Home > Culture, Current Events, Leadership, Organization, Personnel System, Toxic Leadership, Transformation > A Crisis in Army Leadership? Recent Brigade Commander Fails Have the CSA’s Attention

A Crisis in Army Leadership? Recent Brigade Commander Fails Have the CSA’s Attention

General Martin Dempsey, commander of U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, photographed at the Pentagon on Wednesday, May 20, 2009. (Sheila Vemmer/Staff)

A few months ago, I asked this question: Is the Army finally getting serious about toxic leaders?  It appears that the answer may be yes, although much remains to be seen.  What is clear is that the recent relief of two brigade commanders, COLs Frank Zachar and James Johnson, along with other embarrassing revelations of bad brigade leadership, has got the new Chief of Staff’s attention.  In the 25 April Army Times cover story, the new CSA promises action to curb these leadership failures.

From the Army Times article:

“What you want to learn is if there is something we could have, should have, done along the way in their development,” Dempsey said. “The same question is appropriate for commanders at any level.”

Dempsey said he would not “accept the notion that there are simply bad apples out there” and move on. Instead, he has a plan to remove the bad apples from the barrel of command.

The plan may include 360-degree evaluations in the command-selection process. Typically, the evaluation system and command selection/promotion are based on the evaluation of seniors who rate performance and potential. This approach would allow subordinates to anonymously comment on whether the individual engenders a climate of trust and lives a life of integrity and discipline.

The Army also is looking at how leaders are developed, how tour length affects command climate and how they have been connected to senior leaders above them.

Two things strike me as important here.  The first is that GEN Dempsey does not take the easy way out and blame it on a “few bad apples.”  He recognizes that there is a system here that either produced them, or at least failed to weed them out.  Second, he vows to change that system, but again, does not take the easy way out by using cheap slogans about standards and values.  He proposes real, concrete, and somewhat out of the box (for the Army) solutions for the problem.

How much will actually get done remains to be seen.  The Army is a big beast and I’ve come to believe that some degree of toxic leadership is now woven into the beast’s DNA.  However, GEN Dempsey is probably the most dynamic and intelligent leader we’ve had in a long time.

I, for one, am cautiously optimistic.

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  1. SSG C
    May 20, 2011 at 5:34 am

    I am 10 1/2 year vet, with 4 combat tours to Iraq and Afghanistan. I can clearly day that I’ve been victimized repeatedly my a horrible battalion commander. I think it is very unbecoming of a leader to hold career progression because of pride. I think only a “sorry” leader/ would slander the name of his subordinate in order to prevent that soldier from gaining endorcement outside his Battalion.
    To say the least my battalion commander talk discredit my name because I chose not to go to him for a recommendation letter for warrant officer candidate school. He also did not submit my recent afghanistan end of tour award to brigade (illegal) for reasons he does not wish to explain.. That is the type of senior leader that the army has produced. If you ask 80% of the soldiers within my battalion that are hang up their boots; why? Battalion leadership will be the number one reason..

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  1. May 9, 2011 at 1:59 pm

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