FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla: Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, commander of the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, delivered remarks on leader and concept development during the Association of the United States Army Winter Symposium and Exposition here today.

Dempsey began by explaining the conditions of the battlefield and its ramifications on the force and leader development.

“If you think about what was going on … in the late 19th century, that was an age of discovery and science and how systems fit together and the Industrial Age was affecting the social fabric and so forth,” he said.

“Systems are interdependent. And in their interdependence, if you want to keep up with the systems, then you have to evolve at least as fast as the system. And if you want to get ahead of the system, you have to evolve at least twice as fast.”

A way that TRADOC has been focusing on these concerns is through the Army Capstone Concept, published in December. The Capstone Concept addresses the conditions of the battlefield and how the Army is evolving to meet those demands through technology.

“It causes [leaders] to reconsider, rethink and challenge the assumptions upon which previous capstone concepts were made,” he said. “Some of the assumptions we’ve made about technology have just not been realized because adversaries, or potential adversaries, understand what it takes to deliver those first.”

Dempsey continued, “They’ve decentralized … they use the network and they’ve proliferated the technology. They live among the population. Which means that you can’t gain the kind of knowledge you think you can from a distance, and deal with it exclusively through precision.”

In order to combat decentralization, the Army has also had to decentralize and provide more decision-making power into the lower ranks.

“We’ve done it remarkably well and for the most part, invisibly. There are implications to that decentralization. If you’re on a path to build the network that affects echelons above [the brigade combat team], now you find yourself in a situation where what you really want is a network optimized at echelons below BCT.”

However, decentralization has also been met with challenges, but Dempsey believes that systems have to be able to adapt to new audiences, situations and needs.

“Those kinds of challenges clearer to us today after the challenges of the past eight years, but it also means that though you should, in reaction to the changes in the world, decentralize, you also better recognize that at some point, you may have to have the ability to reaggregate those resources.”

Dempsey also cited changes in leader development because of the different roles of Soldiers provided by full-spectrum operations.

“We’ve conceded that a leader must be grounded in not only tactics, techniques and procedures of force-on-force, but also in integrating his capabilities with other capabilities in a battle space that’s increasingly crowded and increasingly transparent. So now we choose the term ‘mission command’ because we think it sends the right message on what we’re about.”

As decision-making abilities move down the ranks, Dempsey reinforced that junior leaders need to be empowered with orders that have a balance of guidance and room for the junior leader to critically think and apply their skills to develop the situation.

“We used to sit and think that the best information came from the top down, but this document implies that the best information comes from the bottom up. And if it does, you have to prepare young people to deliver it and you have to prepare them to prevail in it.”

Dempsey assured a balance between preparing for future operations and maintaining a professional ethos will continue to be achieved through TRADOC schools.

“I’m worried about a drift in our fundamentals,” he said. “We will not allow that to happen. So as we hurry helter-skelter we will never forget the fact that there are things that are fundamental to our profession.”

Concluding his remarks, Dempsey took a look at the Army’s role in national security in a quickly changing world.

“We’ve talked about an environment where competitiveness is the norm. We’re in a competitive security environment. The dimension in which we have to prevail is the competitive learning environment because if we prevail here, we can make the changes and adaptations,” he said.

  • Chris

    General Dempsey’s speech parallels the “Army Leader Development Strategy” recently published at

    Wanted to respectfully offer several criticisms of the ALDS that may spur some healthy debate:

    The base assumption (foundational logic) of the strategy is complexity (and other related qualities such as dynamic, unanticipated challenges, ambiguity, and so on); yet, paradoxically, the argument is for leaders that must understand (e.g., leaders that “understand complex situations,” p. 9). This is a non-sequitur argument – if you can understand, then the situation is no longer complex or that you have created the illusion of understanding. Seems like the strategy should address the wickedness of complexity and that the leader and their staff may never understand. What then? (Hint: “appreciation” [Vickers, 1965], may be a more viable idea).

