Our troops are the Best! But, what about our Generals?

Posted on November 12, 2012

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Yesterday was Veterans Day. I didn’t realize it until  I started making my rounds of my favorite bloggers. That happens to expats after a while. Important  days in America pass without our realizing it; including Thanks Giving, if you can believe it. Since I don’t normally post my own work on weekends, I want to write today about a disturbing article I read on Friday that doesn’t have to do with our veterans but with the Generals who lead them.  Before I get to that there was some other things about which I wanted to write today. So I want to direct your attention to a couple of things.

My friend who runs the Spellchek blog post something that is pure dynamite. When you finish here today, I hope you will ship over there and find out who is bin Qumu and why knowing about him may just blow the lid off the Benghazi tragedy. We have to learn what has our government really been up to in Libya and for how long.

The other subject I wanted to write about is the demise of the Republican Party. I was going to give you a link to an article that I think makes an excellent case. But, the old man can find his source. Frustrating! So, let me some up quickly the authors points. Considering what a terrible and pathetic job President Obama did over for years, the American voters had every reason to through their support to the Republican candidate. All that the republican candidate could do was about sixty million votes, That is about the same or even less than McCain got in 2008 when the Republicans had no chance of winning. The conclusion is that if sixty million votes is the best the Republicans could when everything was in their favor, then sixty million is the best Republicans can expect to do in coming elections. The flip side of that coin is this. The Democrats got sixty million plus votes when voters had every reason to vote against the Democratic candidate. So, going forward,the Democrats can assume that the worst their candidate is going to do is sixty million plus votes. Think about it! There is also an article by Mark Steyn I highly recommend.

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On to today’s post.

I know I would get no argument from my readers if I said that our men and women who serve in our armed forces are the best there are any where. We have more evidence than we could ever want (America has been involved so many military conflicts over the years) that our troops are well-trained and when called upon, THEY PERFORM! And, our special forces? Well, they are pretty damn special, aren’t they?

Because our troops have performed so well in far too many conflicts, one can assume that their immediate officers must also be very well-trained and capable. But, what about the big brass? What about the Generals?

In the interest of full disclosure, you should know that I have no military experience. I have no standing to judge the performance of our Generals. however, I do have a lot of management experience in the business world.  I know that you can not equate management of war with management of business. War is much more dynamic. The situation can change rapidly. But, in my opinion, the military General not only needs the same skill sets as a General Manager or abouve in business; he needs to be an order of magnitude better at those skill sets.

The three skill sets this humble observer thinks are vital to being a good General Manager (or above) and a good General are these:

  1. People Skills. This is a broad area but fundamentally a good manager must know the strengths and weakness of his people. He/she must be quick to remove those that are not getting the job done. He/she will recognize that some people have valuable strengths but  may have one or two weakness that he/she must find a way to compensate for. He/she must develop a depth of talent in the organization so if someone leaves or is removed he/she has people ready to fill the hole.
  2. Organizational Skills. I could write a book on this topic. Suffice it to say that he/she must know what assets are available to him&her at any given point in time and where those assets are at any given point in time. He/she must know supplies and materials are going to be need before they are needed. He/she must have set up good logistics and communications systems.
  3. Understanding the Big Picture. The word general in General Manager or in General means exactly that. Once promoted to the level of General Manager or to General he or she is no longer a specialist. He or she must now become a generalist. That means they must understand the whole business. They must understand how all the pieces of the organization fit together and how they are interdependent on each other, An organization is only as strong as its weakest link.

According to Thomas E. Ricks” article General Failure in The Atlantic, many of our Generals are sorely lacking in the management skill sets I described above. But, friends, if Mr. Ricks is right, the situation with our Generals is much, much worse than that. According to Ricks, in World War II it  was often necessary for the more senior Generals to fire or move Generals and other officers who weren’t getting the job done. It was expected that this would occur and they were prepared and quick to deal with the problem when the needed. Ricks tells us that since WWII you will be hard pressed to find a case of a General being fired or moved aside. Are they all perfect? Not hardly. Apparently, if a senior General has a General whose performance is less than shinning, he will usually ignore the problem and let the General continue until his tour is up and hope that his replacement will be better. But, it gets even worse according to Ricks. He says our Generals all the way to the very top have become very risk averse. They do not want to take decisions which might result in them be criticized. It’s as if it is management by committee. Every one is trying to asess the political risk to their own careers rather than take a sometimes risky decision of doing what they have been trained to think is right. Decision are slow in coming. Sometimes no decision is taken. Is this what happened in Benghazi¿

This reminds me of when I was still wet behind the ears in my first job after graduating from college. I had expressed an interest of moving out of my engineering position into supervision. in other words, I wanted to begin learning the mining business from the  bottom up. There was an Old Irish General Foreman in the cooper ore processing plant where I worked. He was happy to take me under his wing. He needed someone who could fill-in for his foremen when they were on vacation or needed some  days off. So, I began spending my days with the various foremen and with the various plant operators learning what their jobs were about, what their problems were, and what was needed to make each area function as it was supposed to function. When it was time to cover a weekend on my own, the old Irishman called me into his office. He said: “Jim, you’re going to be out here on your own this weekend. I don’t want you to worry. I am only a phone  call away if you need me.” Then he said something I have never forgotten. He said in a very gruff voice: ” Mr. Gourdie. If something goes wrong this weekend, I expect you to take a decision even if it is wrong.. When I come back on Monday, I will chew your ass off if you made a bad decision. Count on it!  But, God help you if I come back and learn that you stood by and did noting! Are we clear?” You better believe that message was clear.

Ricks is quick to point out that we do indeed have some good Generals; but, overall he is worried about our military effectiveness in the future. If Mr. Ricks assessment of our Generals is correct, then something needs to be done and quick. But, that’s not likely to happen under Barry’s watch, is it?

Well, now you know what I’m thinking. What are your thoughts?

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