Do you have to be a leader to judge the effectiveness of other leaders? At least one general in the U.S. Army thinks so. Yesterday's Wall Street Journal had a compelling front-page article by Greg Jaffe on a growing rift among Army officers over the military's Iraq strategy. Jaffe's article focuses on the controversy surrounding Lt. Col. Paul Yingling, whose "blistering critique of the Army brass, 'A Failure in Generalship,' [was] published last month in Armed Forces Journal."
Yingling's article has provoked intense discussion throughout the military, and Jaffe reports that Maj. Gen. Jeff Hammond, commanding general of the 4th Infantry Division at Fort Hood (where Yingling is based with the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment) recently gathered all 200 of the captains on base to refute Yingling's critique. Jaffe writes...
[Gen. Hammond] told the young captains that Col. Yingling wasn't competent to judge generals because he had never been one. "He has never worn the shoes of a general," Gen. Hammond recalls saying.
The captains' reactions highlighted the growing gap between some junior officers and the generals. "If we are not qualified to judge, who is?" says one Iraq veteran who was at the meeting.
I have no idea whether Hammond's comments reflect official policy, but to the extent that they accurately reflect any aspect of the military's organizational culture, I find them deeply dismaying. It's unacceptable for any organization today--let alone one with as vital a mission as the U.S. Army--to restrict feedback on leaders' effectiveness to their colleagues.
To paraphrase the captain in Gen. Hammond's audience, if subordinates aren't qualified to judge leaders, who is? (Ironically, the current Wikipedia entry for 360-degree feedback notes that the practice was initially employed by the U.S. military in the 1940s.)
Photo by myglesias. Yay Creative Commons.