The False Choice of “Character” versus “Results” – Developing People

CharacterRecently, the Chairman of the Joint Chief’s of Staff, Martin Dempsey, noted that the character deficencies of the senior leaders of the services required special attention. The general said that officers who had “incredible” character but poor professional competence, and those who were high-achievers but who “did not live a life of character” were of equal value to him – namely, zilcho. Thus, Chairman Dempsey believed the answer to bad apples in the general and admiral ranks is a 360-degree peer review process.

Of course, given the recent results of institutional surveys, the military service cultures are far more likely to drum out those first who are professionally incompetent than those who might “break a few eggs” while getting the mission done. As noted in a previous post, much more leeway is given to the leader who gets results at the cost of their command climate than the positive leader who fails the mission. General Dempsey’s statement that both types are not advancing the cause of their organizations is a welcome sign that the cost of toxicity is high, and that you don’t need to be toxic to get results. At the same time, it seems to suggest a natural tension between results and character. Predictably, media coverage of the Chairman’s statement posited about “where would we have been if Macarthur or Patton had to do a 360 peer review?”. I think that misses the point (and is a poorly thought out question because both of their teams of direct subordinates were intensely loyal to them, and they in turn to their team, and between the two of them, they only fired one person throughout the entire Second World War.)

I think the bigger question is if in your organization, leadership development is considered an integral part of a strategic plan for success, or whether it is “chrome” that you can spend time and resources on in “good times” but jettison when priorities shift. Given the sequestration budgets for the foreseeable future, the degree to which leadership in the public sector is instead seen as a key to success when resources get tight(er), will be an interesting trend to watch. The US Army’s own surveys suggest that leadership development has not been getting the same emphasis as it once did at the unit level because of the operational tempo increase since the beginning of the War on Terror. It also suggests that bad leadership usually means the mission isn’t getting accomplished (which puts the lie to the “he’s a jerk but he gets results” argument). Thus, on the surface it appears that the Army’s approach to leadership training is that in peacetime, it’s on the training syllabus, but when the war starts, they have more important things to worry about.

I think the results are pretty clear in any field, whether business, government, military, that leadership development is a key process that occurs in successful organizations, because it is recognized and valued as THE REASON THEY ARE SUCCESSFUL. It should be accorded a priority that ensures it will be conducted regardless of changes in resources. As a leader, your attention to the needs of your team, regardless of the level you inhabit, is the key to mission success. Disregard at your peril. There is nothing, repeat…nothing, that can take the place of a focused continual leadership discussion within your organization, and drive the team to success.