Toxic Leadership is PC BS

Posted on: October 21st, 2013 by Will Rodriguez 43 Comments
DA Photo by Mike Strasser

I read an article about “toxic leadership” on a blog I visit.

For those that don’t know “toxic leadership” has been the in vogue buzz word for leaders (mostly officers) that create command climates that drive people from the service and leave a trail of destruction behind them.  

The article was chock full of solutions to “toxic leadership” like more counseling, telling subordinates about their flaws, evaluating how one achieves success not just failure and the teaching subordinate leaders “reflection”.

The comments were generally supportive with one suggestion being to ad subordinate evaluations of superiors as a potential solution.  Now these are generally smart guys and people whose opinion, insight and views I respect which is why I go there because it’s a great blog but on this point everyone is ignoring the 800lb gorilla.  They are not alone.  Google “toxic leadership” and you’ll find much of the same.

This is what I wrote,

“Wow!  Everyone missed the key factor that has created an environment where “toxic leadership” has supposedly flourished and because it’s incredibly hard to address.  It is not necessary to like your boss.  Interpersonal skills and communication while important are not THE fundamental factor.  Tough to please, never say thank you commanders only alienate when one thing is missing.  Integrity.

A martinet who is committed to his unit and his people can still be an effective leader.  A micromanaging, never is good enough boss is still bearable when he fights, protects and advances the interests of the mission, unit and troops.

“Toxic leadership” (which is a overused buzz word) is just the manifestation of a system that in actuality places personal advancement over every other value the services espouse.  It’s no small irony that our creeds say never to leave anyone behind but “toxic leaders” do it at the drop of a hat or the appearance of an opportunity to advance.

All of you can kick around “counseling”, “360 observations” and telling subordinates about their flaws till you’re blue in the face but it’s all a waste when integrity is in such short supply these days. 

Need evidence?  Open the newspaper.  Command influence in the Marine urination case, along with nepotism for a former commandant’s son, the decision to not pursue an innocent CPT’s court martial and instead administratively separate him and send his lawyer for a psyche eval.  The slap on the wrists of an Army BDE commander (Johnson) and the relief of COL Z are examples. 

The shameless political pliability of our General officers are evidence of the lack of integrity readily present and yet rewarded with the highest levels of responsibility.  These range from Gen Allen’s comment that Ramadan was contributing to green on blue attacks in Afghanistan to  Gen Dempsey saying with a straight face that telling SF to “stay in Tripoli” wasn’t a “stand down”.  Gen. Sacolick, director of force management and development for SOCOM said, “The days of Rambo are over, The defining characteristic of our operators [is] intellect.” in response to initiatives to facilitate women serving in our most demanding SOF.  Not to be outdone Gen Dempsey actually implied that the rivalry between combat arms and support specialties is fueling some of our sexual harassment issues.  Uh, how does that explain most of the assaults are being done by the support soldiers in those coed units?

Guys! INTEGRITY is the problem!  You can’t counsel someone to not be a self serving prick.  You just teach him to hide it better.“

Why is everyone ignoring the obvious issue infecting the service?  I believe the focus on the symptoms vs. the cause is because in today’s society we are overly concerned with feel good PCism and teaching values is HARD.  What do you think?

Be Respectful, Candid and Pertinent. No Posers, No Trolls…
  • 5000area375

    The lack of accountability. Character, and integrity seems to grow each day.
    Very few lead by example and do the right thing when no one is looking. This has infected civilian, political, and military life. Very honest and on point.

  • clluelo

    Well said .

  • LauraKinCA

    This attitude (lack of integrity and blame someone else for anything that happens) is prevalent on civi street, but typically we aren’t dealing with real life and death situations…. at least not in my profession… LEO maybe. Keep shining the spotlight Major!

  • JackMurphyRGR

    Its true.  Soldiers need hard training, not hugs.  That builds morale.  We also need a return to old school leadership which can solve problems that we make very complex.  Bring back physical corrections and bring back NCO’s who knew what was going on with their soldiers and would buy them a drink and ask them about it.

