sit these idiots who are contentiously becoming good reasons for death of somebody’s child. Nothing to be learned from such idiots, being a soldier requires physical and mental strength, we have more and more idiots who fit the category of “Toxic idiot” not even leaders, it’s very important for the Army to get ride of them with out wasting no time!
    If you are not man enough you should never joined the military once you join; your deployment should never be an excuse for being an idiot, abusive, fat and stupid who can not lead his own family-let alone leading strong organization like Army.

  6. January 7, 2012 at 7:53 am

    I have a comment for you the army talks about all these toxic leaders,I have experanced myself verbal abuse,verbal harassment, physical abuse, by a SFC Myers who still serving at FT Campbell KY with HHC 101 CAB (combat avation bridgade).From Aug08 to Dec 09.I did use 2 different chain of commands, 2 IG complaints, our CSM Beherie,and, and,and, hear me out a Congressional Complaint.Not to mention this same NCO was caught Commiting ADULTRY, with a 20yr old PFC .UP in TK Afghistan, back in March thur June of 2010.Even though yhis NCO was warned 6 times, HES still serving in the US Army, hes still a E-7, he still holds a leadership position.Im tired of hearing about how the armys going to take action against these so called toxic leaders.If you want a example on how to get started on how to get rid of a bad NCO . Read this reply, and start talkin the talk.Believe me you dont know how I feel about this individual or his demeanor.Because the goog old boy system will never cese to exsit,unless the US ARMY leaders really give a DAM.And practice what they preach.ITS TO EASY.You see I have nothin to hide.
    SGT David A Tropp
    WTB, FT Campbell KY

    • January 23, 2012 at 7:08 pm

      Thanks for the feedback David. Toxic leaders are definitely out there. The Army is only now starting to take this seriously – let’s hope things improve.

    • Anonymous
      September 14, 2012 at 8:57 pm

      Hey tropp. Congrats on your promotion to sgt. I confirm that troops statements are 100 percent correct.

  7. Anonymous
    February 14, 2012 at 11:09 am

    Great article. Unfortunately this also exists with civilian Army employees who still think they are “in the Army”, as is the case here at Ft. Bragg.

  8. Isabel R
    May 23, 2012 at 12:19 pm

    What recourse is available for addressing toxic leadership for the civilian Army employees who have self appointed themselves as all knowing regardless of the circumstances. I am observing this at Camp As Saylah in Doha. With the short rotations of military personnel, some civilians have conviently established themselves as the iron door controlling everyone’s quality of life.

  9. Jen S.
    August 17, 2012 at 4:16 pm

    As an army spouse, I have personally experienced the devastation of toxic leadership. Toxic leaders do not just damage active duty personnel, but erode the morale of spouses and children as well. Feeling powerless to change anything is discouraging. It’s my perception that senior leaders either turn a blind eye to it or are manipulated into believing the lies of a toxic leader.

  10. Tig Dupre
    January 22, 2013 at 3:06 pm

    Unfortunately, the cure for toxic leadership must start at the top. The feeling among the “good ol’ boys” is that “this system was good enough to promote me, and I survived to get where I am today, so it must be good.” There are few safeguards in place to weed out those are poor influences on their commands. Only if they mess up badly enough, are they relieved, and that doesn’t happen nearly as often as it should. A major part of the problem is the seniority system–move up or move out–coupled with the dynamic of “zero defects.” We are ruining our next generations of leadership by not mentoring and developing them. A PFC may well become the next Command Sergeant Major of the Army, and that junior lieutenant might just be the next division commander, but what sort of leader will they be?

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