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Plan to develop better leaders slows promotions

Jun. 11, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
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Second Lt. Jake Bunch briefs soldiers in 1st Platoon, Company B, 2nd Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment, 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, during an exercise in Thailand. The Army plans to use 'broadening' assignments to build soldiers' leadership skills. (Capt. Lindsey Elder / Army)
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A new Army strategy to better grow and develop leaders could soon have soldiers spending more time at each rank as the Army works to give them more opportunities for training, education and broadening assignments.

A new Army strategy to better grow and develop leaders could soon have soldiers spending more time at each rank as the Army works to give them more opportunities for training, education and broadening assignments.

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A new Army strategy to better grow and develop leaders could soon have soldiers spending more time at each rank as the Army works to give them more opportunities for training, education and broadening assignments.

The Army Leader Development Strategy is a comprehensive effort led by Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno, and it brings back into focus training and education that have taken a back seat to 12 years of back-to-back deployments.

“The U.S. Army has historically been in the business of building leaders,” Odierno said. “Developing leaders is a competitive advantage the Army possesses that cannot be replaced or substituted for with weaponry and platforms. The Army Leader Development Strategy provides a comprehensive road map to prepare Army leaders for the challenges our nation will face.”

Odierno highlighted the importance of the strategy as the Army transitions from more than a decade of war.

“While the past 12 years of combat have honed the skills of both our troops and our leaders, we must sustain and improve upon the Army’s proven advantage in leadership as we complete combat operations in Afghanistan and reorient the force to the expanding set of global challenges,” he said.

As the Army fought in Iraq and Afghanistan, it was focused on experience, merely one component of leader development, said Maj. Gen. Gordon Davis, deputy commanding general of the Combined Arms Center leader development and education.

The focus on operational experience was to the detriment of training and education, he said.

“This is a chance for us to rebalance the pillars of leader development, which are training and education and experience,” he said.

The strategy is meant to outline the Army’s vision to the force and push out several key programs that will help commanders groom their subordinates, Davis said.

“We define leader development as the progressive, continuous, career-long process that grows soldiers and civilians into competent, committed leaders of character,” he said.

And the responsibility for leader development falls not only to senior Army leaders and the Army’s schoolhouses, but to individuals, as well, Davis said.

“They have a responsibility to actively be involved in their own self-development,” he said.

The plan

As the Army moves forward with the strategy, the service will focus on a number of key areas.

■Talent management. The Army manages its personnel, but under talent management, the service will take a closer look at individuals, their potential and their unique skills and knowledge, Davis said.

“A big part is understanding more than just the overarching leadership skills and attributes, but we want to know more about the knowledge and experience the individuals have,” he said. “We’ve got to know more about ... what they’ve learned on their own, that wouldn’t necessarily show up on an [officer evaluation report] or [noncommissioned officer evaluation report].”

One way the Army is looking to better manage its talent is through the “green pages” program.

The program, which has been run as a pilot within the engineer branch and a few functional areas, allows individuals to list their skill sets to be matched with their next assignment.

“You can explain as much about yourself that you think will be of interest to a unit or assignment officer,” Davis said.

In turn, units with upcoming openings can list the types of skills they’re seeking, and the Army tries to match the job with the right individual, he said.

“They allow a dialogue between individuals and units,” he said. “What we’ve found is it’s dynamic. Once individuals see what’s out there, they’ll look into themselves and change and evolve to meet the supply and demand. The satisfaction rate of the individuals and the units involved has been very high.”

The goal is to expand “green pages” across all the officer ranks, Davis said.

“It’s now at the point where the chief has been briefed on it and has directed us to move out on it,” he said.

A similar program already exists for general officers, Davis said.

“The idea is to implement the same thing for all branches and functional areas,” he said.

■Broadening. It’s important for soldiers and civilians alike to be offered a variety of experiences to prepare them for the next rank or paygrade, Davis said.

“One thing we’re looking at is slowing down the [promotion or career] timeline so they have more time to do something to prepare them for future leadership and expose them to things outside the Army,” he said.

This could include serving on the Joint Staff, attending advanced civilian schooling, completing a fellowship or serving as an exchange officer with one of the other services, Davis said.

“If you slow down the timeline, you’ll have time after key operational jobs to get broadening assignments,” he said.

The Army is looking to slow captain promotion timelines by a year, and by 12 to 18 months for majors to “allow greater space for maneuver to provide two- or three-year broadening assignments,” Davis said.

The Army also is looking at broadening opportunities for chief warrant officers 3 and up, Davis said.

On the enlisted side, Sergeant Major of the Army Raymond Chandler is exploring broadening assignments for senior NCOs, in the grades of E-7 and higher, Davis said.

“For our enlisted soldiers, we want them to understand that within their specific [military occupational specialty], there may be other opportunities that will make them more a broadly skilled noncommissioned officer who is agile and adaptive,” Chandler said in response to emailed questions from Army Times. “Over the last 12 years, we’ve demanded that they be extremely proficient in their core competencies so they can deploy and win our nation’s wars, but we also need them to be efficient and effective in other skills.”

This could include taking on assignments as a drill sergeant or recruiter, or serving as a small group leader at an NCO academy or as a cadre member in a warrior transition unit, Chandler said.

“Those are just as important as their war-fighting skills,” he said.

For E-7s and above, there are more opportunities to hone their skills, Chandler said.

“We have a small pilot going on in [U.S. Army Europe] for foreign area NCOs to complement area officers, and we have congressional liaison assignments,” he said. “We are also looking for other fellowship-type assignments that help us from a talent management perspective to identify NCOs who have a very high potential to do other things to support the Army.”

Taking advantage of these opportunities could serve the NCO well in the long run, especially as the Army shrinks the active force.

“Those who do well in both their core competencies and these other experiences will likely have a higher selection rate for promotion,” Chandler said.

■Assessments. The Army has reworked its officer and NCO evaluation reports to better “reflect the attributes and competencies we require,” Davis said.

The Army also has refined the 360 Multi-Source Assessment and Feedback, which is a 360-degree evaluation officers must complete at least once every three years.

In addition, the Army is developing a 360-degree evaluation for commanders.

The pilot program for this new evaluation is underway, with six battalion commanders and two brigade commanders participating, Davis said.

The commanders were not allowed to choose the subordinates, peers and superiors who provided the feedback.

The Army is in the process of collecting the data, Davis said, and the feedback will be provided to the commander and his or her rater. The rater will then be able to develop a plan to help the commander improve, Davis said.

The feedback will not, however, be provided to the commander’s senior rater, who has significant influence on the officer’s OER.

“We want the tool to be developmental and not evaluative,” Davis said, adding that there is concern that participants won’t provide constructive feedback if they know the findings will be part of the evaluation process.

Once the 360 for commanders goes Army-wide, the intent is to conduct an evaluation during a commander’s first six months of command and again during his second year of command, Davis said.

Overall, using this new leader development strategy, the Army will focus on lifelong learning and development as it prepares “adaptive and creative leaders capable of operating in complex environments,” Davis said.

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