    There are related logical fallacies in the strategy. “Developing leaders” implies a deterministic model where one can “anticipate adaptations and transitions and enemy will make,” and “anticipate change,” or “string actions and activities together” (p. 4), and “anticipate consequences” (p. 9). That indicates the ideal leader will impart linear thinking/predictive models on dynamic situations; whereas, complexity science would indicate this is not possible. If the world and operational environments are so dynamic, how can we “progressively develop leaders” (p.6.) indicating a kind of pre-determined pathway when that pathway is indeterminable. How can we expect leaders who operate in this complexity to predict their developmental goals and achieve “their leader development objectives” (p. 10)? (Perhaps, at best, we can offer a wide spectrum of opportunities and remove some preordained “career paths” found in current HRC policies.)

    Setting objectives implies prediction and is contrary to emergence – a quality inherent to the logic of complexity science. How can one determine “proper training, education, and experience” (p. 11) if one cannot predict the novel emergence one will face? How can we have a “model accrual of skills and attributes” for development if we do not know what we are developing into (i.e. one cannot predict emergent nature of complex environments if one subscribes to the logic of complexity science and chaos theory). How can one learn to “astutely manage complexity” as asserted on page 13? I have seen nothing in the management literature associated with complexity theory to indicate this is remotely possible (i.e. the word “astute” indicates learned rather than openness to admit ignorance).

    The strategy has crafted/borrowed concepts or constructs that are inadequately developed (it relies on the power of the metaphors without extending the meaning of the root metaphors the strategy uses). Examples: “paradigm shift” (p. 4); “decentralized environment” (p. 5); “aggregate the ‘wisdom’” (p. 5); “cognitive tools” (p. 6); “operate decentralized” (p. 7); “leveraging technology” (p. 7); “global mindset” (p. 8); “intercultural edge” (p. 8); “expeditionary mindset” (p. 10); “era of persistent conflict” (p. 10); “JIIM environments” (p. 13); “information skills” (p. 13); among others. At least use endnotes/footnotes to support the enhanced meanings of these constructs. Where’s the evidence of science/research? There are hundreds of studies on leadership outside the DOD – why have we not synthesized from those sources of knowledge to avoid cultural insularity? Seems like the strategy reverts to “trait theory” that was debunked in 1948 by Stogdill and Bass.

    Additional comments:

    • The second paragraph on page 2 indicates the Army has always been engaged in developing its officers in the way we would frame that idea today. I do not think historians would agree. Some of our greatest leaders could only be “career-mapped” in retrospect. Again, perhaps the career development is a rather random and often lucky pathway rather than determinable.

    • The strategy claims that “design” is a “methodology” (p. 6) is unsubstantiated in this paper. One might argue that “design” is an idea about synthesizing science and art – a sort of theory, philosophy, or paradigm…but I know of no literature on design science that considers it merely a methodology. I think the essay understates the philosophical implications of “design” with respect to the planning culture of the military.

    • Producing “mentors” as indicated on page 11 may be tantamount to an attempt at social engineering. The phenomenon of “mentoring” happens as an emergent property of social interaction and is not something that can be programmed. In any case, the paper does not provide evidentiary support that it can be programmed (i.e. taught, etc.).

    • The prospect of “replicating the complexity of the operational environment in the classroom and at home station” (p. 11) is not supported in the essay. This is doubtful of not impossible. Have seen no educational research that this is feasible/efficacious. (Instead, have seen research that supports education using real world issues [such as Mintzberg’s book, “Managers Not MBAs”].)

    • The strategy makes this questionable assertion, “We are not building an adequate “bench of senior leaders for the future” (p. 14) needs to be explained and supported. How do we know this to be true? Where is the supporting evidence?

    • The strategy asserts the “new norm is persistent conflict.” This sounds “buzz-wordy.” Would a credible historian agree or has mankind always been in some state of conflict (e.g., even during the so-called Cold War the US had more combat casualties than in both the Iraq and Afghanistan theaters). Where is the basis that we are in some kind of anomaly in time (the “era” argument)?

    • Discussions of leaders that have knowledge of culture indicates “known knowns” rather than what anthropologists and other sociologists would probably refer to as tentative hypotheses. Unfortunately, there are no “truths” in social science – just some disciplined speculations.