Azimuth Check: What can be done with 36 Months?

Random musings after returning from a trip to Washington, DC.

36 Months

My good friend Daniel Gershburg finally started blogging, and the internet is better because of it. To date, he has only published a handful of posts at 36 Months, but those that are there are great. You should follow it, as I am.Compass

Today’s post focuses largely on impostor syndrome, an affliction suffered by most (all?) lawyers. Read. Learn.

Here’s something you may not know about Daniel: He is the only person I’ve ever invited to guest-post here at Unwashed Advocate. This is true. I asked him twice. He politely declined both times. I can’t say that I blame him. The content at 36 Months is all Daniel, and that’s a good thing, and right for him.

The Military Brain Drain?

Since I first wore a uniform, there have been no less than 4 occasions in which the military was accused of hemorrhaging its most talented young leaders. Largely, this is blamed on a very impersonal and imperfect personnel system, lack of mentorship, and not utilizing the skills and education of young leaders. Today, The Atlantic decided to weigh-in. On this, I have several thoughts.

Imperfect Personnel System. The military human resource systems manage an institution that employs more than 1.4 million total uniformed personnel. Think about that. That’s a lot of people. It is impossible to give each of them a long, detailed, personal evaluation for promotions and selective growth opportunities. With an institution that employs that many individuals, the system, out of necessity, will be largely impersonal.

Consider my last promotion in the Army, to Major. After I served a requisite number of years as a Captain, the Army considered me for promotion. In deciding whether I should be promoted, a board of 3 senior officers, randomly selected from across the Army, sat down at Ft. Knox, Kentucky to review the files of hundreds of us who were eligible for promotion. They looked at my evaluations (each a 2 page document that reviewed my performance at least once a year (I had about a dozen)), my Officer Record Brief (a one-page document that summarizes my career, awards, assignments, deployments, and educational history), assorted other awards and official records, and an official photo in snazzy, military-issued polyester. They had just a couple of minutes to review my records and decide whether I was a good or bad candidate for promotion. After that, they had to move to the next person’s file.

Is this impersonal? Yes. Is it necessary in an organization that manages hundreds of thousands of personnel? Yes.

If you work for a huge organization, expect the personnel systems to be tailored accordingly. Don’t act surprised when you feel like just another number. I asked one of my good friends and a former JAG officer why he left the Army. His reply was “I wanted to be part of a meritocracy.” That’s fine. He wanted to get paid for his abilities, not his longevity. He made the right choice. Being 1 of 1.4 million wasn’t for him.

Having said that, the military does make attempts to design evaluation systems that allow for effective “racking and stacking” of personnel by ability. However, let’s go back to that 1.4 million number. With that many people, designing a perfect and infallible system is impossible.

Lack of Mentorship. I grit my teeth when I hear about the military’s “lack of mentorship.” This is bullshit. Mentorship happens all the time. It happens at every meeting, training event, and social. Mentorship happens most effectively when junior leaders watch senior leaders at work. Again, this happens all the time. The problem is that many junior leaders don’t pay attention or believe that they need frequent feel-good conversations with their leaders or tummy rubs when they properly format a memo.

The problem is not a lack of mentorship in the military. The problem is a lack of junior leaders capable of or willing to recognize and learn from the mentorship they are given.

Senior leaders can provide mentorship, but they can’t internalize it for others.

Utilizing Skills. Nowhere is this more prevalent than in the Army’s Engineer branch.I love listening to young members of this corps. One in particular amused me.

“I have a degree in civil engineering and passed my fundamentals of engineering exam. Now, in the Army, I just learn how to blow stuff up,” he said.

I replied “Did you think you were going to be building a suspension bridge over a particularly scenic span of the Hudson River? Did you google Combat Engineer before you chose to enter the Army?”

And, with that, the conversation moved to another subject.

As an aside, would you complain about being paid to just “blow stuff up?” Me neither.

And Keith Lee is mad, mad, mad.

He discovered that Fiverr isn’t just for having videos made to creep-out your buddies.

Law Hawk Returns

He’s back, and better than ever.

Big thanks to JMo for getting this to me.

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