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In an age of technology, the topic of leadership is becoming increasingly important in view of the trend toward specialization, complexity, and the fragmentation of knowledge which is occurring in all modern industrial societies. The trend toward job specialization, especially in the Navy, means that one officer, or even two or three acting in concert, often does not have the technical ability to direct subordinates in significant detail. In fact, at the working level even the major officer communities have largely ceased all but the most formal contacts, and therefore know little about the intricacies of one another’s technological tasks. At higher levels of command, systems have often become too complex for centralized control. Our worldwide command and control system notwithstanding, the rusting hulks of the Liberty (AGTR-5) and the Pueblo (AGER-2) are as much the victims of the interplay between technology and leadership as they are relics of simpler times for naval warfare.
Yet, contrary to common-sense notions, the importance of the individual leader will increase relative to his or her role in simpler societies. In effect, leaders in the post-industrial era (which we live in today) will serve as catalysts in solving problems which require not one but many inputs. In the last century, a commanding officer could stand fixedly on his quarterdeck gauging the proper moment to wear, tack, or fire a broadside. In barely more than the lifetime of a sailor, all that has changed. Today the commanding officer is a man on the run—bridge to CIC, CIC to underwater battery plot, UB plot to the bridge. He is a seeker of up-to-the-minute knowledge, an evaluator and judge of diverse and often conflicting inputs. And yet, without him, or someone who can quickly take his place, the complex instrument we call a ship is useless. Her efficiency will collapse into a cacophony of information in search of a man who can synthesize action out of data.
As leadership becomes increasingly important to Navy mission success, inputs from the social sciences should become increasingly sought after. In fact, this has not been the case. Social science is widely perceived as a force which weakens discipline, undermines military values, and contributes to
a general decline in group effectiveness. The criticisms, I believe, are misdirected. However, as a result of resistance to the use of social science techniques, the Navy as a whole remains relatively unaware of the benefits which could be obtained from their use.
On the other side of the coin, the liberal orientation of many social scientists leads them to refrain from any close association with military organizations. Although there are obvious exceptions to this premise, especially among the older veterans of the Korean conflict and World War II, there is some truth to the oft-heard comment that the activists of the Sixties have become the sociologists of the Seventies. In this environment, few universities even offer courses which deal with the unique aspects of military leadership.
The Navy has made its greatest use of social science information only in response to crisis situations. Thus, it seems more than coincidental that major efforts in race relations and the human goals program followed racial disturbances on board the Kitty Hawk (CVA-63), Constellation (CVA-64), and other major fleet units. Likewise, for many years the Navy insisted that it had no real drug or alcohol problems. In recent years, it appears popular to espouse the opposite opinion. The Navy has funded many programs designed to improve human relations and reduce drug/alcohol abuse. Have we received a valid return on our investment?
There are qualified experts who maintain that these programs have not succeeded. But whatever the verdict, we must realize that the Navy is not and cannot be a full-time social rehabilitation agency. The major return we can expect to realize is not found in those programs designed to rehabilitate alcoholics, drug addicts, sexual deviants, or even racists. It will be found, rather, in those programs designed to identify, refine, and improve the talents which are found in the 98% of our manpower whose behavior falls within the parameters described as “normal.” In other words, the time has come for the Navy to implement and expand programs which foster increased efficiency rather than stopgap measures designed only to avert disaster. Let us review the bidding.
Historically, research on leadership
effectiveness has been of vital interest to at least three major divisions of our society: political institutions, mana
gerial/industrial enterprises, and military organizations. The vast amount of literature on leadership effectiveness is concentrated in these three fields. In all three areas the “great man” theory of Thomas Carlyle has forged the dominant outlook. Carlyle, who first advocated his theory in 1910, attributed advances throughout history to the efforts of a few great men, leaders in their respective fields, who brought progress about through the force of their creative genius. The great leaders of ancient and modern history from Alexander the Great to Alfred Thayer Mahan fit into this model. In order to learn more about leadership, then, it should be possible to isolate characteristics of great men and find “traits” which all or most hold in common. Likewise, persons who were observed to exhibit these traits could be identified as having leadership potential.
During World War I and the early 1920s, studies were instituted in order to define what traits, if any, were exhibited by leaders. Various researchers identified a number of traits common to most leaders: knowledge, energy, enthusiasm, persistence, patience, and slightly greater height, weight, and physical attractiveness, to name only a few. As might be expected, attempts to identify potential leaders using these nebulous characteristics proved inaccurate in too many cases.
The conception of the leader as a person who holds a special “trait” for leading others is fast yielding to new theories that stress the effects of the situation as a major determinant of leadership effectiveness. Oge of the major reasons for this shift in emphasis has been the inability of any variant of the “trait theory” to predict leadership effectiveness. Although it is possible to isolate traits of so-called great leaders and find prospective leaders who have many or all of these same traits, the correlation between the identification of these prospective leaders and leadership effectiveness has remained quite low.
