Army general: Too much time wasted in meetings
FORT LEAVENWORTH, Kan. - One of the most precious commodities a Soldier has is time, and a lot of time is wasted in person-to-person exchanges and group meetings, Gen. David C. Perkins said.
Perkins, who serves as commander of U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, along with other Army leaders, met with and heard the opinions of 84 majors during Colloquium 2015, here, March 30.
The topic of wasted time at meetings came as an aside after Maj. James Gibson told Perkins that it is a challenge for the Army to support Soldiers' self development with limited resources.
Perkins agreed with Gibson's thoughts that self development is one of the most essential components of leader development and that it is also "one of the most underutilized domains we have."
But Perkins also said that it does not take much in the way of resources to self develop. There are basically two ways a Soldier can self develop, Perkins said. One of those is reading up on areas of expertise. The second way is though face-to-face meetings with leaders, peers, subordinates or subject matter experts.
But today, Perkins said, too much time is spent in individual or group meetings, where discussions take place on things that are already known or on topics that can easily be accessed online.
"There are some things you can only get face-to-face," Perkins said. "For other things, you don't need it. So when you do a face-to-face [meeting], don't talk about things readily available to you in writing. We're very bad about that. We waste a lot of time."
Perkins said that one of the biggest impediments to an officer's self development is an officer's lack of a self-development strategy. He also said that self development must be an active personal quest - it cannot happen passively.
"Becoming informed is a proactive sport," he said. "You can't just sit there in the office and say, 'inform me.' You have to go out and do it. People complain that 'no one is self developing me.' What about the word 'self' don't you understand? You've got to come up with a personal strategy. It takes great discipline to do that. Usually the biggest problem is, people don't have discipline, and they don't have a plan. It's a missed opportunity."
Lt. Gen. Bob Brown, commander of the Combined Arms Center, said he agreed that self development is a critical component of leader development. But he disagreed that it's the single most important element.
"You learn and develop most in the operational domain," by interacting with others, he said. "You can learn from both the good and bad leadership you're exposed to."
Brown said that although self development does not take much in the way of resources, the Army could do a much better job with the resources it does provide.
He said there is a lot of information available to Soldiers for use in self development. But that information is not all in one place, so it is not readily accessible. "In many areas we're resource-rich and knowledge-poor. Folks don't know where to go."
The Army Training Network, or ATN, is a good start, Brown said. But that resource does not yet consolidate every type of knowledge necessary for self development. Additionally, the ATN requires a Common Access Card, or CAC, making it difficult for Soldiers to access on their personal devices.
ASSIGNMENTS NOT FLEXIBLE
Maj. Phil Hensel said the last 14 years of warfare provided officers at even the most junior level a chance to interact with joint, multinational and interagency partners. As opportunities to do that become more limited, he said the Army should assign Soldiers to other services or agencies, possibly as part of an exchange program.
Even an exchange on a small scale would "permeate knowledge throughout the force," he said.
One of the problems is that the year-group structure with its time-in-service limits on promotions forces Soldiers to move between what are considered required assignments, with little time for broadening through outside-the-Army assignments.
Perkins said Hensel hit the nail on the head with the problem of not having more in the way of an exchange-type program. It is difficult to manage talent when the "timeline is what everyone talks about," Perkins said.
Unfortunately, he said, year groups are set in law by the Defense Officer Personnel Management Act of 1980.
"If we could, we'd probably not manage you by year groups," Perkins said. "We'd manage you by where you are in your leader development process. We're looking hard at other options. We're working hard to change the law."
Soldiers should not suffer negative consequence for taking longer for their leader development process and broadening experiences, he offered. Soldiers should be able to do the jobs they normally do, plus train with industry or go to graduate school, for instance, between those other assignments.
Perkins said that Human Resources Command is already challenged to manage more than a million Soldiers on a known timeline. A new management model would make it even more difficult for them, he said. "But I think that's where we have to go."
The 2015 Colloquium is similar to the recently-held chief of staff of the Army's captain's "Solarium," in that seven topics of high importance to the Army were discussed in a candid forum. During the event, majors were encouraged to provide their thoughts on those topics, even if their ideas went against current Army thinking or doctrine.
Colloquium was conducted by the Center for Army Leadership on behalf of the Combined Arms Center. It is the first colloquium for majors. The 84 majors who participated were already students of either the Command & General Staff College or the School of Advanced Military Studies.
(This is another in a series of articles on Colloquium 2015.)