Does The Leadership Challenge Fit the Army's Leadership Doctrine? <br> February 2012

Does The Leadership Challenge Fit the Army's Leadership Doctrine?

Jody R. Rogers

The U.S. Army has been developing leaders since the birth of our nation in 1776. And given the intense situations our soldiers often find themselves, leadership is critical. When there is a failure of leadership, the results are not just lost profits or economic disaster. It is the loss of lives. That's why an authoritarian leadership style often works best, especially under extreme duress and hardship. When orders are given, soldiers must respond—without question—because lives depend upon the speed of their response and how well they carry out orders.

More and more, however, the Army is finding that this authoritarian leadership style may not be completely effective in all circumstance and can actually impede the accomplishment of the mission. So, the question is: Is there a place for The Leadership Challenge model within the Army mindset of leader development? The answer, I believe, can be found in a recent study conducted at one of the Army's premier senior leader development institutions: the Army War College.

In the study, subordinates of highly-regarded major generals in Iraq were asked to respond to the question, "What makes a good leader?" Listed below are the study subjects' responses, in order of importance. Consider how closely aligned these responses are to The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership®.

  • Keeps cool under pressure (Model the Way)
  • Clearly explains missions, standards, and priorities (Enable Others to Act)
  • Sees the big picture; provides context and perspective (Inspire a Shared Vision)
  • Makes tough, sound decisions on time (Model the Way)
  • Adapts quickly to new situations; can handle bad news (Challenge the Process; Enable Others to Act)
  • Gives useful feedback; sets a high ethical tone (Model The Way)
  • Is positive, encouraging, and realistically optimistic (Encourage the Heart)

The study's authors suggest that although technical and tactical competence are both necessary, those competencies are insufficient for long-term effectiveness as a leader. What is critical is developing interpersonal skills, along with technical and tactical competence. Interpersonal skills include developing credibility and building teams, in particular. The authors also state their belief that it is much easier to teach technical/tactical skills than it is to teach people how to gain trust (credibility) and build teams. Nonetheless, their message is unambiguous: in order to be a complete leader, developing what are often considered to be 'soft' skills are critically important to long-term leader success.

It is apparent to me that The Five Practices are well suited to developing leaders in the U. S. Army. In fact, in workshops we conduct within the U.S. Army Medical Department we find that The Leadership Challenge model makes intuitive sense to the officers, non-commissioned officers, and government civilian employees alike. They can easily relate to how The Five Practices can be used to provide the leadership necessary for their people and organizations to succeed, regardless of whether they are providing healthcare services in a hospital or on the battlefield.

Adapted from What Makes a Good Leader? Ask Uncle Sam by Tim Knox at

Jody R. Rogers, Ph.D., is a Certified Master of The Leadership Challenge® and Program Manager for the Army Medical Department Executive Skills Program. A Board Certified Healthcare Executive and Fellow in the American College of Healthcare Executives (ACHE), he and can be reached at



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