  • JackMurphyRGR   Agree with all you said Jack but I put this problem primarily on the shoulders of officers.  Sure there are some “spotlight rangers” in the NCO corps but I just have a gut reaction that they get nailed easier.
    The officer corps is much more “political”.  Some of it can’t be escaped.  It’s the price you pay for bureaucracy and every organization especially bigger ones need bureaucracy but “selfish service” is anathema to leaders with integrity.  Too much focus on getting ahead instead of getting the job done.  These are real and deep problems and are not going to get better by themselves.

  • LauraKinCA

    majrod JackMurphyRGR  … “not going to get better by themselves”… but who is to take the reigns?? I’m not seeing it in the senior leadership, unless it is from some that have been “put to pasture” shall we say. Are we stuck with waiting for a generation to pass and new leaders to rise to the top?

  • LauraKinCA majrod JackMurphyRGR Sadly I agree and think that we will have to wait for new leadership.
    It’s going to get darker though before it gets lighter.

  • 5000area375

    It also inhabits LEO’s. You see the higher the more political. The ordering of LEOs not to enforce certain laws or to down grade the charge because of politics. For example letting illegals walk when caught transporting large quantities of drugs that would send an American citizen to jail. The political handling of the Zimmerman case, and others. The FBI being more interested in prosecuting US law enforcement than those who assault US federal LEOs. None in leadership stepping up and calling Bull shit. Great guys who display the willingness to call bull shit get passed over for more of a cool aid drinker. Or treated like a pariah for stating an obvious truth to the brass. I have a recommendation for brass do not ask a man a question that you are not willing to hear asnwered honestly.
    Thank you, Will for bringing up such important issues and bringing light to the good officers that are still serving. As you have seen I get pissed and go to smash scorched earth from time to time. 🙂

  • LauraKinCA

    5000area375  It’s a happy little club of ranters we collect around here 🙂 Pull up a seat… we like yours!

  • GodblessUSSF

    majrod LauraKinCA JackMurphyRGR That sounds similar to my feelings on the state of the country in general.

  • GodblessUSSF

    Great response Will.  You nailed it.

  • HonestBroker247

    It is a strange two-step when the culture of a society stands in stark contrast to, and must co-exist with, the culture that defends it.  One of the contributing factors to the perception of “toxic leadership” stems from the individualistic mindset of our society.  As a western culture, arguably the “most” westernized culture, our values and our ethos place the sanctity of the individual above all others.  Individual rights, individual freedoms, individual liberty.  As a free person I should be able to do what I want, when I want, and how I want … to rise and/or fall on my own merits.  We value freedom and all that it stands for, and at the pinnacle of freedom is the individual.  We are snowflakes.
    This stands in stark contrast to the ethos and culture of the military where the individual must be suppressed for the sake of the larger group or the team.  This is not some evil mechanization.  It is necessary for the functioning of the organization.  We wear “uniforms” and quickly move to correct any individual found to be out of regulations.  It is, at best, a benevolent dictatorship… at worst, a fascist nightmare… and much of that hinges on the personality, and yes, integrity of the commander.
    So I do not think it is any wonder there would be some disharmony at the point where these two cultures collide.  Isn’t it strange that some of the most freedom loving among us will willfully and purposely surrender that freedom in the service of their country?  Isn’t it odd that those who would decry loudest the evils of socialism have chosen to a life of servitude to the government where all their needs are provided for? (granted, not for nothing… one may surrender their life for all those good government benefits – that is the deal that his cut)  It is a strange dance indeed…
    Thanks for letting me comment.. and here I thought this was a landscaping website…  Grunt Sand Co?  😉

  • 5000area375

    It is an exchange and the ultimate expression of freedom. Men and women freely sign a contract that will severely limit their personal freedom. They are entrusting themselves to their commanders. This is why toxic leadership is such a serious issue. Some serve for for perceived goodies, Some are adventurers, some seek a challenge, and some to make sure they will stand the line to protect their families and our people.
    A military unit can be men joined in common cause or a toxic environment where men can be wasted by a commander seeking to make a name for himself regardless of the cost or on the flip side a commander who refuses to make the hard call for fear of repercussion. The military does not ask for the most base of human behavior it demands the best, because the stakes in the game are life and death. When it no longer demands the best of its commanders and men it becomes toxic and evil.
    If military standards were to be forced on the civilian population I would resist totally. That would be communism. The big difference is one is voluntary the other is by force. There is no comparison. Unless there is a draft which I find the most vile evil in the history of man. No man should be forced to fight or to die. I will defend even the commie occupy Wall Street type from that vile servitude.

