Toxic Leaders

For me, nothing is better than a good Bill Murray movie – especially the underappreciated 1981 classic Stripes. In case you aren’t familiar, here is the plot synopsis on Rotten Tomatoes.

One of my favorite characters in the film is Sgt. Hulka, the hard-assed drill sergeant that makes Murray’s boot camp experience a living hell until he is unwittingly injured on the artillery range.

Hulka’s particular brand of abuse is funny and relatively mild – limited to pushups and latrine duty – but according to a Jan. 6 story on NPR, the non-fictional U.S. Army has a real and decidedly unfunny problem with its leadership.

The story details the results of the military branch’s investigation into last year’s rash of suicides and suicide attempts among soldiers stationed in Iraq. According to the report, many of the 30 who attempted or completed suicide last year had one thing in common: toxic leaders.

The corporate world is no stranger to toxic leaders; most people have worked for one at some point in their careers. Under the strain of a combat deployment, however, toxic leaders actions can push already fragile soldiers over the edge.

“Oftentimes platoon leaders will take turns seeing who can smoke this guy the worst. Seeing who can dream up the worst torture, seeing who can dream up the worst duties, seeing who can make this guy’s life the most miserable,” says [researcher Dave] Matusda. “When you’re ridden mercilessly, there’s just no letup, a lot of folks begin to fold.”

Thankfully, the Army is taking aggressive steps to fix their leadership problem, instituting anonymous 360 reviews for more than 1,000 commanders by next year as well as kicking out several officers. Check out the full story over at NPR.