The Noncommissioned Officer (NCO) is the Backbone of the Army. Since the inception of the U. S. Army on June 14th, 1775, soldiers depend on the NCO’s guidance, training, and leadership to win the Nation’s wars. (Headquarters Department of the Army, 2002) The NCO’s vision is embedded in our guide stating we must always be a Corps that lead by example, train from experience, maintain and enforce standards, take care of soldiers, and adapt to a changing world. I am proud to serve in the Army as an NCO but over the past decade I have noticed a decline in leadership or the lack of leadership. Some Noncommissioned Officers care more about their personal accomplishments or own self-interest rather than the success of the unit or team. Using the word, “I” for self-success rather than “we” to acknowledge the team. Even training, developing, and mentoring soldiers to a standard is not of importance. It’s more of training for the moment rather than long term sustainment. This limits the soldier’s growth and productivity of the unit. This type of leadership behavior is toxic for the Army and must stop if the Army is to sustain its future. We will define Toxic leadership, how it affects the soldier and unit readiness and what we can do to help change this culture of these NCOs.
Defined in Army Doctrine FM. 6-22 and ADRP. 6-22, Leadership is the process of influencing people by providing purpose, direction, and motivation to accomplish the mission and improve the organization. (Headquarters Department of the Army, 2002) A toxic leader cares less about these factors. They are motivated by their own self-interests, lacks concern for others, and/or the climate of the unit. These leaders lead soldiers by using negative behaviors with the primary purpose to deceive, coerce, or unfairly punish others for their own self benefit at the expense of their subordinates. (Wilson, 2014) When these leaders are approached about a situation or failures, they are quick to point at a subordinate as the reason. They never take ownership or fault for mistakes that happened under their leadership.
This type of leadership is an institutional cancer and will collapse an organization. Toxic leadership can also have a variety of effects on the soldier which includes degraded physical and mental health, absenteeism, suicide, and decreased performance. (Veldsman, 2016) My experience with this type of leadership was in 2015. One individual led two organizations in two different location. The Army decided to restructure an make each organization stand alone to maximize success and place a leader in each location instead of having one leader lead multiple locations. I was reassigned to one of those location as the leader about 30 minutes from the previous leadership. A detailed analysis was conducted on the area prior to arriving to the organization and I spoke with the higher leadership for their expectations. During my integration into the unit, I met with the previous leader and we conversed in detail of the area. What the Army calls our “Right Seat Ride!” The area hasn’t achieved mission for some years and basically, he gave his explanation why. I spoke with the soldiers and monitored their work ethic for a few months. After further evaluation, I understood the reason for mission failure which was Toxic Leadership. The previous leader was the definition of what was annotated in the beginning of this paragraph. He slammed doors, belittled soldiers, and unfairly punished just to achieve the desired outcome of self-interest. Finally, the soldiers shut down and the mission suffered which utterly effected the unit’s production.
A Noncommission officer’s primary mission is to lead, mentor, and train soldiers. Adding to the leadership issues I have noticed in my career, NCO’s are not successful at mentoring and training their soldiers. We are not producing enough effective junior leaders that are accomplishing the mission or will become strong leaders and mentors themselves in the future. Since the Army notified and unveiled its strategy to reduce force by downsizing in 2012, I saw a change in a lot of NCOs. Seasoned leaders are not passing their knowledge and skills to tomorrow’s emerging leaders. (Jackson, 2018) Some are not passing the information for dependence of their leadership and the fear of losing their position to their subordinate. Research and analysis conducted by RUND Corporations examined the influence of NCO leadership on their soldier in reference to promotion and whether the Army is retaining effective leaders. The results found that NCOs are not successful at mentoring and training their soldiers. No matter the reason, we are charged to be Stewards for the U.S. Army. To leave the Army in a better position of performance than the leaders before us. The prior leadership trained and developed the current generations skills, knowledge, and leadership attributes to be successful in the present technological age. So, we are charged to do the same for the next generation.
I’ve encountered numerous soldiers that were not even trained to the minimum standards by their leaders to perform their job. When addressed about the soldier’s lack of knowledge, I am given a selfless response by their leader in which I must contact their leadership to fix the issue. A soldier’s development is vital for the next generation of soldiers to be success at war and during peace keeping missions. They must be trained and proficient in the current technology and innovative in creating new technology. We must train all soldiers to standard, harness their leadership potential, and exploit their talents! The Army pays roughly $60,000 training a single soldier. So, it comes at a cost to the Army when subpar NCO leadership are directly linked to attrition of these junior enlisted soldiers. (Olson, 2018)
The Noncommissioned Officer leadership, training, and developing soldiers are very important for the Army’s success for the future. The Army has made great steps in changing the culture of toxic leadership and developing competent leaders to train the next generation of soldiers. On of those changes is the STEP (select, train, educate, and promote) program in which NCOs must attend their Professional Military Education course prior to being promoted to the next grade. It has also made steps to identify those toxic leaders and remove them from leadership positions, but we still have more to accomplish. My suggestion is to continue to build more competent leaders starting at the lower level. Establish a soldier’s development program that complements the Sergeants Time Training that puts more emphasis on Army doctrine rather than just Military Occupational Training (MOS). Make the training mandatory for the lower enlisted and led by a Senior NCO in the unit. A new Distributed Leader Course (DLC) needs to be developed for the lower level in which they will have 24 months to complete and must be completed before they advance to the grade of E4. The DLC course will only encompass the basics of soldiering and common doctrine used to develop soldiers. For Noncommissioned Officers, Leadership Development need to happen more often, and it only needs to cover more in the leadership doctrine, common issues NCOs encounter, and soldier development. NCOs should also be evaluated of the success and failures of the people they lead. The soldier’s civilian and military education, MOS competence, and readiness should be a factor in the NCOs rating.
In conclusion, the Army is a continuously evolving organization. As we have our challenges we are continuing to change and adapt in our leadership to better our future. I believe in the Noncommissioned Officer Corps and have high hopes as the NCOs before had in me. We live by the NCO Creed which reminds us of our significance daily. The Army is team of professionals and we must all strive to better ourselves and the organization.