Thursday, June 23, 2011

GEN Petraeus - CIA Director Confirmation Hearings Question on Leadership - 23 Jun 2011


I listened with utmost interest to the 23 Jun 11 Senate Hearings for GEN David Petraeus for his confirmation as the next CIA Director and I was especially disappointed at some questions that revealed a complete lack of understanding of Military leadership. The questions dealt with how the General would gain the trust and support of the CIA workforce because it was a relatively “flat” organization and he has been used to leading in the military which is a “top down hierarchical and structured environment.” Anyone with 15 minutes of experience leading troops in the field knows nothing could be further from the truth.

Although there are similarities in leadership among all the Military services, Army and Marine leadership is unique in regards to how close commanders are to their subordinates and how much they share their hardships and dangers. When a ship’s captain commands “Right Full Rudder,” everyone aboard turns right without question and when an Air Force Pilot pulls back on the stick, everyone on the plane goes up. But when an Infantry company commander who has been marching his troops through waist-deep mud in rice patties for three weeks straight commands after a 10 minute rest “saddle up we’re moving out,” it takes a special type of leadership to get them moving. It’s a “Follow Me!” leadership that is build on trust – trust of that leader’s competence, courage, integrity, commitment and caring for the welfare of his troops. A trust that although the mission comes first, troops know he will do everything within his power to bring them back safe and alive.

GEN Petraeus has had a career full of these kinds of leadership experiences beginning as a young platoon leader and company commander. He has been a battalion operations officer and commander; a Brigade Commander; a Division operations officer, Assistant Division Commander and Division Commander; and the Commander in both Iraq and Afghanistan. He was also the CENTCOM COCOM Commander!

Although this is a kind of leadership is foreign to most Senators, it’s the leadership exhibited by all successful troops leaders; it’s “flat” and definitely not hierarchical. If GEN Petraeus continues to practice the same leadership style that has served him well for his 37 years in the Army, I’m confident he will be a superb CIA Director. If only more politicians could have had that much “leadership experience” maybe we wouldn’t be in the mess we are in today and he certainly wouldn’t have gotten some of those inane questions.

One final observation, every article on the Petraeus confirmation hearings fails to report one important caveat the General made to his acceptance of the President’s “more aggressive withdrawal schedule than he would have liked.” The General emphasized that if conditions changed on the ground and he felt a delay or halt of the withdrawals was warranted, he would go to the President with his unvarnished assessment to stop the pullouts, either as the Commander in Afghanistan, his present position, or as the CIA Director, if confirmed. Why is this never included?