A Dog and Pony Show

By | November 22, 2020

[November 22, 2020]  Today’s article is not about dogs and ponies.  Some readers might be disappointed because they interpret the title of my articles quite seriously.  I’m using the phrase as a colloquium to mean “some elaborate or overblown affair or event.”  I retired from the U.S. Army, and, unsurprisingly, I have witnessed many dog and pony shows, one of which I will discuss.

It is hard to say when I first witnessed a real, no-kidding dog and pony show.  I think the first was as a Company Commander.  Being an army Captain, you get to see a great deal of the military’s inner workings, and, as expected, it’s a real bureaucratic nightmare.  Headquarter staffs spend a lot of energy and resources just fixing their own problems and rarely have time to support their subordinate units.

I was sent as an Infantry Company Commander to be part of a Lessons Learned event given by Infantry units attending the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, CA.  This event’s purpose was to provide quality feedback to improve military units’ performance on the simulated battlefield.  This was the U.S. Army’s largest force-on-force training area.  I have to say that this was the most intense, professional event I had seen up to that point in my career.

The Lessons Learned event called an After Action Review (AAR), began with a giant dog and pony show.  The first 30 minutes were about the excellent training facilities (yes, that is true), the experienced and rarely beaten U.S. opposing forces (yep, they are that good), and the common problems found in these exercises.  There are many charts and graphs and lots and lots of talking about everything but the unit being exercised.

The dog and pony show was okay, and I was duly impressed.  However, the overblown attention to detail had nothing to do with the unit being trained and evaluated.  In other words, much time was wasted.  The wasted time, which one of the commanders called a “sh** show,” could have been used to discuss better what the unit did wrong and give recommendations on fixing them.

That is my main point about dog and pony shows.  They waste valuable time and resources.  Interestingly, the most junior soldier at the AAR could see the presentation for what it was.  He was overheard to say he could have used his time better helping his men pack for departure instead of sitting on a folding chair watching a PowerPoint presentation.

Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article every day on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

22 thoughts on “A Dog and Pony Show

  1. Janna Faulkner

    Funny article – maybe it was the title. Keep up the great articles, Gen. Satterfield. 👍

  2. Nate Shropshire

    Makes too much sense, everyone wants to shine. Hard to change traditions.

    1. Dennis Mathes

      Yeah, and Gen. Satterfield has another article on this very subject, “good sense.” Thanks Nate!

    1. Doug Smith

      Too much BS out there! Careers are based on dog and pony shows but I couldn’t imagine the Army being infected with the PowerPoint crusaders.

  3. Xerxes I

    The fact that the lowest ranking member of the unit being given the dog and pony show, shows that BS comes in many forms and when it involves self importance, it can be very very worthless.

      1. Stacey Borden

        It takes more than experience. I think it’s common sense, first to recognize them and second to suggest (politely) that these not occur. Even the most senior people – who are usually the target of a dog and pony show, recognize them for what they are … mostly a farce.

  4. Jerome Smith

    Great article once again, Gen. Satterfield. When I got up this morning and pulled out my iPad, I had no idea that I would be reading about Ft. Irwin where the Army’s NTC is located. I was stationed there about 20 years ago. Maybe we were there at the same time, who knows? I enjoyed my time in the Army and recommend every man or woman who can join, do so. It makes a person a better human and a better family man or woman.

    1. Otto Z. Zuckermann

      Good point, Jerome. I believe serving your time in the US military or other first responder job (career?), should be mandatory. Today, we have so many college snowflakes (weak, effete, and whiny) simply because they were never forced to do anything their infantile brains could envision.

      1. Tony B. Custer

        Otto, great !!!!! Snowflakes are everywhere, so beware! Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha

  5. Yusaf from Texas

    It is indeed good to read that our military has some great training facilities. You know what Gen. George S. Patton had to say about training?
    “A pint of sweat [to train], saves a gallon of blood [in combat].”

  6. Max Foster

    Hi Gen. Satterfield. This article was a bit unexpected in that it shows that even our US army is inefficient and often ineffective despite having the best and most resources, top-notch leaders, and the time to pull it off. This dog and pony show does demonstrate that even when efficiency is helpful it is rejected for hubris.

    1. Maureen S. Sullivan

      Hi Max, well written and thoughtful. I was thinking along these same lines but you said it better. 😊

      1. Linux Man

        Maureen, I think most of us were. That is why so many of us keep coming back to Gen. Satterfield’s leadership blog. We learn, we meet people in the comment forums section, and we can throw ideas up on the wall like mud and see what sticks and what doesn’t. We can read different opinions without so much being trashed or degraded.

    2. JT Patterson

      Yes, Gen. Satterfield and Max, all good points. Efficiency, I must note, is not always the goal. Sometimes inefficiency gets the job done better. It all comes down to your mission or task.

        1. Kenny Foster

          Of course, Albert. BTW, great to see you back in the forums sections of Gen. S’s leader blog. We all have been discussing various ideas lately that are important for the advancement of Western civilization. Most of it revolves around taking responsibility for our own actions and those of our families. Too many reject this notion and want something handed to them. Receive a gift, be happy for it. Receive two gifts, give one away.


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