Sunday, April 28, 2013

DO GOOD FOLLOWERS MAKE GOOD LEADERS - Absurd Logic - The Promotion Paradox


ABSURD LOGIC – GOOD FOLLOWERS MAKE GOOD LEADERS
The Promotion Paradox – Crazy Non Sequitur of HR Management
Musings
By
VIKRAM KARVE


THE PROMOTION PARADOX

If you wonder why, at times, the military leadership seems clueless on taking decisions well within it purview and seeks “guidance” from politicians and bureaucrats, maybe the answer lies in the promotion policies of the Military Human Resource (HR) Management System.

The promotion policy of the navy (and army) is based on the premise:

“Good Followers make Good Leaders”

Yes, promotion in the military is based on absurd logic, a contradiction in terms, on the non sequitur:

“You have to learn how to follow in order to lead”

Is this statement not an incongruity in itself?

How can the ability to lead depend on the ability to follow ?

It is just like saying that the ability to swim depends on the ability to sink

Good followers carry out decisions made by others. They are required to blindly obey orders without questioning.

Good followers are not expected to use their own ingenuity.

They must simply “do what they are told”.

They must never act on their own initiative or “make waves” or “rock the boat”.

Good followers are “yes-men”.

And since the basic hypothesis of the promotion system is that “good followers make good leaders” it is mostly “yes-men” who rise up the promotion ladder and get catapulted to leadership positions.

Ideally, in theory, “officer-like-qualities” like professional competence, integrity, patriotism, honesty, straightforwardness, single-mindedness-of-purpose, brashness, and the ability to call a spade a spade by bluntly speaking out your mind, are desirable in combat officers.

However, in practice, especially in peacetime cantonment soldiering, these very same idealistic “officer-like-qualities” may adversely affect the career prospects of an officer in comparison to his more “tactful” morally-pliable peers who “ego-massage” their superiors, practice “yes sir yes sir three bags full sir” yes-man-ship and grovel with sycophancy in front of their seniors.

Well, I have seen this happen in the military services, but when I see so many “yes-men” masquerading as leaders in the civilian world too, especially in politics and bureaucracy, it seems that this absurd non sequitur paradox “Good Followers make Good Leaders” is universal in nature.


ONCE A “YES-MAN” ALWAYS A “YES-MAN”

In his book “On The Psychology of Military Incompetence”, Norman Dixon quotes Liddel Hart: “A lifetime of having to curb the expression of original thought culminates so often in there being nothing left to express”.

Similarly, after grovelling and bootlicking for 30 years to “earn” his promotion to high rank, how can you suddenly expect an officer to instantaneously metamorphose from “a dog in obedience” to “a lion in action”.

With continuous dedicated practice of  good “followership”, meek obedience becomes your trait and subservient yes-man-ship becomes your nature.

Once “yesmanship” becomes your natural trait, you will continue to be a good follower irrespective of whatever rank or level of authority you attain.

Good followers are competent at carrying out orders, while good leaders are competent at making decisions and giving orders.

Yes, a leader is required to take decisions.

“Yesmanship” stifles decision making ability.  

In the long term, continuous practice of “yesmanship” kills leadership qualities.

Thus, when a yes-man is promoted to a leadership position he cannot take decisions himself and hence he keeps running to his superiors for even the smallest of issues though these may well be within his purview.

Is this not visible in the senior military leadership of today who keep running to their political and bureaucratic masters seeking advice for decisions which may well be within their scope or may be purely tactical or military in nature?

Do you see this lack of good decision making capability in the political and civilian leadership as well?


FOOD FOR THOUGHT

Many of the greatest military leaders throughout history, who achieved success on the battlefield and victories in war, were notoriously poor followers, especially in peacetime soldiering. In fact, in many cases, had it not been for war, many of them may not even have been promoted. (One such example in India is Field Marshal Manekshaw who may have retired as a Major General had it not been for the 1962 war).

Let me end with a quote:

Thousands of moralists have solemnly repeated the old saying that only he can command who has learnt to obey.
It would be nearer the truth to say that only he can command who has the courage and initiative to disobey

~ William McDougall, Character and the Conduct of Life (1927)

Dear Reader: Do you agree with the promotion paradox? Please comment and let us know your views.

VIKRAM KARVE
Copyright © Vikram Karve 2013
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A creative person with a zest for life, Vikram Karve is a retired Naval Officer turned full time writer and blogger. Educated at IIT Delhi, IIT (BHU) Varanasi, The Lawrence School Lovedale and Bishops School Pune, Vikram has published two books: COCKTAIL a collection of fiction short stories about relationships (2011) and APPETITE FOR A STROLL a book of Foodie Adventures (2008) and is currently working on his novel and a book of vignettes and an anthology of short fiction. An avid blogger, he has written a number of fiction short stories and creative non-fiction articles on a variety of topics including food, travel, philosophy, academics, technology, management, health, pet parenting, teaching stories and self help in magazines and published a large number of professional  and academic research papers in journals and edited in-house journals and magazines for many years, before the advent of blogging. Vikram has taught at a University as a Professor for 15 years and now teaches as a visiting faculty and devotes most of his time to creative writing and blogging. Vikram Karve lives in Pune India with his family and muse - his pet dog Sherry with whom he takes long walks thinking creative thoughts.

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