Innovative training methods mold next generation leaders
Lt. Col. Kris Ellis
442nd Signal Battalion
September 12, 2008
A seminar recently met, breaking into working groups, talking through scenarios; but there were no agendas, no established break times and really no boundries or guidance given.
The instructor didn't even introduce himself. The students could just let their thoughts run. Could freeing up the training environment help leaders learn how to make decisions fast?
A group of thirty officers, noncommissioned officers and Department of the Army civilians found out during a day-long workshop August 21 titled "Deciding Under Pressure ... and Fast". The facilitator, retired Maj. Donald Vandergriff, teacher, author and lecturer specializing in leadership education and training, is currently with the Army Capabilities Integration Center.
The Leader College of Information Technology hosted the workshop as part of its on-going efforts to explore new possibilities in Army Training and Leader Development.
The Army's senior leadership has recognized the need to reshape our leader education programs. Gen. George Casey, Jr., the Army Chief of Staff, published his "Army Training and Leader Development Guidance" that states that the Army must "think differently about how we develop our leaders ...". Gen. William Wallace, commanding general of the Training and Doctrine Command, published his "Fiscal Year 2009 TRADOC Commander's Training Guidance" noting "our officer education and training must continually adapt to lessons learned while producing agile and adaptive leaders able to handle the challenges of full-spectrum operations."
Vandergriff noted that the Army "used to train leaders 'what to think' but the Army is realizing we must create leaders that are adaptable; know 'how to think', and have intuition."
Vandergriff has conducted this workshop 31 times. In addition to conducting the workshop at the Infantry and Armor Centers of Excellence, he has conducted the workshop for civilian law enforcement.
The workshop would not have passed a TRADOC Quality Assurance inspection. The students knew the start time for the event, and very little else. The workshop ran non-stop all day for its entire duration, except for an hour for lunch. He did not provide a training schedule. The students did not even know when or if they could take breaks. The point of these seemingly trivial omissions was to force adaptability on the participants, but more importantly, to send a powerful, almost-subliminal message to an audience deeply rooted in TRADOC?s instructional methodologies ... to paraphrase Casey and Wallace, "you need to think differently".
The centerpiece of the workshop was what Vandergriff calls Tactical Decision Games. TDG's are a tool that provide an efficient and effective way to teach aspiring leaders, intuitive decision making - or, as the Army calls it, rapid decision making. A TDG is a cheap tool, but it is intellectually expensive.
"Intellectually expensive" means that TDGs put demands on instructors that go beyond most "turnkey" curriculums used today. The LCIT personnel in attendance participated in a number of TDG's during the course of the workshop. Vandergriff challenged the audiences' preconceptions, and introduced the participants to a revolutionary approach to education.
Vandergriff said, "Why not begin the reform where it all begins? If Army leaders really want to 'transform' the force, then they should start with the next generation of potential leaders. Earlier is better... transform how the Army trains its new aspiring leaders."
It was fitting that Vandergriff's workshop took place in Greely Hall. Adolphus Greely was a Polar explorer, a recipient of the Medal of Honor, and one of the most creative thinkers in the history of the U.S. Army Signal Corps. In 1906, Greely recruited William Lendrum Mitchell into the US Army Signal Corps. In 1909, Greely (although retired at the time) had a hand in recruiting Henry Harley Arnold into the Signal Corps. William Mitchell became Gen. "Billy" Mitchell, who is regarded as the father of the U.S. Air Force. Henry Arnold became Gen. "Hap" Arnold, the first and only General of the Air Force, who oversaw the development of the intercontinental bomber, the jet fighter, the extensive use of radar, global airlift, and atomic warfare. Keep in mind that the Wright Brothers made their first controlled, powered and sustained heavier-than-air human flight on Dec. 17, 1903. Hosting a workshop on creating and nurturing adaptive leaders in a building named after Adolphus Greely is lyrical.
While the Army's senior leaders clearly recognize the need for cultural change, now comes the hard part: the "how to" of teaching and nurturing adaptability. "Deciding Under Pressure ... and Fast" provided the attendees with critical insights into "the hard part" of educating adaptive leaders. The workshop will play an invaluable role as the LCIT transforms officer education in support of the Army, Secretary Pete Geren, Casey, Wallace, and Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Foley, U.S. Army Signal Center and Fort Gordon commanding general.
Vandergriff's works include "Path to Victory: The Revolution in Human Affairs", a chapter in "Digital Wars: A View from the Frontlines", and "Raising The Bar: Creating and Nurturing Adaptability to Deal with the Changing Face of War".