Nevertheless, much of the training designed to prepare leaders for positions of responsibility has remained at the level of simple adherence to the trait theory. For example, it has only been in the recent past that courses in naval leadership have begun to break away from the “great man” concept. Many standard texts still present a series of anecdotal accounts which demonstrate how leaders met and mastered challenging situations. The injunction to follow, presumably, is “go and do likewise.”
But new research methodologies in the social sciences have enabled investigators to quantitatively measure the explanatory power of various models which purport to account for human behavior. It appears again that the trait theory has not fared well. As recently as 1973 one researcher reported his findings in this area:
"... leaders have been typed as autocratic, consultative, or participative, or as varying in a trait anchored at the extremes by the concepts autocratic and participative. The findings . . . seriously question the explanatory power of either the type or trait concepts.”
Today we have created our own unique version of the trait theory. Far- reaching decisions in officer accession programs have been made regarding the Navy’s need for technologically qualified officers to man the new Navy of the 1980s. In order to fill the need to produce nuclear-trained officers, the criteria for selection of our next generation of leaders has shifted now to a new “trait”—the ability of a student to complete a technical curriculum in mathematics, physics, chemistry, or engineering. The Navy’s largest source of regular officers, the 54 NROTC colleges and universities, has suffered the most from these developments. The Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps system is now tasked to deliver a product it was not designed to produce. It is ill- equipped to meet these new requirements.
To a greater or lesser extent, all other officer accession programs, from the Naval Academy to Officer Candidate School, are also affected by the increase in emphasis on a scientific/engineering background. However, at least these programs are under total naval control and have the capability of adapting their curricula in accordance with directives from higher authority. This flexibility may be crucial in determining these programs’ success in selecting prospective midshipmen /officer candidates from a shrinking pool of qualified applicants.
Numerous studies have indicated that there is no high correlation between success in technical curricula and successful performance as a leader. There is no doubt that the Navy needs technicians, even officer technicians, to run a vast array of technical programs. However, it is a fundamental mistake to label technical ability in a high school senior or college freshman as the sine qua non of a mature leader. If we continue to use this criterion we run the risk of excluding large numbers of potentially excellent leaders from ever having a chance to translate their potential into performance. An analogy to the present situation would be to say that because aviators are essential to the Navy, all or most applicants for commissions must have 20/20 vision. There is no question that the technical competence of naval leaders must rise in order to keep pace with the increasingly sophisticated products of our technology. The real question is not if, but how.
Technology itself makes knowledge obsolete. As an officer ascends in rank to positions of greater responsibility, he must devote progressively larger amounts of his time to the direct management of people rather than machines. For many officers, the last major involvement with technical details comes as he passes from division officer to department head. Although it is obvious that an officer must know the technical details of his job, it is equally obvious that at higher levels success is more dependent upon managerial skills.
The argument has been made that the present policy is justified in view of the urgent need to produce nuclear-trained officers in the fleet. Is there not a better system? Must we prostitute major segments of our officer accession program in order to produce a pool of officer- technicians whose ranks will still contain unsuccessful leaders? I believe the time has come to reexamine our options in this critical area.
In the interplay between leadership and technology, the modern naval leader has of necessity been schooled largely to understand and manage complicated technical systems. In preparing to qualify as a surface warfare officer, aviator, or submariner it is apparent that the key to success is technical skill. The Navy as an institution fosters the increased development of these skills by assigning middle-grade officers to graduate programs in technical fields. However, once again, it appears that we may be training the average officer for a skill which will not of itself qualify him for succession to high command. This dichotomy is most clearly seen in the fact that in one recent group of flag selectees, over half had not received their advanced degrees from the technically- oriented Naval Post-Graduate School. We must ask ourselves why many officers voluntarily undergo the financial and temporal hardship of an off-duty master’s degree or Ph.D. program. Is it because they fear a technical curricula? Perhaps. However, an alternative explanation might be that many Fleet officers do not see the Postgraduate School curriculum as the critical parameter in advancement. The Officer Technical Managerial System (OTMS) notwithstanding, many officers may perceive their overall ability as leaders to be the critical determinant for advancement. More research in this area seems appropriate.
If overall leadership ability is the functional currency for a successful career pattern, then one ought to be able to improve leaders through training. One of the cherished assumptions of research in the field of management is the idea that leadership training and effectiveness are positively related. Colloquially speaking, if a little training can make an adequate leader, then a lot of training can make him (or her) a lot more effective. On the basis of this supposed relationship, industry, government, and the military have spent vast sums on training programs designed to make leaders more effective. Especially in the military, the need to deal more effectively with better-educated personnel in the difficult Vietnam era, the demand for social justice by minorities serving in the armed forces, and the increasing specialization of managers and workers in complex subdisciplines demanded more sophisticated approaches to leadership than mere “marlinspike
leadership” techniques. Accordingly, since the 1960s, new courses, seminars, and lectures in leadership techniques have been introduced at many levels of the Navy.
One of the oft-heard comments by attendees of leadership seminars is that the seminar altered the individuals’ attitudes about leadership. One of the most frequently reported comments of higher-level supervisors of these same men is that the leadership training did not produce any long-term increase in group performance. Thus, it is possible that some forms of leadership training may alter attitudes but not significantly affect behavior.
