If It Ain’t Broke, Break It!

Part of leadership is questioning the “hows” and “whys” of the things we do. In every thing I write concerning leadership, I always make an effort to clearly explain WHY something should be done a certain way as well as explaining how it should be done. Understanding what’s behind a decision is a key part of being a leader. Leaders should NEVER do something simply because “we’ve always done it that way”, they must have a definite goal in mind and be sure that what they do helps reach that goal. And be prepared to make a strong case justifying your decisions.

To help decide the value of any plan or program, we should ask ourselves the following questions:

  • What’s our goal?
  • Is our plan helping us reach that goal?
  • What are the advantages of our plan?
  • What are the problems with our plan?

The example I’m going to use to illustrate this point is the physical fitness program used at most encampments. Ever since the first primitive Cadet hauled itself from the primordial ooze, encampment goers have been rising at dawn to greet the day by getting dirty and working up a sweat. It was done when I was a Cadet and it’s done today. Few, if any, question the wisdom or need for this. It’s pretty much always been done that way and, without applying some practical leadership skills, it will probably always be that way.

So, what’s the goal of the encampment physical fitness program? Most would respond that it is to get Cadets in better shape. However, there are a couple problems with this answer. First: no one is going to get in shape in week; second: physical fitness is NOT a goal of encampment. CAPM 52-16 does not state ‘physical fitness’ as a goal, it merely requires six hours of “physical activity/CPFT”. So, what is the TRUE goal of PT at encampment? Checking our list of encampment goals, the only one that seems to fit is “instill group cooperation and teamwork”.

With our goal of “instilling group cooperation and teamwork” in mind, is our plan of rousing the Cadets at 0530 for an hour of huffing and puffing around the base helping us achieve that goal? Probably not. When PT is done we have no better of a team than when PT started. The Cadets who can run are annoyed at the ones who can’t, the ones who can’t wish it was all over and the Cadet Staff sleeps through it half the time. Are the any advantages or problems? Well, the Cadets are up and ready to go; but they also have to shower and straighten the barracks before the training day can begin. Cadets who showered the night before are going to shower again. PT has probably eaten an hour or more of the morning schedule.

Since our current plan isn’t working, a new plan is needed to reach our goal. But, while rethinking doctrine is a good idea, there’s no reason to completely reinvent the wheel. Looking within the Cadet Program for inspiration, we find the volleyball portion of the NDTC. Volleyball – and other team sports – will definitely help us “instill group cooperation and teamwork”. Advantages? Most Cadets enjoy these activities and, best of all, there’s room for Cadets of varying physical abilities to participate without standing out as failures. Team sports also make a nice evening activity before barracks and free time, during which Cadets can shower at their leisure. Problems? Well, there’s not PT to wake everyone up; but then an enterprising First Sergeant and the promise of breakfast can take care of that.

Tradition is a good thing. Every organization needs traditions to set it apart and give its members a sense of their own history. However, training methods and goals shouldn’t be dictated by tradition – they should be based on what’s needed and what works. As a leader you should always think about what you do and why. Don’t be afraid to suggest changes! Just think about those changes logically and make meaningful improvements.

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