by Major Juan Remy
In the military, leadership positions or promotion is like a pyramid. They become scarce gradually and are sought by many leaders. Therefore, leaders feel that they always have to prove their intelligence to be recognized while denigrating others to have an edge to climb the ranks. This article discusses Dr. Carol Dweck’s mindset perspectives and Liz Wiseman’s insights on leaders’ traits, which can be combined to effectively assist military leaders’ development. Introducing Jim Fisher’s integrative model (also discussed in this article) in military professional military education (PME) will help reinforce and serve as a foundation for leaders to become more innovative, adaptive, and well-rounded facilitators. Leaders must not think that they are endowed with ingenuity or are the only ones with the solution or vision for their organizations.
The military has many definitions of leadership. Leadership discussions, reports, or writings emphasize how leaders must reach decisions and achieve their organizations’ success. In the army, however, a zero-defects mentality contributes to a fixed mindset. Leaders concentrate solely on meeting their superiors’ intent, obtaining results, and avoiding failures at all costs. The zero-defects mentality contradicts contemporary leadership concepts in the information age. Considering that the Army wants leaders to be innovative, adaptive, and think critically; subsequently, superiors must accept trials, errors, mistakes, and failures without repercussions at all leadership levels.
Dr. Dweck (2016), in her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, discusses two concepts that could be introduced as part of the leadership curriculum in military PME. The ideas recognize the problem between the zero-defects mindset and what leadership needs to be in the 21st century. This article explains the zero-defects perspective in the military, how it contributes to a fixed mindset, expands on the different leadership mindsets concepts, and finally provides the integrative model as a solution.
Zero-Defects Leadership Mindset
The zero-defects leadership mindset must be explained and understood to comprehend the problem from Dr. Dweck’s concept’s perspective. Beliefs, attitudes, behaviors, and values are the elements of culture that contribute to mindsets. In the military, we can distinguish the characteristics of a zero-defects philosophy that leaders manifest. They focus on one endstate: to receive a top-ranked evaluation report and stay competitive for promotion. They validate their intelligence, personality, and character from how they rank in their year group. When military leaders are asked about failure, they will tell you that it is not an option. This mentality is ingrained into leaders at an early stage of their careers. For example, officers’ second lieutenant’s reports are made available as part of their overall promotion consideration records. That reinforces the notion that, even as new lieutenants, there is no room for mistakes. Errors or mistakes will devalue leaders’ careers over their peers. Therefore, junior officers are in constant competition with their peers to receive a most qualified rating, rather than learn from their mistakes, try new techniques and tactics, and focus on development to become well-rounded leaders. The army’s growing focus is on mission command as a philosophy, empowering junior leaders to make decisions independently while meeting their superior’s intent. One must ask, does the current mindset allows innovation and adaptation? Simply put, does the zero-defects mentality contributes to a fixed-mindset culture in the army from Dr. Dweck’s research?
Growth vs. Fixed Leadership Mindset
A zero-defects culture creates leaders that 1) are inclined to get results at all cost, 2) see failures as a sign of inferiority, 3) want and must be the decision-maker, 4) avoid any novelty that they fear will not show their ingenuity, and 5) believe that they need to be at the top and the start of all decisions within their organization. Dr. Dweck described those types of leaders with a fixed mindset. She defines fixed-mindset leaders as those who believe that intelligence, ability, and potential are innate and cannot be cultivated or learned. Leaders with a fixed-mindset see themselves as the “few of the great.” They acknowledge that their leadership is indispensable to others. Their wit is superior in their organization, and preach elitism when defining leadership. Therefore, those leaders become micromanagers, supervise all activities, and require their subordinates to report frequently.
Consequently, fixed-minded leaders teach, coach, mentor, and demand the same from their subordinates to further ingrain the same mindset in the army1. The Army Doctrine Publication (ADP) 6-22, Army Leadership (2019)2, defines leadership, provides its purpose, enumerates its components, and is a model to follow. However, the model concentrates on the individual as a leader of a team, not in a team. Fixed-mindset leaders believe that every team needs a leader to direct and helpers to execute their intent and operate correctly. But, leaders with a growth-mindset will counter the mindset as mentioned above.
Dr. Dweck explained that growth-mindset leaders see themselves as leaders in a team. Those leaders believe that talents and abilities are not inert. Growth-mindset leaders are confident that time and experience will cultivate qualities. Their focus is to develop others around them because they believe that they will benefit from guiding others to success. They see themselves as part of the process to solve problems in their organization, rather than hold superior knowledge and approval authority. Growth-mindset leaders focus on innovation. They see trials and errors as part of achievement, and adaptation as a complement to failures. Having a growth mindset is not enough to lead. Specific effects must be applied to contribute to organizational success.