In one study sponsored by the Office of Naval Research, T. O. Jacobs conducted a review of the literature on the effects of human relations training in work environments. One series of experiments demonstrated that:
”... groups that had received the (human relations) training did not differ significantly from those that did not. However, it was concluded that the training had some impact on the groups that had received it, in that their behavior patterns were not as stable as those of foremen who had not received the training. The training produced change, but not predictable change.”
Dr. Fred Fiedler of the University of Washington has developed a behavioral theory of leadership, the contingency model of leadership effectiveness, which purports to account for this discrepancy. The contingency model addresses three basic questions:
y What operational measures can be used to classify the leadership style of an individual?
► What parameters best describe the significant environmental variables which impinge on leadership effectiveness?
^ How do leadership style and significant environmental variables interact to produce effective group performance?
Fiedler’s 21 years of research on over 1,200 military and civilian groups seems to explain how the same leader can succeed in one type of situation and fail in another. Task-oriented leaders, Fiedler claims, perform best in extreme situations, i.e. situations which are either very favorable or very unfavorable to the leader. More permissive, people-oriented leaders tend to perform best in situations °f intermediate favorableness. Accord- >ng to the contingency model, leadership training should affect group performance differentially, primarily by giving the leader more influence and control over his group. However, increased influence and control cannot be examined without reference to situational variables. One of the reasons that leadership training may not cause an overall increase in group performance is the fact that it can simultaneously enhance or degrade leader performance depending on the leader’s style and the environment in which he operates. Fiedler states:
“. . . leader training and leadership experience do not give us across- the-board improvement in leadership performance. When we increase the control and influence of either type of leader by experience or by training, some persons who were previously well matched with their job situations will now be mismatched, while previously mismatched leaders will become better matched.
“Our research shows that training and experience decreases the performance of some leaders while increasing the performance of others.' ’
In any massive “shotgun" training program, then, Fiedler’s model predicts that the net result will be insignificant improvement in leadership effectiveness.
Fiedler’s theory of leadership also raises the issue derived from B. F. Skinner’s research: the more we learn about behavior, the more we are inclined to shift responsibility for success or failure from the leader to the environment, which in this case is largely the responsibility of the organization. This shift in emphasis, if justified, has revolutionary implications.
The contingency model suggests, as does our everyday experience, that environmental factors are more accessible to observation and manipulation than personality factors. Rather than attempt to increase group performance by modifying the personality characteristics of the leader, it may prove more efficient to modify the environment.
The contingency model allows us to predict with some accuracy which way the environment should be changed.
Fiedler’s theory has its proponents and detractors alike. There are also criticisms of some of the theory’s assumptions which cannot be fully addressed in this forum. However, the point to be made is that the contingency model is but one of many systems now being developed which could have a revolutionary impact on the study of leadership. More pragmatically, much of this research has been funded by the Office of Naval Research and has used our Navy officers, midshipmen, and enlisted personnel as subjects. Yet how many “users” of this data could one find in the fleet? We have, in effect, no real system for disseminating this kind of information in terms that laymen can understand and utilize.
The college graduates of 1984 are now about to enter high school. If naval leadership in the 1980s is to remain strong and viable, we must take steps now to ensure that we can effectively harness the explosion of social science information which is currently taking place. In order to maintain and improve our present situation the Navy must:
► Develop a qualified, professional cadre of naval officers who are also social scientists. The design of social systems is not equivalent to the design of physical systems. We cannot subcontract the design of leadership systems to civilian social scientists alone. At present, the Navy has relied too heavily on purely civilian inputs.
► Recognize that in selecting the Navy’s future leaders the identification of leadership talent should take precedence, or at least be coequal with the identification of students who can pursue hard science majors. We cannot afford to restrict the competition for leadership talent to any narrow base of today’s high school and college population.
► Gather data to scientifically support our leadership programs and practices. Just as we test equipment in experimental ships and aircraft, the Navy must test leadership theories and models in a real environment. We need experimental ships to test new applications of social science technology. In the process, we must verify the validity of traditional practices.
► Establish a system to collate and disseminate new information on leadership/management techniques to the fleet. Incidentally, this should be a twoway process in which fleet inputs are fully utilized and returned in language a layman can understand.
In conclusion, the impact of technology upon leadership has made the latter not less, but more, valuable. In the future, we must realize that leadership and technology will become more closely related, not in the sense that only our technicians will be able to lead, but in the sense that we must all become technological leaders. We must recognize that the social sciences can and should be utilized to improve our leadership systems.
The effective naval officer is not merely a seeker of knowledge. He is, in the nicest sense of the term, an applied rather than a theoretical scientist. His goal must be the effective management of himself and his environment. No more than we would wield a marlinspike to repair a sophisticated computer should we employ the blunt conceptual tools of precedent and tradition, or the unnerving predictions of a completely technocratized Navy, as we chart a course into the future.
Historically, victory in naval warfare has gone not to the side which had a perfect plan. It has gone rather to the side which deduced the most effective strategy and then boldly implemented that strategy with the fewest tactical mistakes. We all agree on the goal. Let us now calmly reexamine how we intend to reach it.