Tuesday, June 05, 2007

A Right to Competency

Troops expect and have a right to competent supervision.

Actual leadership skills are great. Technical and tactical superiority is outstanding. But basic competence in your leadership is a right. The people leading you must know the job.

Our agency is preparing to raise up its next generation of junior management. Some of the people on the list are good. Some are incompetent in their present position. I don't know if it is common in big organizations or it is a byproduct of the combination of a strong union and a government job, but incompetence doesn't appear to be a bar to promotion. Many of the people who suck at the job dream of supervising it. I really don't get it.

In "Achilles in Vietnam" the author pointed out that betrayal by a supervisor is one of the key precursors to PTSD. It's not always betrayal. Sometimes it is just a decision or a series of decisions so incompetent that you almost lose faith in the entire system. How did someone who went through the same training I did arrive at that boneheaded decision?

If you read books about people in stressful situations, you'll see these moments a lot and the anger and disillusionment (is that a word?) that immediately follows.

Should someone who puts the thin-skinned Humvees in front of the tanks while crossing a hostile city be running a battalion?

Should someone who found suspicious white powder in an envelop, then scooped it off the table back into the envelop with his bare hands and continued eating be supervising a security team?

Should someone who decided that "less lethal" weapons looked scarier than real guns and might not look good on TV and ordered you to address crowd control with only lethal weapons be in charge of a tactical team?

Should someone who gets lost in a building be in charge of that building?

These are basic competence issues.

I want more. I want good leaders who understand that there are only two priorities- the mission and the troops. Smart enough to find the safest way to get things done; flexible enough to go off plan when the plan fails; trusted enough that the troops will believe and follow.

But damn, competency as a minimum. Please.


jeff said...

Not only your profession my friend. I guess my advantage is that no one gets hurt here.

Anonymous said...

Eventually you will be called 'LT' and your folks will look at you and say, "he's one of the few".

MS said...

After 15 years on active duty with the Army, I have to say I've seen more Napoleon syndrome, ex-AV geeks with a vendetta against anyone that was bigger/stronger/faster than them previously in charge of far more competent people than I ever did as a civilian...

Unfortunately, as you pointed out, incompetence isn't always a barrier to promotion.