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Ken Adelman
Political advisor

Ken Adelman

A Reagan-era Ambassador and Arms Control Director, Ken Adelman is co-founder and vice-president of Movers and Shakespeares, which offers executive training and leadership development.

Some Skills Cannot be Taught

I found Tom Ricks' article interesting (as I find all his writings). To answer the question, yes, I believe his point is somewhat valid -- that the current crop of future US military leaders needs to broaden their perspectives (understanding a lot more than just military strategy and tactics) to include political, economic, and cultural subjects.

Second and related, I believe that these future officers would do better mixing and mingling with bright students studying an array of topics, rather than people just like them, planning to be US military officers.

Finally, a partial yes on the question of whether leadership can be taught. Partial because so much of it is style, courage, clarity of goal and quality of the individual -- to wit, Abraham Lincoln could not have been a poor leader -- and these critical elements cannot really be taught.
What can, however, be taught are certain techniques of leadership -- how to hold a meeting, change an organization, set ethical standards, motivate the staff, persuade another individual, etc.

And probably most usefully, leadership can be modeled. While not fully (or even, primarily) taught, it can be displayed (reading history helps a lot here). Then individuals seeing that model can try to imitate it at critical times. Such modeling can lead to mental mind-mapping (planning out how to act in a particular situation) which can, indeed, contribute to top-notch leadership.

By Ken Adelman

 |  April 20, 2009; 11:42 AM ET
Category:  Teaching Leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Mr. Ricks is that unique firebrand who knows how to start a conversation. But, Mr. Adelman, your comment that it is better to mix future officers with other bright young minds is off the mark. A recent Post story highlighted the scary fact that 60-70% of Ivy League graduates of recent vintage have taken jobs in investment banking. Apparently a huge portion of our intellectual capital has gone into creatively repackaging debts. Why add our combat leaders into this sad group? Cadets and Midshipmen choose Academies exactly for the reason that these institutions are different. Each one of them could easily attend a top notch civilian school on an ROTC scholarship--certainly that would be more fun that the intense regimen of drills, physical training, mental discipline, and limited privacy that service academies offer. We would do a disservice to the both the military and the academe by shuttering Sparta and dumping the Spartans on an unhappy Athens. One wonders what problem would be addressed by such a strategy. If Tom Ricks or anyone else is disappointed in the quality of American generalship, perhaps the blame is better laid somewhere in an offending officer's 30+ years of development as an officer, instead of at the feet of 4 years between the ages of 18 and 22. Captains of industry with Ivy League pedigrees have stunted our economic might in a display certainly worse than the vague "lack of creativity" Ricks describes to military leaders, yet I don't hear anyone calling for Harvard and Yale to be shut down. Leave Sparta to the Spartans.

Craig Thedwall, USNA class of 2003

Posted by: CraigThedwall | April 20, 2009 11:25 PM
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"Ken, you are an idiot." Nothing further needs to be said, others will try to go point by point with Ken and the other supposed scholar from the other article. However, I'll just be straight in my rebuttals and views on their perspectives and those who share Mr. Ricks views. They are idiots who do not know anything about the mission of the academies, what goes on there, or its academic prowess. They know nothing of its history or the numerous individuals that have served this country so greatly. They know nothing of the long gray line of graduates who have served with honor or of those that gave their lives so they could write such ridiculous statements. Maybe they should go for a walk in the cemetery at West Point or read a history book about the long gray line. The problem is they won't and they don't care. The enemies of the academics are academic and political hacks who have nothing better to do than stand on the sidelines and make erroneous comments that are completely misinformed. In contrast, west pointers go about their lives with honor serving this country not in full public view, but mostly in silence and with no recognition because they love this great country.

former cadet, James Pope
class of 2001

Posted by: usmaalum2001 | April 20, 2009 9:17 PM
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As an ex-cadet who left of his own volition after four years at West Point, and who can compare those four years to the two I have spent at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, I have a very unique perspective on this debate. There is no doubt in my mind that West Point is a fine institution and produces an incredible amount of great officers each year. But to compare West Point to other elite universities is like comparing apples and oranges. West Point is not in the business of creating students. West Point exists to produce Army officers, dedicated to a lifetime of service, and any academics that they happen to pick up are simply coincidental. West Point is not college. A daily routine that is structured to the minute, without avenues for creative exploration or thought is not college. But that's fine. That's what ROTC is for. At UNC, I have learned much much more about English Lit (my major) than I ever did at West Point. However, at West Point, I was groomed (effectively) to become a leader of soldiers. The system works. ROTC, OCS, and West Point are all integral to the officer corps make-up, and do not need fundamental alteration. West Point could probably streamline its budget, however.

Posted by: John_Keats | April 20, 2009 6:45 PM
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Mr. Adelman,

West Point cadets do have a broad perspective--this IS a four-year liberal arts college (best public liberal arts college in the nation according to U.S. News & World Report). Except in the summer, our cadets spend the vast majority of their time on academic, not military subjects.
A multi-level approach is used for the cadets’ academic development. 30 core courses throughout the cadets' four years provide foundations in mathematics, science, engineering, humanities, foreign languages, and behavioral and social sciences. What other college in the nation requires that breadth of courses? They take only eight military science courses and seven physical education courses.
During their junior and senior years, cadets take 10 to 14 courses that tailor to one of 45 majors--ranging from Arabic, to History, to Civil and Mechanical Engineering, to Economics, to Systems Engineering--resulting in a bachelor of science degree.
Furthermore, we have the most robust student activity program in the nation (according to the Princeton Review), and almost every cadet spends a semester of a summer abroad.
And we do “mix and mingle with bright students.” Just one example is the annual Student Conference on United States Affairs here that last year hosted 223 students from 125 schools throughout the U.S. and Canada, 14 delegates from foreign military schools, and 33 Fulbright scholars representing 30 countries http://tinyurl.com/cuszqb

Col. Bryan Hilferty, West Point Director of Communications

Posted by: bryan-hilferty | April 20, 2009 4:42 PM
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Ken Adelman doesn't have a clue as to what constitutes a West Point or Annapolis education - NOT A CLUE. He has no idea how the education is structured and he certainly doesn't know how cadets are exposed to a variety of viewpoints. During my son's career at West Point he spent time with the helicopter who spilled the beans on My Lai, he heard Mike Krzeseski lecture on leadership, he was lectured to by Noam Chomsky, he spent a summer working at a major pharmaceutical company, etc. etc. etc. Mr. Adelman, - please just slip into oblivion quiety instead of speaking about things you know not what.

Posted by: jersey2000 | April 20, 2009 12:48 PM
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