Digital Aged Leadership: A Military Context

Posted By mregan on Feb 7, 2020 | 2 comments


The military is an evolving organization within a nation. When culture, individuals, values, global stability, and even technology change, the military of any particular nation needs to adapt and change accordingly. But leaders, particularly in a military context, are often much older, albeit more expernced, than the subordinates who serve under them. One question that arises, and poignantly stated by General Stanley McChrystal, is “how does a leader stay credible and legitimate when the leader hasn’t done what his/her subordinates are doing?” (McChrystal, 2011, 11:48). McChrystal frames a relevant question as it pertains to the digital landscape of the global culture we see today. When a leader reaches the top, let us say the rank of general in remaining in the military context, often thirty to sometimes forty years have passed since they were working as a lowly second lieutenant or untrained private. It should be obvious what sheer changes of technology advance within a three to four-decade period of time; yet, the general is a leader that must lead troops of all ages, all backgrounds, and all experience levels in order to achieve mission success and to form the future leaders of the military when he/she is gone.

Issues arise in the modern battlefield, with management and C3 (Command, Control, and Communication) aspects of war being exercised differently now. Communications and orders are given via long distance secure military networks, tactical data links, and secure phone lines. General McChrystal stated “in a complex theater of war, we have to instill confidence, build up young leaders and do this all without putting a hand on a shoulder or seeing them face-to-face in the same room” (TED, 2011, 9:30). This is a challenge the military faces in an increasingly digital world; arguably, this is a challenge many environments with leadership structures are currently facing. What is the answer, what is true military leadership within the context of the modern digital world we live in today? If you asked General McChrystal, he would state something upon these lines: “leaders are those who are willing to step down from their position in the sense that they are ready and willing to listen and learn” (TED, 2011, 11:48). General Mattis would echo this message by stating: leaders must stay teachable by “assuming you must keep improving” (General Mattis, 2016, 3:48). O’Toole (2008) gives the notion that leadership is almost impossible to define; however, he does point to the question “what do all leaders have in common? Answer: followers. He would conclude, the role, task, and responsibility of all leaders is to create followers” (p. 7). I believe both General Mattis and General McChrystal are giving insight to O’Toole’s question by answering a new question, how do leaders create followers? Leaders create followers by ensuring they listen, understand, and learn whist leading. By doing so, a military leader will most likely be better prepared to lead their troops, to simply put. In end, their troops, if provided with good leadership, will be ready to fight and obey lawful commands willingly as they follow their leadership, whatever the circumstances dictate.

Reference

Marines. (October 13, 2016). Leadership lessons from General Mattis (Ret.) . Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3EYU3VTI3IU

O’Toole, J. (2008). Notes toward a definition of value-based leadership. The Journal of Value Based Leadership, 1(1), 1-9. Retrieved from https://scholar.valpo.edu/jvbl/vol1/iss1/10/

TED. (2011, April 06). Listen, Learn, then lead|General Stanley McChrystal|TED Talks . Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FmpIMt95ndU

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2 Comments

  1. Hi Mark,

    Very interesting post! We come from very different professional environments (you- military, me – K12 education), yet when you write about “leadership” qualities, desired attributes, and challenges in the modern digital era, I identify resounding similarities concerns, and perceived opportunities in my thinking.

    The following section of your blog, particularly in your military context, struck me as important and highly relevant in digital learning environments: “Communications and orders are given via long distance secure military networks, tactical data links, and secure phone lines. General McChrystal stated ‘in a complex theater of war, we have to instill confidence, build up young leaders and do this all without putting a hand on a shoulder or seeing them face-to-face in the same room'(TED, 2011, 9:30).” When we speak about the growing demands of e-learning modules across public and private sectors, resounding concerns are raised about what gaps, if any, are created with a lack of face-to-face interactions in vital skills training or critical communication contexts such as you have outlined. I believe, in a very broad and general way, that digital technologies have moved societies and the world forward in some profoundly positive ways, specifically in how we share information and resources. However, there are many situations and contexts that digital technologies have failed us, or led to societal regression (i.e. irresponsible or disrespectful use of social media that promotes hate, incivility, or political interference, and privacy issues).

    Sometimes being able to “put a hand on someone’s shoulder or seeing them face-to-face in the same room” can give us some very different and important information that digital technologies can not always capture. YET.

    Interesting post! Thanks for sharing, Mark.

    Leigh

    Post a Reply
    • Hi Mark,
      Your post is so intersting and thought invoking. You brought a whole new perspective to the table, one that I am unfamiliar with but really intrigued to know more about. It is truly refreshing to hear what General Stanley McChrystal stated reagrding leading by examples: “how does a leader stay credible and legitimate when the leader hasn’t done what his/her subordinates are doing?”, this to me is mirroring a great leader. I feel communication is key when it comes to leadership, however communication can mean life or death in regards to the military. I was not aware of how communications were sent, nor what C3 was. Really interesting and thank you for giving me so much new informatiom from a first hand account.
      – Kerry

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