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Odierno to soldiers: Toxic leaders will be fired

Apr. 1, 2013 - 05:12AM   |  
Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno
Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno (Mike Morones/Army Times)
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The Army Strategic Leadership Development Program trains and educates general officers as they take on their new — and increasing — responsibilities.
The program, led by Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno, offers four levels of courses — basic, intermediate, advanced and senior.
It is a weeklong program held at a Northern Virginia hotel; it costs about $400,000.
Gen. Robert Cone, TRADOC commander; Gen. Dennis Via, commander of Army Materiel Command; and Vice Chief of Staff Gen. John Campbell also participated in the program.
Lt. Col. Nate Cook, who is director of ASLDP and responsible for managing the courses for Odierno, outlined the program:
Basic course
The weeklong course takes place once a year, typically in the Washington, D.C., area, and is designed for colonels selected for promotion, as well as junior one-star generals. It covers a wide array of topics and speakers, ranging from military leaders and members of Congress to high-profile business professionals and instructors from universities across the country. The officers discuss issues such as the Army profession, ethics, leadership and strategic thinking.
Intermediate course
This five-day course is attended by officers who have been generals for about 18 months.
It takes place at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, and covers topics such as strategic leadership, planning and execution, leader development and self-assessment.
During this course, the attendees receive a 360-degree evaluation and get feedback from members of their command.
The course typically takes place four times a year, with about 25 generals per course, but it is on hold for the rest of the fiscal year because of financial constraints. This was the first course since September 2011.
Advanced course
This course takes place about twice a year, with about 25 officers in each class. The course is geared toward officers who have been selected for or promoted to major general.
During this four-day program, the generals visit two Fortune 500 companies and talk to their leaders about strategic leadership, talent management and other issues in their organizations. The officers also discuss topics Odierno wants to emphasize, such as readiness and training management.
This year, however, as with the intermediate course, the advanced course is on hold.
Senior course
This is for officers who have been confirmed as lieutenant generals.
They visit the Pentagon and spend a couple of days with the various Army staff sections. They also meet with the inspector general and judge advocate general, and have one-on-one sessions with the chief of staff and secretary of the Army.

Battalion and brigade commanders will soon receive 360-degree evaluations as part of the Army's continuing push to rid the ranks of toxic leaders.

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Battalion and brigade commanders will soon receive 360-degree evaluations as part of the Army's continuing push to rid the ranks of toxic leaders.

The plan, spearheaded by Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno, will begin as a pilot program this summer and be fully implemented by the fall.

“I'm looking at what is the best way to implement a 360 process at the battalion and brigade levels that will help us to identify concerns to the individual, and also to those who are with him, so they can try to correct that behavior,” Odierno said during an exclusive interview last week with Army Times. “If the behavior is not corrected, we'll take whatever action is appropriate.”

The 360-degree evaluation Odierno and a team of experts are working on will be similar to the Army's existing 360 Multi-Source Assessment and Feedback, which is now required of all officers from the time they are lieutenants.

But unlike the current system, the evaluation for battalion and brigade commanders will not allow the officer being evaluated to choose who participates and provides feedback, Odierno said.

“There are different opinions out there about how do you do this in such a way where people can tell the truth and be honest, and how do you get the right feedback to the person so they can act on it,” Odierno said. “I haven't come to my conclusions yet. I expect in the next 60 days or so I'll get some feedback, and I hope to implement this sometime next fall.”

The Army also is reviewing its 360-degree evaluations for general officers, Odierno said.

“We're now reviewing that to make sure it has what I think is necessary for us to assess general officers,” he said.

These evaluations, combined with command climate surveys and sensing sessions, will give leaders a developmental tool and help weed out toxic leaders, Odierno said.

Odierno met with Army Times on March 27 during the weeklong Army Strategic Leadership Development Program basic course, designed for colonels selected for promotion to brigadier generals and junior one-stars.

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The goal is to help these officers transition into the general officer corps, and it allows Odierno and his team of senior generals to provide these officers with a “perspective they may not have,” he said.

“I talk about the things you'll face as a general officer and strategic issues, and my wife will give a perspective for the spouses,” said Odierno, who has served in general officer assignments for 16 years.

The program, which is structured and directed by the chief of staff, also includes speakers from the civilian and corporate worlds.

This session included discussions with Tom Coughlin, head coach for the New York Giants; Gen. Jim Amos, the commandant of the Marine Corps; deputy defense secretary Ashton Carter; and Frank Bisingnano, chief operating officer for global financial services firm JP Morgan Chase.

“It is different being a general officer than being a colonel,” Odierno said.

The program tries “to give them an initial baseline to then go out and execute their jobs,” he said.

On March 27, midway through the program, the 110 officers spent the afternoon discussing leader development and moral and ethical behavior. Eighty-three spouses participated in separate events.

“It's important for them not only to understand their responsibilities to themselves, but one of my expectations is they will help us to ensure … that we sustain a culture of high moral and ethical behavior.”

“Whether you're a lieutenant, whether you're a captain, whether you're a four-star general, you have to constantly earn their trust, and they don't ask for a whole lot,” he said. “What they want you to do is, be true to your word. They want to know you'll fight for them when necessary. They want to know you'll make the hard, tough decisions when necessary, whether it be combat or not. That's what they expect from you.”

Recent commander wrongdoing

In recent months, the Army has dealt with several high-profile cases of misconduct by its senior officers.