The Diminisher vs. multiplier mindset
In her book, Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter, Wiseman (2017)3 describes the “diminisher” and “multiplier” mindset in leadership. She describes diminishers as leaders with regressive traits. Those leaders always know, direct, and tell their subordinates. Those leaders believe that they must be, know, and do first and continuously in their organization. That mindset puts leaders at the top and behaves like a king with serfs. Wiseman explains that leaders with a diminishing mindset think they are the ultimate decoder of any organizations’ challenge. They believe that every decision must be routed or have their approval. They feel that purpose, direction, and motivation must come only from them. Therefore, they always think that the energy of their organization relies upon them. Those leaders feel their involvement in everything is a must since they believe that every subordinate is not as competent or intelligent. Those leaders provide an “addition effect” where they can offer more resources to solve problems but leave others unused. Because they are “result-driven,” those leaders add to their capabilities, which often create a surplus. However, those leaders will focus on getting the job done at all costs. Those leaders are like well-talented athletes who get contracted to provide success to teams while getting all the credits. Their team succeeds because they conceal their colleagues’ talents or productivity while thinking that they are indispensable to the organization.
On the other hand, a multiplier is a leader that can identify and cultivate wit and acumen in anyone around them and make their subordinates smarter. The multipliers do not focus on where they are in the hierarchy or how much they know, can be, or do. Compared to talented soccer players, they use their teammates’ talents to score goals and win as a team. Multipliers identify knowledge and intelligence in their organization and collectively achieve results.
When leaders move to a new organization, superiors and subordinates often ask them, “What do they bring or have to add to their team or organization?”. As leaders, we always want to bring a new vision and new capabilities in our organization to accomplish the mission. That mentality contributes to the “adding effect” in any organization. However, that addition can translate to a “subtraction effect” when leaders leave and move to new organizations. At times, organizations suffer from those leaders’ absence and will go through the same challenges every time they receive a new leader who continues to only “add” to the organization. Wiseman attributes the “adding effect” to diminishers, and subsequently states that there is a more advantageous way for leaders to assure that their organization continuously progress and succeed when they leave. She affirms that the “multiplier effect” will allow leaders to develop and deploy further from their subordinates. While maximizing the resources available to accomplish their goals and maintain success, a multiplier enables leaders and subordinates to focus on force generators.
The Integrative Leadership Model
Jim Fisher (2016)4 developed a leadership grid by integrating three models that leaders can apply to understand causality effects, people as individuals and groups, and finally implementing strategies that can be used for future challenges or opportunities. The integrative model comprises managing, directing, and engaging models. Each model consists of three components and focuses on achieving specific goals.
The Managing model specifies to attain a command and control mindset. Its three components: plan, organize, and control, provide the steps to reach the desired future and intended outcome while implementing critical tasks that require completion and continuous follow up.
The Directing model focuses on guiding people of an organization to gain individual realization while contributing to the enterprise. Its three elements: vision, alignment, and motivation, allow leaders to bring people in the organizations under one umbrella to accomplish their mission and become one entity.
The Engaging model focuses on giving each individual in the organization more relevance and prove their contributions to the overall goal. Its three components: values, clarity, and involvement, focus on getting people to naturally react and engage in tasks when circumstances arise without waiting on leaders’ guidance.
While the managing model focuses on task accomplishment, the directing model provides the reasoning behind the tasks to execute. The engaging model then provides people the desire and motivation to continually contribute to their organization because they feel a sense of value, appreciation and that they are needed and wanted at all times.
The Army demands leaders to be adaptive, innovative, and critical thinkers. It can reaffirm those needs by implementing the integrative model coupled with a growth and multiplier mindset in military PME to reinforce the concept to leaders. Organizations will benefit from leaders who are ready to execute command and control with the “adding effect,” inspire others while aligning all resources to a vision, and use the model as the foundation to build teams of team. Those leaders will learn to be multipliers while being leaders in a team rather than leaders of a team.
1 Dweck, Carol S. Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. New York: Random House., 2016
2 Department of the Army (DA). ADP 6-22: Army Leadership. Washington, DC: HQ., Dept. of the Army, 2019
3 Wiseman, Liz. Multipliers: How The Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter. New York, NY: HarperBusiness, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, 2017.
4 Fisher, Jim. The Thoughtful Leader: A Model of Integrative Leadership. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2016.
5 MindTools. “What Is Leadership?” Leadership Skills Training from MindTools.com., 2017. Accessed August 06, 2017. https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newLDR_41.htm.
Major Juan Remy (U.S. Army), is an Air Defense officer with 22 years of both enlisted and officer leadership experience. He has been married for 21 years, has three children, and is currently stationed in Wiesbaden, Germany. His last assignment was at the Joint Multinational Readiness Center (JMRC) as an Observer Controller (OC). He earned a Bachelor of Science in liberal arts with a concentration in Psychology, a Master in Organizational Leadership Studies, a Master in Military Arts & Science (MMAS), and a Master of Science in Cybersecurity. MAJ Remy is currently a doctoral candidate in Educational Leadership. The views contained herein do not represent an official position of the U.S. Army, or the United States Government.