Army looks to purge bad leaders

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Army looks to purge bad leaders

I suppose everyone responds differently to criticism directed in different manners.  With some soldiers I could just talk to them and know that the deficiencies would get fixed.  But I also had a troop I tried to teach land navigation to that resulted in my throwing my helmet against a tree and walking away.  I've taken a good number of butt chewings in my day, I was a horrible cadet in military school, and only a marginally better soldier.  Butt chewings were easy.  Adopt the 50 mile stare and think about something else.  But 15 years later I still remember my platoon sergeant (SFC Matthews) telling me in Srpski Brod, Bosnia one time that I had really let him down the previous day.  That was it.  No yelling, no specifics  Just that I let him down.  If I could have made it up to him by jumping on a grenade, I would have happily done so.  I was just devastated.  To me, that was the most effective leadership of all time.

So, different leadership techniques are required for different folks.  But what isn't needed is what this NPR article refers to as "toxic leadership." 

Top commanders in the U.S. Army have announced publicly that they have a problem: They have too many "toxic leaders" — the kind of bosses who make their employees miserable. Many corporations share a similar problem, but in the Army's case, destructive leadership can potentially have life or death consequences. So, some Army researchers are wondering if toxic officers have contributed to soldiers' mental health problems.

I can give you the results of the study now: yes, absolutely they do.

[The researcher, Dave Matsuda] looked at the cases of eight soldiers who had recently killed themselves and interviewed friends of the victims.

"I crisscrossed Iraq and interviewed 50 soldiers," Matusda recalls.

A more complicated story began to emerge, he says. In addition to major problems in their personal lives, the victims also had a leader who made their lives hell — sometimes a couple of leaders — Matsuda says. The officers would "smoke" them, as soldiers call it.

"Oftentimes platoon leaders will take turns seeing who can smoke this guy the worst. Seeing who can dream up the worst torture, seeing who can dream up the worst duties, seeing who can make this guy's life the most miserable," says Matusda.

He says the evidence did not show that the soldiers' leaders caused them to commit suicide. But the soldiers' friends said leaders had helped push them over the brink.

"When you're ridden mercilessly, there's just no letup, a lot of folks begin to fold," Matsuda says. He submitted a report stating: "[S]uicidal behavior can be triggered by ... toxic command climate."

What's worse is that some of these guys were being elevated over their more effective peers according to another of the researchers:

Toxic leaders were also good at snowing their superiors — so they kept getting promoted. Reed says after Military Review published his article about the study, he was flooded with emails from other soldiers who complained about the toxic leaders they knew.

"The stories just poured out at that point," Reed, who now teaches leadership studies at University of San Diego, says. "It was distressing because the Army is a world-class organization and at some point you have to ask, 'No, really? Are we tolerating this kind of leadership behavior?' "

Go read the entire thing, it really is fascinating.  My experience is that the military, like everywhere else has great leaders, and poor ones.  It's not alone in that.  You find it in every facet of civilian professional life as well.  The big difference is that the military has to be able to somehow address these issues or people get killed.  If you don't like your Captain you can't just up and move to a different company.  You are there for the long haul, like it or not. 

The Army then launched a pilot project to take a second step toward dealing with the problem: In addition to having leaders evaluate their subordinates, as just about every institution does, they asked subordinates to evaluate their leaders — anonymously. The pilot project evaluated only eight commanders, in what the Army and management specialists call a 360 evaluation, but Perkins says the Army plans to expand the system by October 2014.

Meanwhile, Army commanders have taken more aggressive steps: They have kicked a small number of officers out of their jobs for being toxic. And the issue is becoming part of a national conversation. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) told the Senate chamber recently that destructive leaders are one reason why the number of sexual assaults in the military is so high. "You've just heard from these victims, there are too many command climates that are toxic," she said.

Like I said, go read it all.

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Sorry, but having had lived in Japan for a time, I notice these things; in the quoted section referencing the researcher, Dave Matsuda, Mr. Matsuda's name (which appears to be Japanese) alternates from MaTSUda to MaTUSda and back. I checked the NPR article and see it appears to be their mistake.

I'm sorry, but while I didn't ever go out of my way to "smoke" a subordinate, people who worked for me knew that they didn't want to disappoint me in how they did their job.

For my part, I kept the superiors off their backs so they could do their work effectively, and gave them a wide open input on their evals and potential for advancement.

It must of worked. While I was SEA of the unit at NOSIC, we (the entire unit) made 4 Chiefs, and provided the live watch support for Desert Storm.

Sometimes you have to call someone up short - but you do that one on one. It is how you and he/she survive when the crap really hits the fan.