  • clluelo

    Very well said !

  • HonestBroker247

    5000area375  I wholeheartedly agree, but find the reasons you listed for service interesting – adventure, challenge specifically… these are still primarily self serving reasons (reasons why someone chooses to serve) rather than considerations of contributing to something larger than oneself or simply being able to benefit the larger group regardless of what shape or form that may be… hey, burning shitters can be challenging.  Or here is another example…. how about those people that sign up and then complain about the postings and the assignments they get?  What is paramount in these people’s mind?  The good and needs of the service, or that individuals personal wants and desires?  I have seen it in the “conventional” and “SOF” ranks as well, where a guy would would rather be kicking doors and slinging lead gets assigned an instructor billet and constantly complains about how he would rather be killing bad guys and works his bolt every chance he gets to get out of the assignment?
    Don’t get me wrong – I am not against individualism.  I am an American.  I am steeped in it… that same sense of individualism that compels me to post my opinions because I feel they have merit and should be heard.  What I am saying that the dichotomy between the western, individualized society and the requirements for military service establish a precedent for disharmony.  It exacerbates “toxic leadership” as people are more prone to leave the service if their individual desires and expectations (big word) are not being met in the manner in which they feel the should be met.  It is a society more prone to criticism and complaining – though not necessarily more open and accepting of same.
    Of your thoughts on the draft.. or a draft.. I believe we are copacetic on this point as I certainly wouldn’t want to serve alongside someone who did not choose, in some fashion, to be there… but one thing to consider… an implementation of a draft spreads the burden of war across the populace, and politicians are going to be less likely to engage in military adventurism when they know it may have direct negative impacts to the populace back home.  Even the Abrams doctrine which required mandatory activation of the reserves – a measure implemented to find a solution short of a full draft – has run tepid after more than a decade of constant war.  The reserve fores are rotational forces like any other and the intended “pain” of activation has, in large degree, been assuaged through persistent use.

  • 5000area375

    I believe “service” is for selfish reasons. Those reasons maybe to protect your nations borders or family which are both selfish in their own way. It is like working any job you do it for your own personal reasons wether it is to put a roof over your head or food on your table, some use the military for that purpose or to go to college. I believe people bitch and leave the military or civilian jobs when they believe they are no longer receiving the value for the restraint in their freedom and liberty.
    I think where leadership becomes toxic in the military like in business is when a person will sacrifice anything or anyone to get ahead. We have all seen the cheese dicks who will back stab, lie, cheat, or steal to get what they want. Embellish their prestige, credentials, experience, and abilities then place blame on the guy before them or an underling. We see it at the very top of our government and all the way down. That to me is toxic.
    The draft is service you have been given no choice but to submit to the government master. You will serve the master, give your life if commanded, go to jail or be executed if you refuse. That is why the draft is so vile to me. The sharing of the burden is not a valid reason to take a mans freedom from him. I do not look to the common good as the judgement of what is right. The leadership of Germany, Russia, China, and others used the common good and sharing a burden as the means of oppression.

  • HonestBroker247   “chosen a life of servitude to the government”  I don’t know about you but I took an oath to protect and serve the constitution.  That’s a bit different than “the government”. 
    Further there’s no strangeness in “choosing to serve in an organization” whil being against socialism.  Socialism isn’t voluntary…  I do a lot of things while not expecting others to make the same choices.  That’s called freedom.

  • 5000area375″The sharing of the burden is not a valid reason to take a mans freedom from him.”
    So you don’t believe there is a contract between the governed and the gov’t?  That would conflict with the justification our founding fathers used to claim independence.
    Further it’s a false comparison to equate the gov’t to a master unless you think we all serve the gov’t.
    It also implies military service is slavery.  Slavery has no end date and no required compensation.  While military service may be quite distasteful to some, it isn’t slavery.  That’s an emotional tactic to bolster an argument and frankly I don’t think it does our service members justice to equate them to slaves.

