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West Point Cadets
West Point cadets and instructors

West Point Cadets

A group of 13 cadets and four instructors from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point take on the weekly 'On Leadership' questions. Who better to explore the gray areas of leadership than members of The Long Gray Line?

The danger of complacency

Question: After a well-chronicled, 30-year decline into bankruptcy, General Motors is now profitable again and going public. What does it say about its former executives, directors and union leaders that such a large, complex organization could be revived in less than two years? What factor best explains why leaders don't take the hard but obvious decisions necessary to prevent an impending disaster?

Rapid change in productivity levels in any organization is a clear sign of internal organizational change. In this case, the leadership within GM was recycled--and for the better. In 2009, board members of GM who had worked together for years were replaced with a new assembly of directors. Since this significant modification, GM has emerged from the depths of bankruptcy and is now reporting a noteworthy profit.

When a group of individuals works together for quite some time, the environment becomes comfortable. Unfortunately, a comfortable environment brings contentment, stagnation and group think. Before long, there is no striving for advancement or progress.

In the army, leadership is continuously cycled. Lieutenants tend to only be a platoon leader for 15 months and then become an executive officer or take another staff position. Captains command companies for no longer than 24 months. Further, any military family can relate to the saying, "Home is where the Army sends you." This consistent leadership change keeps unit atmosphere continuously fresh, preventing complacency issues like GM had.

A new leader or team reorganization can bring innovative ideas to previously set standards. Without this cyclical development, progress eventually levels off. Large organizations, like GM, cannot afford to be content. In such a high-paced business world, there is too much competition to be complacent.

-- Cadet Megan Snook

Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.

By West Point Cadets

 |  November 16, 2010; 10:31 AM ET
Category:  Accomplishing Goals , Corporate leadership , Crisis leadership , Failures , Leadership weaknesses , Making mistakes , Military Leadership , Organizational Culture Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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My guess here is that there must be a benefit to not knowing how things are suppose to work, or possibly what to expect, at any level. Which in business all starts with a single question of "Why can't it be done this way ?". For only single minds think alike, right ?

Posted by: jralger | November 18, 2010 5:51 AM
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I am not sure I would recommend exporting the Army's short-term perspective fueled by brief command tours to the business sector. The continual churn of leadership might be good for some things, but there are some definite advantages to a stable leadership team and real costs associated with moving key leaders around every 15-24 months. New isn't necessarily good, and seasoned isn't necessarily bad. Leadership moves are better based on performance and needs of the organization than a calendar.

Posted by: ger7397 | November 17, 2010 5:18 PM
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Right. I heard you. You are saying that the army does it right and that business should follow its example. I look forward to seeing the evidence that your premise is well grounded.

Posted by: marcosolinas | November 16, 2010 7:28 PM
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