MILITARY LEADERSHIP OLQ PARADOX – “YESMANSHIP” versus LEADERSHIP – HOW CAN GOOD FOLLOWERS MAKE GOOD LEADERS?

Academic and Creative Writing Journal Vikram Karve: MILITARY LEADERSHIP – CAN GOOD FOLLOWERS MAKE GOOD LEADERS – “YESMANSHIP” versus LEADERSHIP.

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“YESMANSHIP” versus LEADERSHIP

HOW CAN GOOD FOLLOWERS MAKE GOOD MILITARY LEADERS ?
Ramblings of a Retired Mind
By
VIKRAM KARVE

LEADERSHIP IN UNIFORM

THE “OFFICER LIKE QUALITIES” (OLQ) NON SEQUITUR

If you wonder why, at times, the military leadership seems clueless on taking decisions well within it purview and seeks “guidance” from politicians and bureaucrats, maybe the answer lies in the promotion policies of the Military Human Resource (HR) Management System.

The promotion policy of the navy (and army) is based on the premise:

“Good Followers make Good Leaders”

Yes, promotion in the military is based on absurd logic, a contradiction in terms, on the non sequitur:

“You have to learn how to follow in order to lead”

Is this statement not an incongruity in itself?

How can the ability to lead depend on the ability to follow ?

It is just like saying that the ability to swim depends on the ability to sink

Good Followers carry out decisions made by others. 

Followers are required to blindly obey orders without questioning.

Good Followers are not expected to use their own ingenuity.

They must simply “do what they are told”.

Good Followers must never act on their own initiative or “make waves” or “rock the boat”.

Good followers are “yes-men”.

The basic hypothesis of the military promotion system is: “good followers make good leaders”

Hence, in the military, it is mostly “yes-men” who rise up the promotion ladder and get catapulted to leadership positions.

Ideally, in theory, “officer-like-qualities” like professional competence, integrity, patriotism, honesty, straightforwardness, single-mindedness-of-purpose, brashness, and the ability to call a spade a spade by bluntly speaking out your mind, are desirable in combat officers.

However, in practice, especially in peacetime cantonment soldiering, these very same idealistic “officer-like-qualities” may adversely affect the career prospects of an officer in comparison to his more “tactful” morally-pliable peers who “ego-massage” their superiors, practice “yes sir yes sir three bags full sir” yes-man-ship and grovel with sycophancy in front of their seniors.

Well, I have seen this happen in the military services, but when I see so many“yes-men” masquerading as leaders in the civilian world too, especially in politics and bureaucracy, it seems that this absurd non sequitur paradox“Good Followers make Good Leaders” is universal in nature.

YESMANSHIP versus LEADERSHIP

ONCE A “YES-MAN” ALWAYS A “YES-MAN”

In his book “On The Psychology of Military Incompetence”, Norman Dixon quotes Liddel Hart:

“A lifetime of having to curb the expression of original thought culminates so often in there being nothing left to express”.

Similarly, after grovelling and bootlicking for 30 years to “earn” his promotion to high rank, how can you suddenly expect an officer to instantaneously metamorphose from “a dog in obedience” to “a lion in action”.

With continuous dedicated practice of  good “followership”, meek obedience becomes your trait and subservient yes-man-ship becomes your nature.

Once “yesmanship” becomes your natural trait, you will continue to be a good follower irrespective of whatever rank or level of authority you attain.

There is truth in the saying: Once a “yes-man” always a “yes-man”.

Good followers are competent at carrying out orders, while good leaders are competent at making decisions and giving orders.

Yes, a leader is required to take decisions.

“Yesmanship” stifles decision making ability.  

In the long term, continuous practice of “yesmanship” kills leadership qualities.

Thus, when a yes-man is promoted to a leadership position he cannot take decisions himself and hence he keeps running to his superiors for even the smallest of issues though these may well be within his purview.

Is this not visible in the senior military leadership of today who keep running to their political and bureaucratic masters seeking advice for decisions which may well be within their scope or may be purely tactical or military in nature?

Do you see this lack of good decision making capability in the political and civilian leadership as well?


FOOD FOR THOUGHT

Many of the greatest military leaders throughout history, who achieved success on the battlefield and victories in war, were notoriously poor followers, especially in peacetime soldiering. 

In fact, in many cases, had it not been for war, many of them may not even have been promoted. 

(One such example in India is Field Marshal Manekshaw who may have retired as a Major General had it not been for the 1962 war).

Let me end with a quote:

Thousands of moralists have solemnly repeated the old saying that only he can command who has learnt to obey.

It would be nearer the truth to say that only he can command who has the courage and initiative to disobey.

William McDougall, Character and the Conduct of Life (1927)


Dear Reader: What are your views on “YESMANSHIP” versus LEADERSHIP – CAN GOOD FOLLOWERS MAKE GOOD LEADERS?

VIKRAM KARVE
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This article first posted by me Vikram Karve on 28 April 2013 at 4/28/2013 02:35:00 PM in my blog at url: DO GOOD FOLLOWERS MAKE GOOD LEADERS – Absurd Logic – The Promotion Paradox

Posted by Vikram Karve at 8/21/2014 01:55:00 PM

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