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George Reed
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George Reed

A retired U.S. Army Colonel, George Reed is an associate professor in the Department of Leadership Studies within the School of Leadership and Education Sciences at the University of San Diego.

Intellectual Awakening

I have always respected Mr. Ricks' contributions and in this case he asks another legitimate and provocative question. The system of professional military education is undoubtedly expensive, and there might be ways to accomplish the same goals through other approaches. Let us, however, avoid an overly narrow definition of the benefits that result from service academies and war colleges.

These institutions not only produce officers with a particular level of skill and competence, they are also repositories of a vast amount of professional knowledge and ethos. They are not just colleges; they are professional schools with a very focused purpose, and they accomplish that purpose very well. They are also institutions where deep and lasting relationships are forged that pay off over a lifetime of service.

I was not an academy graduate, but as a young lieutenant I looked upon my peers from West Point with admiration. As a result of their deep immersion in military culture, they had a head start on those of us who were commissioned from other sources. That advantage was less discernible after a few years of experience, but I'm sure the soldiers that served under academy graduates benefited from that additional expertise.

I must disclose that I was a graduate of the U.S. Army War College, and I taught there as well. That ten-month program of instruction served as an intellectual awakening that sustains me to this day. There are things taught at the war colleges that are not replicated in any other course of instruction. Comparing the senior service and joint colleges to civilian academic institutions is a case of comparing apples to oranges. On the one hand a war college education is no substitute for a civilian graduate degree for all the reasons that Ricks highlights in his article. On the other hand a civilian graduate program is also a poor substitute for attendance at a war college.

The question about whether leadership can be taught is one of the great and enduring questions of leadership studies. I do not believe that leadership can be taught in the sense that there is an academic program that will consistently produce good leaders. I do, however, believe that leadership can be studied, and through that study we can learn to take whatever raw materials we were born with and maximize them as we try to influence others.

Leadership is both a science and an art. There are few formulas that can be applied with confidence, yet there are patterns that we can discern and respond to in ways that can lead to a higher probability of success. I believe that organizations that study, argue about, and struggle with leadership development are inherently better organizations than those that do not.

By George Reed

 |  April 21, 2009; 6:32 AM ET
Category:  Teaching Leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Many Professors at civilian institutions with the requisite PhDs view their tenure as an entitlement. The Instructors at the Service Academies have a responsibility far greater than their civilian counterparts, preparing their students to lead young men and women in combat. Academy instructors are also held accountable for their own performance as teachers. This accountability comes in the form of annual reviews that go into their permanent performance records. They are held to a higher standard by the nature of their profession, the profession of arms.

Leadership cannot be taught in the classroom alone. Leaders are made through a rigorous program of classroom instruction, field problems that mirror real-world experiences offering the opportunity to fail and learn. The various commissioning sources (Academy, ROTC, and OCS) all provide the US Military with an officer corps that is diverse, thoughtful, adaptive and decisive.

Posted by: tck_keane | April 29, 2009 8:57 PM
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I read the Ricks article and am wondering if he has any first-hand knowledge of the institutions he is advising that we dismantle. How can he be any judge without having attended either of the three or the "second-rate" war colleges? Does he base this only on the fact that the instructors have Master's degrees instead of PhD.'s? Even universities are re-thinking research-based, tenured professors who care only about the next book they will publish because these people are not necessarily student-focused or good communicators.

Posted by: RebaBear | April 22, 2009 5:26 PM
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I read the Ricks article and am wondering if he has any first-hand knowledge of the institutions he is advising that we dismantle. How can he be any judge without having attended either of the three or the "second-rate" war colleges? Does he base this only on the fact that the instructors have Master's degrees instead of PhD.'s? Even universities are re-thinking research-based, tenured professors who care only about the next book they will publish because these people are not necessarily student-focused or good communicators.

Posted by: RebaBear | April 22, 2009 5:24 PM
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