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Col. Charles D. Allen
Military scholar

Col. Charles D. Allen

Colonel Charles D. Allen (U.S. Army, Ret.) is the Professor of Cultural Science in the Department of Command, Leadership, and Management at the U.S. Army War College.

'In-progress review'

A year ago, On Leadership posed the question, "Amidst crisis, how should Obama define success?" In my response, written the week of the inauguration, I referred back to the challenges faced by FDR upon his inauguration in 1933 and the benchmark set to measure achievements in the first hundred days and in that first year of his presidency. I wrote then:

"Charismatic, a builder of teams, and an intuitive leader, FDR had great power and was virtually unchallengeable when the nation was in crisis. Some have noted similar characteristics of President Obama, and the world is watching to see just how he measures up to these expectations. Will he succeed in establishing a vision, like FDR, and then leading the nation through these turbulent times?...

What is clear is that President Obama faces enormous challenges. We as citizens hope that the team that he assembles will be able to work with Congress and our international partners to address the myriad of problems. That will be the first measure of success."

At this one-year mark for President Obama, I offer another military "best practice" - the In-Progress Review. It is part of our Army culture to continually assess our performance on critical tasks and missions. We ingrain in our junior officers and our sergeants the need to conduct reviews at the tactical and organizational levels in order to critically evaluate what we do and to discern lessons that would improve future performance at the next iteration of execution. We ask, "What was planned and supposed to happen? What actually happened and Why? What should we learn from this in order to do better?"

This low-level process is useful to more senior leaders to re-affirm the vision they have put forth, to re-validate underlying assumptions and first principles, to see what has changed in the external environment and with stakeholders, and to determine whether the strategies require revision.

As leaders in our communities and in our nation, there is value in this approach as we look at the events of the past year--the economic crisis, the conduct of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, the challenges of health-care reform, and the way business is done within our Congress between both parties. While we may not agree on the "how to" of strategies, it is important that we share in the vision and values to care for our citizens and the nation.

What have we as leaders really learned in the past year and what needs to change?

Read all responses to the On Leadership question: In response to this week's On Leadership question: One year into his presidency, what has been Barack Obama's most significant -- or most unexpected -- leadership strength or weakness?

By Col. Charles D. Allen

 |  January 21, 2010; 1:02 PM ET
Category:  Presidential leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: Beat the drum louder | Next: Presidential 360 review


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I was in a unit at Fort Lewis, WA when the In-Progress Review was first introduced to the Army. The resulting change in my unit was dramatic. Leaders listened more to their subordinates and a great number of changes were made not only in our tactical operations, but also how we lived and worked together. In short, it built a unified team.

Some of our commanders were humbled by lowly privates that pointed out the need for leaders to communicate more clearly and/or change their leadership style in order to gain the higher levels of trust necessary to build and maintain a highly effective organization. If you doubt this I recommend reading "The Prodigal Soldiers."

Since leaving the Army,I have worked as a consultant in the area of Organizational Effectiveness. I have regularly introduced the In-Progress Review to my corporate clients. It is noteworthy that the departments in those corporations that readily adopted it and continue to use it, today (10+ years for some), enjoy a team of employees focused on continuious improvement in all areas within their control and have lower turnover rates. Those departments that didn't adopt it, continue to bump around, have disruptive internal disagreements and not only bleed good employees that leave, but are not able to retain good leaders.

Corporate America continues to reject the wonderful lessons it can learn from military training and development techniques that are far advanced from their civilian counterparts. The military has long shown that effective leadership is built on an established group of behavioral dimensions that can be learned and groomed from the lowest to the highest levels within the military.

Corporate America needs to learn and adopt these lessons before it's too late.

Posted by: MajorJeffJ | January 22, 2010 10:52 AM
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