Retaining Key Talent In a Transitioning Military

The military as an organizational structure has offered something unique for the last 14 years. It demonstrated itself as a transformative enterprise that has encouraged innovation, outside of the box solutions, and allowed junior leaders to make complex decisions with limited oversight.

Now that the wars are winding down, what has seemed exciting and dynamic for many is becoming standardized and deliberate.  Junior leaders often feel they have less influence within an organization. Only yesterday they were planning and coordinating for major contracts, large scale projects, and the defense of a village. Now they are not allowed to perform daily PT without an approved risk assessment and direct oversight. Many leaders cannot reconcile the two, and it results in frustration and resentment.

Brain DrainThe result is what has been coined by many as “the great brain drain.” It is the ensuing separation of strong and successful leaders from the military for greener pastures. The loss of quality leadership has lasting effects on the military institution as a whole as those leaders had a direct influence on the lives of many service members.  It will take years to train and develop new leaders, and during the interim a feared hollowing of the force will occur.

While it is worth noting that the last 14 years have been atypical for the US Army, for service members who have no firsthand experience of the military prior, the changes to a peacetime military seem contradictory and frustrating.

The military is by nature a regimented organization which establishes standards at a high level and enforces it to the lowest level. Within a fixed organization, the lack of organizational innovation can be overwhelming. In many cases, each new position follows the same actions and patterns of the person before, and the person before that as well. So how can an organization help to retain these individuals?

As leaders, it is important to challenge our subordinates. If the institution is static, the training plans and challenges proposed to our junior leaders can be fluid. By incorporating dynamic training and professional development, we can help to motivate these leaders. Professional development is not just about sitting in a room looking at PowerPoint slides. It is about posing challenging questions, seeing how differing individuals respond, and helping to guide them through the process.

Providing variations to the planning environment is important. Teaching subordinates to work at a level higher than they are used to and incorporating more extensive operational planning at their level. Leaders are used to being given explicit guidance for planning and development within specific left and right limits. This direct leadership is limiting, by giving intent based guidance we can empower them to think more for themselves.

Give leaders intent based guidance. Observe how they approach and solve problems, and help them to see different perspectives. Coach and mentor them, but let them also make mistakes and support them in their decision-making process. By realizing that development and happens when challenges are presented, you can begin to incorporate leader mentorship and development into your skill set as well.

Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.

Kyle Soler

Kyle Soler is an active duty Infantry Officer serving in the US Army. He has served in the military for more than 10 years, working his way from an Infantry Squad Leader to a Company Commander with multiple combat deployments to both Iraq and Afghanistan in between. Kyle earned his bachelor’s degree in History from Willamette University, and three Master degrees from Jones International University in Information Security Management, Health Care Management, and International Business. He also holds certifications in Six Sigma Lean and Six Sigma Lean Black Belt. His primary focus is realigning organizational priorities to get the most out of the time available in terms of training and development. Prior to entering military service, he worked as a fire fighter and an EMT. His areas of knowledge include military, training, leadership, disaster and continuity planning.
Kyle Soler

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