  • 5000area375

    I am not equating our soldiers with slaves. Our soldiers are free men who made the choice to join the military. Being forced to serve by the draft is a different story. The drafting of a man takes his freedom away. To say that a man who is drafted has freedom is false. He is under threat of imprisonment at minimum. When the government decides the compensation for you, the length of service, if you survive to see the end of that term you cease to be free. That is not emotional that is fact.
    There is a contract between the people and the government exist only so long as they have our consent. The founders claimed from the government (King George) Our god given rights to self determination. To not be trampled by any government.

  • HonestBroker247

    5000area375 I understand you position relative to the draft, but when considering Germany, Russia, or China, also consider that the U.S. has not fought a war on its own soil against a foreign power since the Revolutionary war.  If you can imagine a scenario where foreign troops are invading U.S. soil, I believe your views on the value of conscription may shift just a little.

  • HonestBroker247

    majrod  I believe you take “servitude” as a negative, but that is what service is – a state of servitude.  No negative connotation intended.  The Constitution is the founding basis of the government, so without a government it is just some good ideas on paper.  Ideally, the government is by the people, for the people, and representative of the people – service to the government is service to the people.  It is sad, but understandable, that the idea of government itself is considered negative.
    But at the same time, I still find it somewhat odd that a person who has elected to receive their clothes, shelter, food, medical care and dental care from the government, while taking an oath of loyalty to the government (or Constitution if you prefer), and taking action on behalf of the government will in the same breath decry the evils of “socialism”.  Whether you like it or not, the military is a socialist society by definition, structure and operation.  An emotional reaction to a word does not change the meaning of the word.

  • HonestBroker247

    5000area375 Of course you believe service is for selfish reasons.  If you were raised and reared in a western society where the individual is the main focus, you can not help but not to.  Surrendering your identity and putting the whole or the group before yourself is almost unAmerican.  Believe me, I am not trying to imply anything negative here but simply point out a perception.  To fully grasp what I mean by a westernized, individualized society, one would have to spend some time away from it living somewhere like India or other culture where the individual is not the foundation of the culture… and I don’t mean visit for a week… I mean full immersion into the society to a degree where the distinction can be made.   
    “I believe people bitch and leave the military or civilian jobs when they believe they are no longer receiving the value for the restraint in their freedom and liberty” – and that is it in a nutshell.  At the point service becomes detrimental to the individual… where the individual believes he is not receiving the value to which he (or she) is entitled, he (or she) will call it a day and walk.  I ask you… is this really the attribute of selflessness? 
    Of course, a western society is much less prone to producing martyrs…

  • HonestBroker247 majrod  
    Again, it’s not odd that someone who chooses a certain lifestyle doesn’t embrace that lifestyle for others e.g. monks.  
    Even more so for the soldier who in our current practice chooses to sacrifice some of his/her personal freedom so others don’t have to.
    Itr’s silly to think this odd.  It’s like misapplying the military necessity of having regulations covering insubordination and assuming the military is against free speech or the first amendment.
    Are you a socialist or just a contrarian?

  • 5000area375

    I would still be against conscription. I would fight regardless of age, but I could not condone conscription even then.

  • HonestBroker247

    majrod Oh, I do not believe the choice is odd at all.  If, however, a monk choses that life, and then went about condemning a life of servitude to Christ (or whatever brand of monk they may be), or the aspects of charity and rule of the order…. I would find that odd.
    The military… at least within the military, while functioning as a member of the military IS very much against free speech…. unless you were okay with your troops, especially your NCOs, openly voicing their opinions of your orders, or maybe you allowed them all to vote… I don’t know – that wasn’t my experience.  Within the military your personal rights are subordinate to the needs of the organization… that is exactly why I say it is a odd dance.  The existence of the military – a socialist, meritocratic, dictatorship that exists for defense of a democracy.  By ‘odd’ I do not mean bad…. in fact, the way our military can exist and incorporate, to a degree, the ideals of the individual can make it stronger.
    You can apply whatever label you wish to me… but I would ask you to focus less on me and more on the merit (and lack thereof) of what I am saying.  Ad Homenim doesn’t serve any conversation well.

  • HonestBroker247

    5000area375 Fair enough… principles are not principles if they are abandoned when when they become inconvienent, so I salute your resolve.
    For me, however, were I to see foreign troop formations massing in South Carolina or New England…. advancing through the Great Plains, or stomping down the amber waves of grain… I might be tempted to kick someone in the ass, put a gun in their hand, and drag them, kicking and screaming if need be, toward the sounds of the guns.   (Cue Lee Greenwood)

  • 5000area375  
    Granted, being in the military limits your freedom. So those drafted in the Civil War and WWII were slaves?  This is the problem when you use the word “master” when it applies to gov’t.

