Thursday, May 8, 2008

Leaders Wanted

An army of sheep led by a lion would defeat an army of lions led by a sheep.
--Arab saying

Your mission, if you wish to accept it, is to go to Iraq and combat terrorism. I was pretty excited when the call came in. Not that I volunteered for it, but I had trained for years for combat and my chance had finally come. Unbeknownst to me, the mission would soon change.

Your mission, which you cannot escape, is to go to Iraq and combat bureaucracy and cruelty. Good luck. (Cringe.)

I think I'm an approachable leader who has a good handle on understanding the dynamics of human behavior. Initially, I was assigned as the executive officer over a large company. (Note: I had never been in this battalion or known anyone from this battalion before last year.) I quickly introduced myself and shook hands with every single soldier and noncommissioned officer (NCO) in the company. Not because I'm a sycophant, but because I'm normally gregarious and I enjoy people. I learned a little something about each soldier and enjoyed teaching, assisting and helping them for the first couple of months living in terrible living conditions in cramped tents and suffering from strange leadership decisions made above me.

It didn't take long for the soldiers or I to realize that the individuals in the tier above us weren't really looking out for the best interests of the troops. Unfortunately, things didn't change throughout the deployment. It's been sad to witness so many people -- officers, NCOs and soldiers alike -- treated so horribly. There is common consent in that observation and fact.

When more officers came in during the initial weeks, some shuffling of personnel occurred. Both my commander and I were relocated into other sections. The soldiers and NCOs would often tell me how they wished I could have stayed with them.

Our train-up took place at Fort McCoy, Wisconsin. We stayed there for a few months -- why so long, I'll never know.

One senior officer from the training entity over our battalion, somehow found out that I was going to church on Sundays with my congregation, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, instead of going to Protestant or Catholic services held during training. Immediately, I was called into his office and told I could not attend church anymore. Boy, was I shocked. Since I was the only active LDS soldier from the battalion, I was told by this officer, "If you go, others will want to go." Isn't that the point? I still couldn't believe what I was being told.

The military is an institution built on faith and exercise of religion. The military goes out of its way to see that all people can worship according to the dictates of their own conscious. So why was this guy saying these things -- in front of a witness of the same rank, I might add? Did he have a prejudice against Mormonism?

I waited for my chain of command to handle the situation -- and I waited and waited and waited. Nothing happened. I knew the battalion commander knew about the situation, but nothing happened. Did he have something against my religion too? I thought. I quietly and patiently kept my mouth close, even though I knew I could have easily filed a complaint that would have been wholeheartedly substantiated. But I never did. Instead I was patient. After several weeks, without my knowledge, consent or encouragement whatsoever, an officer in my unit, I would later learn, contacted his Congressmen to investigate allegations of violations of First Amendment rights of worship.

Suffice it to say, that issue was resolved rapidly. Unfortunately, my own chain of command didn't do anything about it, ever -- which I found odd. But even the Chaplain himself would eventually tell me the soldiers' morale throughout the deployment was low specifically due to what they viewed as incompetency and self-centeredness of abusive leadership at the highest level in the battalion. I personally heard that from everyone from Majors to privates too! Perhaps this was indicative of my own situation.

While serving in another section, I continually watched management decision problems being made and additionally witnessed others getting treated unfairly. I listened to others, watched and observed. I'm not an easily offended person, but there were some things going on that I did not want to be a part of, so I asked to move from the section I was assigned to.

When a very capable black female soldier with two master's degrees came to work in that section, she'd eventually approach me (now in the other section) and tell me of her concerns with the way things were being run and the way she was being treated. Personally, I think the others were intimidated by her. I wasn't in charge of that section, and my rank and position did not allow me the authority to change things, unfortunately.

Another NCO came to me not long thereafter and asked to speak with me in private. I was shocked because I had not ever spoken with this female NCO before. She started out by saying, "Sir, someone told me that you were a fair person and that I could trust you. If it's okay, I'd like to ask for some advice." It reminded me of the comments my old law enforcement buddies used to say when they collectively suggested that I be the lead crisis negotiator because of my active listening and interpersonal communications ability.

This particular soldier was a newly promoted NCO. I had heard several people saying she did not deserve to be promoted, though the Department of the Army thought otherwise. I had also personally heard others tell how there was a quest to take her rank from her. She apparently had heard of that too. She said, "I've even heard that the battalion commander wants to take away my rank, but..." she added, "I didn't do anything." She asked for my advice on the paperwork trail that was being started on her for very minor infractions. The paperwork was being initiated simply to have enough evidence to take away her rank. I offered what I considered an objective and balanced opinion.

Several months passed. I did not have a need to speak with this NCO, and I didn't. Nevertheless a few weeks ago when I heard that the battalion commander was going to give her what's called a field grade Article 15, which would take away her rank, her pay, and jeopardize her security clearance, let alone her career, I surreptitiously ran to her and told her to fight it. Such an decision, based on what I knew and had observed, was the biggest, most corrupt thing I'd witnessed since leaving the federal government (that's another story altogether).

An outside investigation was done and a Court Martial was initiated. The allegations brought against her were totally, completely unfounded. She was cleared of all charges.

--Makes you wonder if the battalion commander even had enough concrete evidence to give her an Article 15 in the first place! I suspect what another officer told me about such ill intentions: He was on a "witch hunt."

She nearly cried yesterday when thanking me for having the courage and the decency to help her. But I didn't do anything, really. I just stood up for what was right and said, "fight it."

I'm sure you're wondering about the other situation with the black female soldier I mentioned earlier. Well, I didn't do anything for that either. I simply listened to her complaints and empathized with her situation. She decided on her own to file an Equal Opportunity complaint. An investigating officer found blatant E.O. violations, including misogyny and sexual harassment. The three people, including my former boss, who is of the same ilk as the battalion commander, received Brigade (higher than Battalion) level Letters of Reprimand that will go into their permanent file.

There are lessons to learn from this:

1) Eventually, if you're being stupid in a no-stupid zone, you're going to get in trouble.
2) Diversity is a wonderful thing; it adds dimension and flavor to every organization.
3) Behave ethically and fairly at all times, because crude jokes or unfair or illegal action is bound to offend someone even though they might not say it.
4) Leaders have the responsibility to understand the dynamics of human relations and the morale of those they lead. If leaders cannot be approachable and mesh well with their subordinates, their people will not trust them nor follow them anywhere.
5) When the wicked rule, people mourn. When a person gets too much power and authority as they suppose, they will almost immediately begin to exercise an unrighteous dominion.
6) Leaders (meaning all of us) should surround ourselves with talented and capable people. If you want a winning team, that's part of the formula. Jealousy, or the 'intimidation' factor has caused many gifted individuals to find employment elsewhere.
7) If you want to have a loyal, hard-working and happy team, put people first.
8) Leaders who step on others or stab others in the back in order to get to -- or stay at -- the top will be very lonely there.
9) Do the right thing, even when no one is watching.
10) It's imperative to have quality leaders in every organization because as the Arabs say, "An army of sheep led by a lion would defeat an army of lions led by a sheep."

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