The military is necessarily more autocratic than most workplaces. that being said, one BIG advantage is that they have many year studying and training and teaching leadership. The big push on leadership is a relatively recent turn of events in the civilian world. Sometimes in the service of your country leading has to be a little bit tough, sometimes it needs to be backed off, but the core of it must be that as a leader you are there for your troops, to help thme do their job as best they can. Toxic leaders or poor leaders of any type are good at hiding from their superiors. I think factoring in Peer evaluation into performance reviews would be one way to help the military assess their leaders, especially J.O.'s and enlisted leaders. You cannot hide from your peers.

In my 22 years in the Army, I can only remember one (1) soldier that I would consider toxic, a few others just needed a swift kick in rear. So based on experience I suspect a lot of Left Wing, incompetent bureaucrats have applied the word "toxic" to a situation they have no experience with. With about 180 officers purged from military ranks, I think the cause of bad decisions is the result of promoting the wimps and condemning the fighters.

The military is no damn social club, if you want tough soldiers you have to provide tough knowledgeable leaders.

Leadership of young troops (male/female) can be one of the most frustrating parts of life for senior NCO's, also the most rewarding. Just to see the dawn of understanding on young faces can be it's own reward. Are some of the "Leaders" at all levels Toxic: Yes. Look at how those people were trained/Look at past assignments/Were they held to the same standards as the rest of the Army?/Did anyone in thier CoC actually work with them to overcome some of thier short falls as "Leaders" ? Do some need to be fired? Yes. Before we start a political-correctness witch-hunt/run these harsh nasty people out of service to this country/ Maybe we need to rethink what it takes to be a combat leader/ It's not that easy to be one nor is it fair or wise to judge actions/words based on civilian mores/ideas. Walk a mile in a Leader's boots before you sic the dogs on him.

If you have been in combat, you understand that 'the more you sweat in peace, the less you bleed in war'. I was a private, SSgt, and Capt, and ranks in between. I understand why privates bitch, I also understand why leaders (leaders, not managers) are tough. I don't want to see my men or women in a body bag and write their mother a letter. I was told more than once by a departing Marine, who asked to speak freely upon checking out, that they weren't sure if they liked me, but they did respect me. Being liked is nice. Some of my men did like me. Most respected me. I was tough, and fair, and I fell on my sword more than a couple times sticking my neck out for my men. I was in Vietnam, infantry. I did not allow sloppiness or non-adherence to rules just because of laziness. I certainly did ignore regulations when it made sense. No shirt on while digging a trench or filling sandbags.
I also had superiors, like a Colonel who yelled at the poor private who was just delivering a message from a LtCol. The private didn't write the message or even know what was in it. This Colonel yelled at SNCOs and officers 10 or 20 times a day, and at piss poor times like telling a LtCol that his idea was F--- up at a meeting with SNCOs and junior officers present. The Colonel was no leader and morale in the regiment was low solely due to him.
A leader has to be tough to ensure training and discipline, or people die, or worse, we start speaking a different language and watch them rape our daughters and kill our sons. There is a time when you need to raise your voice. It should be done from calculation, not emotion. A toxic leader who can't control his temper, or is selfish and self-serving, and/or immature, should not be tolerated and has no place in the military. If 30 men in a platoon or 500 in a battalion rate their 'leader' poorly, he is poor. Our military deserves to have superiors who are leaders. I'm not saying that a 1stSgt chewing somebody's ass at the top of his lungs is bad. I had my ass chewed more than once and needed it. They also made sure that I knew how to do it right the next time and I respected them.

We have read and took shots at some of our former leaders in all branches of service. We need to be looking at the leadership and program administraters in the American Legion. I looked at the Life Forever membership program and found it interesting that the membership fee was $550. However, it was reduced for me to $450, and could be paid in 12 monthly payments of only $45.83. The total of the 12 payments of $45.83 is $549.96. My math indicates the reduced amount is more than the original amount of $550 before the $100 discount. At a final price of $549.96, not much of a savings for an old vet. This is almost like the operation and math done by the good old boys in Washington. The final numbers made the decision for me easy.... Won't be taking advantage of the Life Forever program.........

Great article.

