[September 19, 2014] An advantage to being a senior military leader means to be able to ask simple questions and actually get thoughtful answers. I’ve asked probably hundreds of military personnel and their families this one question regarding our military leaders, “Do we promote disrespect?” Families overwhelmingly say yes. The troops are a little more split on the answer but the lower the military rank, the more likely they are to say yes. For a long time, in pondering this unfortunate truth, I could not figure out why. I’ve come to the conclusion that leaders must be somehow promoting disrespectful behavior. If this is true, then how?
I’ll begin with a rejoinder. Many of the senior ranks in the military will strongly disagree with my comment. While most senior military members will disagree with me there are many senior flag officers that actually agree. Yet, they don’t have an answer to fix the problem. Small incremental efforts are made but nothing seems to be working. In fact, it is recognized throughout the military, especially in the U.S. Army and Air Force, that the problem is getting worse and not better despite all the resources devoted to it to date.
We unwittingly encourage disrespect when we allow any military or family member to file a complaint against anyone at anytime and then follow through with an investigation. These investigations give an air of respectability to any charge and are all consuming. They essentially make the accused guilty until proven innocent, and then questionably innocent. Leaders need to stand up to obviously false accusations and tell the complainant that their accusations are going nowhere. But, alas, that is not what we do.
We are also not taking action against military and defense civilian personnel when involved in wrongdoing. Major infractions of conduct are of course responded to, but other violations of administrative regulations and minor fraud, waste, and abuse are largely ignored. Many of those leaders are busy people and will tell you that they simply don’t have the time to punish offenders. Sadly this only encourages more improper behavior and discourages hard working employees.
Do we promote disrespect? The answer is yes. Sadly, the trend is that we are promoting disrespect and things are getting worse. This is true outside the military also. The words and actions of our senior leaders tell the story that disrespect is acceptable and we promote it by standing by when we see it occur. Such is the state of affairs in an otherwise honorable community.
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