(Page 3 of 5)

Gen. Kip Ward, former commander of Africa Command, was stripped of a star and ordered to repay about $82,000 for abusing his travel privileges and expense accounts.

Earlier this year, Lt. Gen. Patrick O'Reilly received a letter of reprimand and retired after a Defense Department inspector general's investigation found he regularly yelled and screamed at subordinates, demeaned and belittled employees, and behaved in such a way as to result in the departure of at least six senior staff members from the Missile Defense Agency when he was its director.

At Fort Bragg, N.C., Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair, former deputy commanding general of the 82nd Airborne Division, faces court-martial on charges that include forcible sodomy.

“I believe the basis of our moral and ethical behavior is OK, but, as you said, there have been some high-profile cases that have brought some attention to it, so it's important for us to address it and talk about it and the impact it can have,” Odierno said.

Army officers must be held to a higher standard, he said.

“The military profession is given responsibilities unlike any other profession,” he said. “We are given the responsibility to save lives. We are also given the responsibility sometimes to take lives. So it is incumbent on us to ensure that the culture we develop has high standards.”

Amid these cases, the Army also has battled the perception among the ranks that senior officers receive preferential treatment compared with enlisted soldiers.

Odierno said it comes down to accountability.

“We have to make sure that people understand that everyone is held responsible for their actions, and we have to maintain the standards that are expected of us,” he said. “We will take whatever action is appropriate based on the event that occurs.”

It's also important for the Army to hold itself accountable.

“We shouldn't expect others to come in and have to hold us accountable,” he said. “We should hold ourselves accountable and be responsible for what we do.”

(Page 4 of 5)

‘We are relieving people'

The Army doesn't publicly announce when a commander is relieved of command, but it is happening, Odierno said.

Over the past four years, according to Odierno's office, there have been 50 officers relieved. Eleven have been colonels and 39 were lieutenant colonels. Reasons for relief included job performance, command climate, misconduct, and inappropriate relationships and or sexual harassment.

None of the 50 officers relieved received “favorable” career-enhancing assignment after being removed from command, according to the Army. In fact, the reliefs are likely career killers because the officer receives a relief-for-cause Officer Evaluation Report and his next assignment is handled by Army senior leadership.

“We are relieving people, battalion and brigade commanders for toxic leadership, and we will continue to do that,” he said. “The units know, and to me that's what it's about. We're taking action against commanders who are creating environments that are not acceptable.”

Leaders also have to earn their soldiers' trust, Odierno said.

For commanders, it's critical that they see themselves and their organization, Odierno said.

“That goes for all ranks,” he said. “My guess is a captain doesn't start out as a toxic leader. He's probably witnessed that somewhere, and for some reason he picks that up as a way to be successful. It's really about the lieutenant colonel and colonel levels that I feel we have to focus on.”

Commanders should take advantage of command climate surveys, sensing sessions, and 360-degree evaluations, he said, especially because toxic leadership can be difficult to define or manifest itself in many ways.

A toxic leader might abuse his subordinates, or is unable to empower his subordinates, Odierno said. It also could be a leader who is unwilling to make decisions or makes decisions for his own benefit and not the benefit of the organization, he said.

Commanders should not be afraid to assess their units and get honest feedback, Odierno said.

(Page 5 of 5)

“It's OK, no unit is perfect,” he said. “How you deal with those [problems] is really what the issue is. If you choose not to deal with it, that's the problem.”

The Army spends a lot of time discussing leadership in its command courses, Odierno said.

“We are changing our leader development, and it starts from the time you're a cadet at West Point or an ROTC cadet for officers that goes through all of our professional military courses. We talk a lot about reinforcing our ethics, [and] we do that at every level now.”

The Army also mirrors that training in its noncommissioned officer courses, Odierno said.

“We're assessing where do we have to change, where do we have to adjust,” he said. “What leadership skills do we have to spend more time on? What are the fundamentals you need to be a leader?”

And the learning doesn't stop when an officer becomes a general, Odierno said.

For example, in addition to the Army Strategic Leadership Development Program basic course, general officers, as they move up the ranks, also attend intermediate and advanced versions of the course.

“You have to constantly learn,” Odierno said. “The real world is so much more complex now … so how do we train? We talk a lot about resilience and readiness in our force, the physical, mental, emotional. We're trying to build better physical fitness, better mental fitness, better emotional fitness.”

Remaining a role model

The Army is proud of its ability to develop leaders, Odierno said.

“When we go around the world, whether it's our NATO allies or in Asia Pacific or Iraq or Afghanistan, the one thing people want to emulate from us is how we develop our leaders, how we develop our noncommissioned officers, how we develop our officers,” he said. “This is something we want to continue to ensure we have an advantage on, so we want to make it better and better.”

As soldiers operate in an increasingly complex environment, the Army has to adjust how it grows its leaders, but the core of being a leader is simple, he said.

“It's about standards,” he said. “It's about understanding standards, establishing them and enforcing standards, and holding people accountable. That's what we expect leaders to do.”

Odierno also emphasized that a large majority of Army leaders do great work.

“We have incredible commanders,” he said. “You're talking about the 10 percentile, not the 90 percentile. We have leaders who have performed incredibly well in combat. We have to now ensure that we sustain that capability and competence while continuing to grow our leaders to ensure they understand the moral and ethical obligations we expect out of them.”

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