"So why are we surprised that, when the enemy becomes adaptive, we get caught off guard?"

NYT Challenging the Generals Today’s Sunday NY Times Magazine (August 26, 2007) has an interesting article written by Fred Kaplan entitled “Challenging the Generals – America’s junior officers are fighting the war on the ground in Iraq, and the experience is making a number of them lose faith in their superiors.”

After reading the NY Times article, I was intrigued by its inspiration, an essay entitled “A Failure of Generalship” published in the May 2007 issue of Armed Forces Journal.

Remarkably, the author of “A Failure of Generalship” is active duty Army deputy commander, 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, Lt. Co. Paul Yingling, who has served two tours in Iraq, another in Bosnia and a fourth in Operation Desert Storm. He holds a master’s degree in political science from the University of Chicago.

All students of leadership would be well served by reading both of these essays because they present textbook cases of leadership failure that can occur in any type of organization. They are also particularly instructive at highlighting the need for effecting adaptive change to systems that are often most resistant to change. Finally, from Lt. Co. Yingling’s perspective, they demonstrate that leadership requires the courage to step forward in the most difficult and challenging situations and environments. As Linsky and Heifetz state in Leadership on the Line (Harvard Business School Press 2002):

“For people exercising leadership without or beyond their authority, ripening an issue becomes more difficult, requiring more dramatic and therefore riskier steps” (p.153)

When exercising leadership, you risk getting marginalized, diverted, attacked or seduced. Regardless of the form, however, the point is the same. When people resist adaptive work, their goal is to shut down those who exercise leadership in order to preserve what they have.” (p. 31)

Would you have the courage to confront an adaptive challenge, “without or beyond your authority,” in your organization like Lt. Col. Yingling has done with his essay in the Armed Forces Journal?

(Cross-posted in Center for Leader Development Blog and Sea-Fever blog)

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Peter A. Mello

Father, son. Lifelong mariner, student of leadership, photographer. Professional creative placemaker.

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