[April 5, 2019] There’s an old stereotype about high-ranking politicians; they cannot function without an entourage of hangers-on, large staffs, and a litany of helpers and attention seekers. It would seem our political leaders are out of touch with the world because they exist in a bubble, dependent upon others. In the military, we call any such person a high-maintenance leader.
High-maintenance leaders are common. I would propose that of the leaders who have achieved positions of importance, the majority consciously surround themselves with people to make their jobs easier. Of course, who would not accept help when the possibility exists to use it? To resist the urge is difficult.
Politicians are not the only occupation that has its share of high-maintenance leaders. The U.S. military has a number of them. Little is done to change the situation as long as these officers do not abuse their power in other ways.1 Leaders who need an excessive number of people to assist them directly are doing so, in most cases, out of an attitude of self-importance.
As a Flag officer myself, I was assigned a First Lieutenant as an Aide.2 These junior officers carry out basic administrative and logistical duties for the Flag officer such as scheduling appointments, making flight reservations, carrying heavy documents, etc. They are prohibited from covering up any wrongdoing or from doing menial tasks such as purchasing and delivering flowers to the officer’s wife (or mistress?).
“The day the soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help them or concluded that you do not care. Either case is a failure of leadership.” – U.S. Army General Colin Powell
I made my coffee. During my tenure as a senior officer, I prided myself on being low-maintenance. Rarely would you find anyone doing administrative tasks for me; that way I was able to communicate, by example, that the time of other soldiers was no more valuable than my time. Doing so created an open, honest environment where soldiers were not afraid to approach me and ask questions, for help, or to talk through a problem.
We had all witnessed, during the performance of our duties, high-maintenance officers; military, political, and those in business. Such behavior was a sign that you were more important than the “lowly” junior officers assigned. Certainly, our soldiers did not fail to notice. Low-maintenance Army Generals were the most respected.
- In the U.S. Army, the Inspector General keeps track of reports and findings of senior officers who have gotten themselves into some form of trouble. It could be alcoholism, sexual promiscuity, creating a toxic work environment, etc. These do occur, but abuse of power is by far the most common problem. Using one’s position of power to disobey the law, rules, and regulations, or to influence others to do the same is not unusual.
- Not all Flag Officers (Generals and Admirals) are assigned an Aide. It depends upon their position and the military’s need.