    Do you not believe with citizenship comes responsibilities?  Does a contract exist between the gov’t and the governed?

    What about the man forced to pay child support?  Isn’t the gov’t stealing from him?  Heck, isn’t the gov’t limiting people’s freedom when they are convicted of a crime and put in jail?

  • HonestBroker247 majrod
    The military doesn’t allow free speech by the military.  We don’t expect those out of our community to live by those rules.  There’s no “strangeness” or “oddness” there  It’s pretty simple.  There are reasons of military necessity for the limiting of speech in military organizations.

    Maybe ironic or even paradox would have been better words than strange or odd.
    Labels aren’t Ad Homenims.  They are descriptive just like “American”. 
    It describes someone who’s from America.  Trying to understand where
    you’re coming from.  You didn’t answer the question but from the last line of your bio, “Will take the opposite side of almost any issue.”  contrarian is pretty close but you might be a socialist.  I don’t know.

  • HonestBroker247

    majrod  In the immortal words of Popeye “I ‘yam what I ‘yam, and that’s all that I ‘yam”… and as I put out on SOFREP, labels or only as valuable as the meaning one attaches to it…. an often times that meaning can diverge greatly from person to person (see “Operator”)
    I do often try to take an opposing position, especially if all opinions up to that point seem to echo the others.  I find “group think” abhorrent and don’t feel you can fully understand the issue until all sides can be considered.  We do not always have that luxury in the military, but in a forum such as this (and thank you for providing the venue) I feel the habit should be embraced.  I did, however, get plenty in the practice in the military when I found myself in the position of enforcing or carrying out orders that I personally felt were short sighted or just plain stupid… My opinion of that order may go up, but never down… and at the end of the day I realized my personal opinion didn’t really matter.  Either it was considered or it was not, but my responsibility was to execute that order regardless of my personal feelings about it… which brings us full circle to the nature of the military and how it stands in stark contrast to a “free” society.

  • 5000area375

    The men conscripted into wars are not freemen. When you have entered no contract and are denied the right to speak your mind subjected to harsh conditions are you free? Are you not serving one against your will? It is a harsh but true way to see it. The men conscripted by FDR who were forced to round up and place in internment camps their own country men. Where they free? I am sure some found doing that extremely distasteful and they could see that turned around it could have been them if it was the Irish, or the French who had attacked.
    In the case of child support the government should not be involved besides the court if it. can not be decided by the people involved. In some states child support is absolutely theft, some states if your spouse cheats on you, you are still required to pay child support for a child that is not yours. If it is your child you formed a contract that must be honored.
    All a man owes to any man including the government is to not impose a harm on his fellow man, his own defense or the defense of others is the exception. . If a man imposes a harm the harmed forfeits his processions, freedom, or life.
    The contract between the govt and the governed is to be an arbiter and defender of a mans freedom. Not to control the man or what he eat, drink, read, write, thinks, or does that is doing no harm to others.

  • 5000area375
    “The contract between the govt and the governed is to be an arbiter and defender of a mans freedom.”  (That’s a pretty skimpy contract and not what the founding fathers believed but we’ll work with that for now)
    How does a gov’t defend a man’s freedom from external threat or is that not a responsibility of gov’t?  
    Assuming you are not so extreme as to believe gov’t doesn’t have a responsibility to defend against foreign threat, how does a gov’t defend if it cannot voluntarily enlist enough people?
    If you then say the gov’t still can’t draft aren’t you then saying man can exert his right to individual freedom even if it hurts the whole nation and causes its demise?  
    If you want to go that far your man “imposed a harm” by exercising his freedom to resist enlisting or disobeying the draft. You said, “If a man imposes a harm the harmed forfeits his processions, freedom, or life.”
    You just defended the draft…

  • HonestBroker247

    5000area375 Respectfully 5000… some of your arguments seem to be all over the place.

