Leadership Toolbox: After-Action Reviews

By | May 25, 2017

[May 25, 2017]  Having brutally frank, warts-and-all feedback is a crucial instrument in the leadership toolbox.  Found in the U.S. military and a few commercial enterprises the after-action review (AAR) is a rare form of open criticism that is the perfect way to make a leader stronger, more resilient, and honest.  It works!

And it works only if there is an organizational culture where the most junior individual can give candid feedback to anyone their senior.  My time in South Korea working with their army and other military services gave me an appreciation for their dedication and loyalty.  What they did not have is a leadership toolbox with after-action reviews.

This was not always the case for the U.S military.  Prior to World War II, officer commissions were sometimes handed out on the basis of political connections or ‘who you knew.’  In addition, high-level commanders were placed for the same reason.  It’s peacetime, they argued, why not reward the politically connected.  When war came, the most destructive of the 20th Century, those appointed without consideration to skill caused unnecessary casualties.

Conducted either formally or informally, the AAR is usually done in a de-brief format where everyone present is given the opportunity to speak their mind; from the lowest and most junior person present to the most senior.  This is the time to get information out that would not typically be known to all.  Leaders who were not well prepared or are unable to “see” the enemy and their intentions receive far more constructive criticism of their actions.

This is how we improve upon even the most average leader to make them better.  That is, of course, what leadership is about … making more leaders and striving to make them the best possible.  During the many wars since WWII, the AAR has been one of the key tools to making everyone a better service member, not just leaders.  That explains why it is so important to conduct, even when time is short.

My highest recommendation is to always conduct an after action review at the conclusion of any event and having it in your leadership toolbox will help make success possible.

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[Note:]  I have a small mini-series on Leadership Toolboxes here at theLeaderMaker.com.



Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

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