[May 2, 2021] Wilson Cox, a childhood friend of mine, seemed to eat nothing but Cracker Jack caramel corn. Those over the age of 40 know what I mean when the “prize” that came in each box was small, cheap, and meant for little kids. If you’ve run into this Cracker Jack kind of military leadership, you’re not alone. It’s insignificant, cut-rate, and good for not much.
Weak, haphazard Cracker Jack leadership is making a comeback. Generalizing a bit, this style of leadership is what we called “fly-by-night” or “quirky” leadership a few decades ago. Over time, I have seen modern military leadership evolve into a fake, distorted, thumbnail style version that substitutes for the old gritty leadership of old.
We are now witnessing a takeover. Cracker Jack leadership is becoming the norm. Older, often retired senior military officers and enlisted are talking about our junior military leaders’ halfhearted attitudes and semi-conscious motivation. What is worse is their lack of fundamental patriotic values and virtues that helped make leaders want to improve upon their leader attributes.
Confidently, these junior leaders talk about their leadership concepts as getting people to do things, but only if they want to do it. Their drive is lower, their focus is less, and their view of America is no longer one of exceptionalism but one of a nation with a questionable history.
The extent to which I might have had something to do with spreading this trash is precisely zero. Some of us have tried to make amends by telling the story of military leadership, highlighting those things left out of the Cracker Jack leadership, correcting their errors, and giving better insights.
We wanted to be part of the solution, but we have failed. This takeover of our military institutions is a more significant threat than initially imagined. Cracker Jack leadership is very attractive, and everybody, regardless of skill and experience, can succeed. It’s a one-size fit all style of management, not leadership. And it’s easier – less responsibility and less work.
I fear that this infectious ideological disease is spreading among the most senior leaders in our military. I see it now in Darryl A. Williams (Superintendent of West Point) and Lloyd Austin (now the current Secretary of Defense), and many others. These generals are more interested in getting rid of traditional gender roles, changing pronouns, and defeating patriarchy than defeating America’s enemies.