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Command Sergeants Major - Is there a Problem?

J.D. Pendry

I just read an article posted in the Soldiers for the Truth (SFTT) Newsletter, which I subscribe to and read. The problem is, as do many newsletters of the sort, that it sometimes allows itself to be a whine rag.

Someone identified as D.O.W. rambled on for quite sometime about how he has never been near a good CSM and goes into some detail to describe the poor example set by those he has known. He does offer his description of what constitutes a good CSM, which actually describes attributes all Army leaders should possess. He's had good first sergeants he says, good company commanders, and one pretty good battalion commander, but not one single good CSM. Obviously, his experience with CSM leadership has not been to his liking. It causes me to wonder about what his position in life is. Without some information about where D.O.W. is or has been in his military experience, it's difficult to assess the value of his comments.

Each of us can sit and make a list of sorry leaders or sorry examples of leadership we know or have known. I know from my own experience that some CSMs get wrapped up in the perks, politics and power of the job and in doing that set a pitiful leadership example. However, I find that is true of any leadership position or rank - generals, battalion commanders, company commanders - right on down to team leaders.

So what's the point? Leader bashing is non-productive and people who spend time doing it are often trying to build up their own measure of self-worth and erroneously believe they are building themselves up in the eyes of others. Leader bashing focuses on the negative. It will not make someone who participates in it a better leader nor will it cause a poor leader to improve. Good leaders spend their time looking down not up and for every bad leadership example you can think of they can give you a good one. Good leaders note bad examples of leadership for what they are, but concentrate on remembering and modeling the good ones. They focus effort where it can have the most impact and do that by directing their attention towards providing good leadership to those they are responsible for while shielding them from the actions of poor leaders.

As a first sergeant and command sergeant major, I was subordinate to a whole bunch of leaders - most importantly 9 commanders and 6 different command sergeants major. All of them had good and bad qualities - just like me. Some of them had more positive qualities than others did, but all had something positive to offer. The choice you have to make when evaluating leaders is do you spend your time learning to lead from those good examples or do you spend it leader bashing and dwelling on the bad examples.

Now, are there problems with command sergeants major? Are they becoming enlisted generals as the title of the SFTT article suggests? Frankly, starting the debate with such a suggestion nearly eliminates the possibility that there may be another point of view expressed - maybe a subliminal editorial message.

I've never heard a problem of the type mentioned in the article that wasn't actually a command problem. The commander sets the climate and direction for the command. The command sergeant major operates within the parameters given him or her by the commander - period. No matter what one may think, a person does not get to be a CSM by sitting on his or her hands. Most, without having that parameter setting discussion with the commander, will strike out and do their own thing. If a CSM is not fit, not taking care of soldiers, is rapped up in custom seats for his HMMWV, and rock painting that's a command problem plain and simple and the commander needs to fix it. Allowing a poor example of leadership to continue is a poor example of command. If D.O.W. never had a good CSM then I find it difficult to believe that he had one "pretty good" battalion commander.

© 2000 J. D. Pendry