  • 5000area375

    I do not believe we belong to the state with no recourse to be disposed of at the will of the president and the appointed military leaders. I do believe the government is to protect our borders, but I do not believe in forcing anyone to stand. It is also my belief if we are attacked there will be no shortage of volunteers. My self being one.
    I cannot be convinced to support the draft and do not believe a man causes harm by refusing to be drafted. I will leave it at that as there is no possibility of movement on my opinion of a draft. I will have to respectfully disagree.

  • 5000area375

    I apologize if it seems that way, it is my fault for not making it clearer. Part of it is trying to write on a phone instead of a computer, but I lay the bulk of confusion on my trying to write my explanation. Sometimes I lack the eloquence to completely convey what I mean in writing.

  • clluelo

    No 500 I find your posts to be very eloquent ! And I agree

  • 5000area375 “It is also my belief if we are attacked there will be no shortage of volunteers”
    911 & Pearl Harbor would prove that wrong.  I don’t need a third example…

  • Tango9

    HonestBroker247″As a free person I should be able to do what I want, when I want, and
    how I want … to rise and/or fall on my own merits.  We value freedom
    and all that it stands for, and at the pinnacle of freedom is the
    individual.  We are snowflakes.This stands in stark contrast to
    the ethos and culture of the military where the individual must be
    suppressed for the sake of the larger group or the team.”
    I disagree with your distinction. In fact, I think the free person doesn’t see themself as a “snowflake” (WTF?) but as just and individual.  What’s wrong with that?  And in the military, you’re not just a cog in the wheel.  The team is made up of unique individuals who all contribute, by choice, to the team. 
    In fact, those teams are the best teams:  those that *chose* to bring their individuality to the fight and meld with the group.  There’s no sacrifice of the “Me,” but the conscious choice to mold what you bring to the fight to the group that makes the group exceptional.
    There is only disharmony when you view it from a very narrow lens.

  • Tango9

    HonestBroker247 If you were raised and reared in a western society where the
    individual is the main focus, you can not help but not to.  Surrendering
    your identity and putting the whole or the group before yourself is
    almost unAmerican.
    ___
    Dude.  you ain’t from ’round here, are ya?

  • Tango9

    You have to understand that the largest percentage of currently serving troops are from families of warriors in the US.  The vast majority of officers and enlisted come from parents who where officers or enlisted and this goes back to before the civil war.
    We absolutely have a warrior class.  Those that don’t serve don’t send their kids to serve.  Those that do/did, do send their kids to serve.  It’s a fact.

  • HonestBroker247

    Tango9 Oh, I am very much from around here.  Like it or not, the prospect of individual freedom and individual liberty is very much the center of the ethos of western society.  One of the main functions of Bott Camp of basic training is to override that instilled individuality.  Of course, if you came from a military family, that will help… but western society is about the individual.

  • HonestBroker247

    Tango9  The “snowflake” analogy is representative of the individuality of snowflakes – while they are all snowflakes, no two are alike… and you get enough of them together, you can have an avalanche.
    I agree, for leaders that can work with the individual strengths of team members, it is a bonus… but there are those that can not…. and the main focus of the military culture is NOT to express individuality.  That is why we wear “uniforms” and initially all get our hair cut the same.  It is one of the primary functions of close order drill… to suppress the individual as a larger component of a group.  No individual is irreplaceable.  There is a definite sacrifice of “me” for the concept of “us” – for the team.  That is why humility, unselfishness, selflessness, generosity… all those things are so important.

  • YankeePapa

    Tango9,
    …To a large degree i concur.  My father was a career Army officer (mustang).  His father was a dough boy in WWI, his father a Confederate officer.  My mother’s people served in the Irish Brigades in the Civil War.
    .
    …There is one area where “new blood” is entering the service.  Boise is in Ada county… Canyon County is immediately to the West and has the largest number of Latinos in the state.  First generation recruits to all the services very high from that community.  The Marine Corps always makes sure to have some fluent Spanish speaking (often Hispanic themselves) NCOs as part of their recruiting teams in the area.
    .
    …As famed historian T.R. Feherenbach observed in his history of the Korean War… “Sometimes it is the people who are new to the American dream who understand it best.”
    YP

  • Tango9 While many servicemembers have a tradition of military service many do not.  I have looked and failed to find what percentage of servicemembers had no tradition of military service.  I’d be interested if you found something.
    My parents and grandparents did not serve.