Military Leader or Business Manager?—Part 2: Is There a Difference?

Dave Chamberlin asks: Are our military leaders being trained for budget battles or for combat?
Military Leader or Business Manager?—Part 2: Is There a Difference?
Lt. Col. Glenn Sherman, Commander of the 103rd Air Control Squadron, speaks to cadets assigned to Air Force ROTC Detachment 009 at Yale University, during a panel discussion, on Nov. 14, 2019. (Tech. Sgt. Tamara Dabney/DoD photo)
In Part 1 of this series, I asked questions as to where all these bad leaders come from, whether or not this is something new or if it’s always been this way. While researching this series I found a paper written by Lt. Col. Robert P. Hansen while he was attending the Air War College. It is titled, “Combat Leadership: A Historical Analysis of Traits, Definition, and How it Differs From Peacetime Leadership.” Lt. Col. Hansen provides a historical analysis of successful combat leaders. He argues that successful peacetime leaders will not be ideal combat leaders and that their characteristics are mutually exclusive.
“Is there a difference between the type of leadership required in the peacetime military and that required in combat'? If there is a difference between the two different styles, or requirements, of leadership, then there must be a set of traits or personality characteristics that would provide the leader with a greater probability of success in combat. On the other hand, if these traits are different from those required for success in the peacetime leadership of the military, the differences should be acknowledged and accommodations should be made to provide for the development of both types of individuals. Has the military in general, and the Air Force in particular, acknowledged this difference and taken action to prepare its future leaders for combat?” (page 1)
The last line struck home. Has the Air Force acknowledged this and taken action to prepare its future leaders for combat? You tell me. If training on sexual assault, human trafficking, suicide prevention, the Lautenberg Act, use of social media, yadda, yadda, yadda, prepare leaders for combat, then we are the most lethal fighting force in history. In an average year, how much time is devoted to combat leadership training versus what would qualify as business management training? I think we’ve answered Lt. Col. Hansen’s question.
Lt. Col. Hansen further quotes Richard Gabriel, professor of politics at St. Anselm College:
“… we have a giant career-enhancing machine that has defined the prerogatives of success, and that these prerogatives have nothing remotely to do with fighting and everything to do with budget battles and their ramifications.” (page 1)
Ouch! Professors at civilian colleges are seeing the problem? That’s just plain embarrassing, but something even someone with the IQ of Forrest Gump could easily observe. What else explains a general threatening his people with treason for talking positively about the capabilities of the A-10 to Congress? Was combat first on his mind or was it budget and politics?

Professor Gabriel further notes, “The function of the military officer (leader) is one track, and that’s to fight. If he does that well, everything else he does or doesn’t do well doesn’t matter.” Again, does this fit with how leaders are groomed and trained? It seems that the main mode of operation of today’s leaders is just to make sure nothing bad happens on their watch. If anything can impact a leader’s career, it is handled by writing a new regulation or procedure to ensure that those above see a mitigating action. Meanwhile, General LeMay is rolling in his grave. Sorry, Sir, we wish you were here to stab your cigar at some people and show them the door.

The paper also quotes Brigadier General Herbert Bench, who wrote:
“The greatest deterrent to developing dedicated young leaders is the present system of encouraging our young officers to be ‘yes men’ and to ‘not rock the boat’ ... I do not mean to advocate having a bunch of rabble-rousers, but we need honest men of courage who do not hide behind rules and regulations. We need officers who will risk their professions to see that others are treated fairly. A man who has the strength of his convictions will be respected, admired, and followed.”
Thanks, General Bench! I challenge all of you to think about yourself and the leaders you know and compare that to what General Bench said. Ugh! It’s depressing.

Lt. Col. Hansen says that the concentration on management over leadership discourages risk-taking, and encourages the maintenance of the status quo and careerism. How many people do you know that are purely focused on their next promotion and the next higher level of responsibility? Truthfully, it’s frightening and I’m guessing Gen. Billy Mitchell saw the same issues in the pre-WWII military.

Next up in Part 3, we look at leadership traits.

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Dave Chamberlin served 38 years in the USAF and Air National Guard as an aircraft crew chief, where he retired as a CMSgt. He has held a wide variety of technical, instructor, consultant, and leadership positions in his more than 40 years of civilian and military aviation experience. Dave holds an Airframe and Powerplant license from the FAA, as well as a master's degree in aeronautical science. He currently runs his own consulting and training company and has written for numerous trade publications. His true passion is exploring and writing about issues facing the military, and in particular, aircraft maintenance personnel.