Military, politics, or the private sector – it’s lonely at the top


LonelyIt seems more trouble is brewing in the military’s upper ranks. In the same month the Army released a report detailing its problem with toxic leaders and their role in the rash of soldier suicides over the past year, the Washington Post is reporting misconduct among the nation’s top brass. From allegations drinking on duty in the Air Force to sexual misconduct and even assault in the Army and Navy, no branch was exempt.

What is the source of this widespread corruption? From the article:

Martin L. Cook, a professor of military ethics at the Naval War College in Newport, R.I., said the recent eruption of misconduct is “frankly a puzzle to everybody.” One factor, he added, may be that as officers climb higher in the ranks they become insulated and fewer people are willing to challenge or question them.

Although this pattern of derailment is new, or more likely just newly reported, in the military, it is all too familiar to politics and the corporate world.

Judgment is a multi-part process in which an individual (a) processes the available information, (b) makes a decision, (c) receives feedback, and (d) adjusts their decision-making based on that feedback.

Business and political leaders are faced daily with heavy decisions. As they rise up the ranks, their circle of peers and advisors grows smaller and feedback scarce and more biased, putting them at greater risk of bad judgment.

In the political arena, Mitt Romney was so insulated from realistic feedback in 2012 that he was reportedly shocked as Obama won a decisive victory. In the private sector, leaders who made and then doubled down on bad decisions launched the country into a financial crisis from which we’re still recovering.

Whether in the private sector, politics, or the military, the net effect of those poor decisions is the same:

Cook said, military leaders recognize “they’ve got a major trust problem with the American people . . .”