A recent study from the U.S. Army War College released this February proved that Officers in the Military are increasingly willing to lie in order to look good to superiors or on paper. Many know that the U.S. Military’s response to negative events often involves simply throwing increasing amounts of mandatory requirements at the forces, then demand documentation that those requirements have been fulfilled. Leaders have an obligation to be the example for all others to follow at all times, and that includes simple integrity, but it also includes taking a serious look at the requirements being imposed on others. The agenda of the defense department is often systemic in nature, and in that, many at the most senior levels seem to forget that not everything on that agenda should result in additional mandatory requirements. This “systemic agenda” is the broadest agenda of the organization and includes all issues that might be subject to action or that are already being acted on within the institution. (Peters, 2013) Knowing that today’s military forces are consistently plagued by an ever-increasing bureaucratic policy process, we have to ask … exactly what all is on the agenda here?
The simple answer is, as a former brigade commander bluntly put it, “more than you can do in a year” (Wong, L., & Gerras, S. 2015, p. 6). The Army has a seriously bad habit of turning to bureaucracy as the method to covering itself against any and every possible situation or occurrence. Every time an event happens where the Army could be seen in a negative light, they turn to increasing demands under the institution of new policies and documentation of policy compliance. This has created a culture where the systemic agenda at lower levels has become one of merely check the block, and for all things left unfulfilled, either ignore it or lie about meeting that standard.
It’s nothing new, to say the least. Leaders at all levels feel the suffocating burden as annual training requirements keep mounting year-by-year, building upon a list of impossible expectations. Wong and Gerras’ (2015) investigation states that, “the institution has created an environment where it is literally impossible to execute to the standard all that is required. At the same time, reporting noncompliance with the requirements is seldom a viable option. As a result, the conditions are set where subordinates and units are often forced to determine which requirements will actually be done to standard and which will only be reported as done to standard” (p. 2). What this has done, as they have noted, is create a hostile situation where leaders are now picking and choosing which requirements are more important, then justifying their actions of lying because the Army does not give them the choice to not meet the impossibilities mounted upon them.
The Defense Department’s history of unbending mandates from policy setting seems to come without review or regard as to whether or not such mandates are even actually warranted. The report shows with multiple personal accounts that soldiers already tasked with zero-fail options of annual requirements, regulations already on the books, assessments just to take leave, classes ordered due to the actions of a single individual, and lack of computers and equipment, funding and supplies all played a major role in the decisions of officers to simply lie about meeting all of them. Additionally, when deployed to a war zone for example, operation tempos dramatically increase – sometimes tenfold or more – proportionally shrinking the time these officers actually have to accomplish those extra requirements demanded of them. Many officers noted specific requirements such as creating storyboard presentations in PowerPoint were mandatory after every event or encounter, yet as one officer boldly stated, “when I only had 4 hours between this mission and the next, what’s better – spending 15 minutes to make this beautiful storyboard or planning my next operation?” (p. 15). Such responses beg the question; do we really need a 10 page PowerPoint created after every encounter with the enemy in a multifaceted asymmetric environment with zero clear lines? The answer may undeniably be, “No. No we do not.”
When considering mandatory requirements, leaders are obligated to assure those requirements are both necessary, and warranted, and not created merely as a means to simply cover their own rear ends. If there is any one thing we can learn from the past, and with this new study as well, is that with increased demands placed upon the organization, comes the removal of effectiveness in other aspects of leadership capability. Whereas leaders could spend more of their time focused on operations that help achieve the success of the mission, now they are forced to sacrifice that time attempting to adhere to yet another paper on the pile. This also translates to yet another policy for individuals to remember atop of an already mountain-sized code of current regulations, and further, yet more time focused on instruction, coordination, planning, administration, documentation, and much more, attempting to fulfill those new requirements when that time could be spent focusing efforts in other areas.
The results of such things are now being seen as the War College study highlights the effects of individuals trying to deal with the impossible. Leaders seek to save themselves by sacrificing their integrity in favor of pleasing superiors, meaning they end up picking and choosing which more valuable requirements to take seriously, while ignoring and lying on matters that many feel are simply not effective and serve no real purpose. Senior leaders must understand that not all directed efforts the organization seeks to achieve in that broad agenda’s scope should directly translate to the immediate burdening of the organization with impossible odds that only serve to create compromised integrity impositions. And while this does not excuse the integrity violations of the individuals involved, as leaders we should remember that, while we are directly responsible for our behavior at all times, imposing unnecessary requirements upon our followers can and will create bad behavior as a result.
Finally, we must still ask the question, despite the fact that we know the current impositions forced upon our leaders is an entirely unacceptable burden, just how much can we truly trust supposed leaders who cave to integrity violations in favor of the easy way out? If they are willing to lie about these things, they must not think these things are very important… so what else do they not think is important? After all, we all know for a fact, if this was a case of “name any Enlisted Rank here”, even the slightest amount of dishonesty from the Enlisted individual would immediately have been made a public example of. The book would be thrown at them in the harshest possible way while at the same time they would receive force-wide backlash. Why should we not outright demand the same treatment of our leaders?
Lamothe, D. (2015). Lying in the military is common, Army War College study says. The Washington Post. Retrieved from: http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/checkpoint/wp/2015/02/18/lying-in-the-military-is-common-army-war-college-study-says/
Lilley, K. (2015). Report: Army officers admit to (and defend) their lying. Army Times. Gannet. Retrieved from: http://www.armytimes.com/story/military/careers/army/2015/02/19/-army-lying-distrust-ethics/23678429/
Peters, B. G. (2013). American Public Policy: Promise and Performance. Ninth Edition. Sage Publications.
Wong, L., and Gerras, S. J. (2015). Lying To Ourselves: Dishonesty in the Army Profession. Strategic Studies Institute and the U.S. Army War College Press. ISBN: 1-58487-664-6.