To Whom It May Concern,
I was the immediate supervisor for SPC Annzala Pitt at C.Co 225 BSB. In the time that SPC Pitt was part of my squad she encountered numerous difficulties which I believe were entirely due to being mistreated by her senior leadership. When SPC Pitt arrived at 225 BSB she had a medical situation that required attention prior to her deployment to Iraq. When she voiced her concerns to 1LT Riglick not only were her concerns dismissed but her private health information was erroneously released to multiple parties. SPC Pitt filed a complaint for the HIPPA violation against the offending party, 1LT Riglick. A few months later 1LT Riglick was assigned to C.Co as our Platoon Leader. This is undoubtedly the situation that caused SPC Pitt to be labeled as a problem soldier by C.Co leadership. SPC Pitt was not protected from reprisal and was treated badly for the duration of her time with C.Co 225 BSB.
The result of filing her HIPPA complaint against 1LT Riglick was having a stigma placed on her by the very leadership that was supposed to be protecting her. She endured rumors, attacks on her character, and even attempts at discrediting her intellectual capacities. She was even accused of having inappropriate relationships with multiple senior Non-Commissioned Officers by our Platoon Leader 1LT Riglick. SPC Pitt continuously sought only to do her job as a mental health specialist and as her first line supervisor I pushed for her to be moved from the company to the Troop Medical Clinic. When SPC Pitt was sent to the Troop Medical Clinic to preform her duties as a mental health specialist C.Co leadership made sure to let the incoming social worker know what their impression of her was. SPC Pitt then worked with Major Ball, who had already been told she was a problem soldier, and was subsequently treated horribly to include having to undergo a mental health evaluation without provocation.
SPC Pitt requested on numerous occasions to be moved from C.Co 225 BSB to another company, battalion, or division to get out from underneath the stigma placed on her. These requests were heard by our Company Commander, 1SG, Platoon Leader, Platoon Sergeant, Command Sergeant Major, and even Division Command team but nothing was done. Instead of helping the soldier 1LT Riglick and Major Ball ordered me to counsel her for their perceived insubordination. When I disagreed with these orders it was made clear that my military career was also in jeopardy. I was ordered by 1LT Riglick to counsel SPC Pitt for not properly using her chain of command to which, I informed the command that she had done exactly what procedures are outlined. The result of my not counseling her for this was to have my MEDPROS status changed to non-deployable by 1LT Riglick. This retaliation against me for defending SPC Pitt would have ended my career if I had not already been found deployable and fit for duty by the Medical Review Board in 2008.
Despite her outburst which finally concluded her time in C.Co I would still recommend that she be retained by the United States Army. SPC Pitt endured being mistreated for months and still maintained a positive attitude. Her intellectual prowess combined with her willingness to work make her a viable asset. I believe that if SPC Pitt had been able to move to another command away from the toxic leadership of C.Co 225 BSB her military career would have flourished.

SGT David Trapolsi

Imagine working for a psychotic abusive officer; that associates with the higher commands that are aware that the officer is toxic but turn a blind eye. It is nothing more than an American Horror Story or Tragedy because as a soldier the open door policy will be closed to you. They are all friends that has dehumanized you due to the rank structure. You can not get help not even IG will assist properly. These officers and NCO that prey on other soldiers should be penalized. They should be jailed; instead the lower ranked soldier ends up committing suicide or losing their career and time of service or at worst their freedom for trying do defend their self. It is sad and horrible; but it happens each and everyday.
Well said, now we just need the president to start letting go or jailing division, brigade, battalion and company commanders. Along with LCSW (Major Rebecca Ball and Captain Kristina Zerga), psychologist and psychiatrist that file false mental health referrals to create false mental health records and for giving soldiers out dated mental health instruments such as the MMPI-2 1989 pencil and paper version; so that it can be manipulated to state a soldier has a psychological condition, issue and or disease. Military personnel that engage in this type of behavior must go. So, many soldiers are mistreated in this aspect. That, they are driven to the point of wanting to give up. The policies and procedures that are put in place to assist soldiers are nothing more than a waste of literary terms that has no usage. The 25th ID command, SJA and all commands that fall below them along with their LCSW, and psychologist practice maltreatment of soldiers. They jail soldiers to keep them quite. This is abuse not just toxic.
I have read all of the comments and realize how terrible it is for Americans' to look at the military for employment and are torchered by other Americans; this is 3rd world behavior. Many soldiers are treated as if they are indentured servants; however "the state of voluntary or compulsory subjection to a master; the condition of being bound to service; the condition of a slave; slavery; bondage; hence, a state of slavish dependence" is not what they signed up for. Many soldiers never have the opportunity to "Be ALL That Can Be" due to the toxic command claimant . Yes, congress and the current president as well as all previous presidents are aware to how difficult it is mentally on soldiers and just do not care. Soldiers have written millions of letters to congress and the president; just to have IG to pretend they have investigated or to have division commanders like General Kurt fuller to state they have investigated the situation-when they can careless

I had a Mild Seizure the other day, I went back and told my CPT (SIGO, I work in an S6) as we have no NCOIC. All he said was "oh" and then gave me a task list of work to do. All our Soldiers (13 total) never get to eat maybe for 10 minutes if they are lucky or at the end of the day. We usually finish work around 21:00 at night or later, to include most weekends. We have told our chain but they have turned a blind eye.

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News from the World of Military and Veterans Issues. Iraq and A-Stan in parenthesis reflects that the author is currently deployed to that theater.