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Why Quitters Quit


J. D. Pendry



One of the first lessons you must learn if you want to be a good leader is how to be a good follower.  Army doctrine tries to condition everyone to be leaders, and often causes us to think of a person as a leader based on the rank he or she wears.  One of JD's truths is that rank is an excellent indicator of one's pay grade, but not his or her leadership ability.  An Army reality is that most of your time spent in uniform is following not leading. I equate it to a trip to the commissary with my wife.  Occasionally I get to make a decision, but most often, I just get to push the cart.


When I get to make a decision, I ensure my chances of getting to make another by accepting some reality.  The decision I make must be within the parameters of my leader's guidance and philosophy on leading.  Now that doesn't mean that I'm a sheep, a follower not capable of individual thought, it just means that I understand and accept my role in the team.  It also doesn't mean that I wouldn't take another approach if I were the leader in charge.  My role in the team, however, is to support the leader as long as what he or she is doing is legal and moral and does not needlessly harm or endanger soldiers. 


If you have some difficulty understanding this concept I suggest you use this technique.  Whenever you contemplate a leadership decision, try to place yourself in the leader's position.  When I do that, the first thing I ask is what would I want if I were the leader.  That's usually the only question I need to ask, because if I was the leader what I would want most is the cooperation of subordinate leaders, their input before a decision is made and their support once it's made.  It's an application of the golden rule.


Now, I suppose you want to know what all of that has to do with why quitters quit.  As my favorite first sergeant would likely say, come on over here my son, I'm going to explain it for you.


I left the Army officially on September 30, 1999.  Twenty-eight years and some change after I signed up.  I had been all that I could be to the Army.  I made a personal decision I felt was best for the Army and me.  So, without blaming the reason for my decision on anyone or any thing, I filled up my cardboard box and pointed my F-150 toward West Virginia.


Nowadays, people are leaving the Army and are blaming their reason for leaving on everyone and everything.  Their reason of the day is poor senior leadership.  It wouldn't surprise me if some day support groups sprung up to rebuild these frustrated young leaders and many of them are diagnosed with some form of poor leader inflicted post-traumatic stress disorder. 


The pundits and doomsayers are telling us it's the Army's best and brightest that are leaving the service because of that poor senior leadership.  I reply to that with one of my favorite West Virginia expressions, hog-snot, which is another synonym for bovine scatology.  I say that for a couple of reasons.  First, it's an insult to the men and women serving around the world to uphold these quitters as the best and brightest because it implies that those who didn't quit are less capable of being quality soldiers.  Secondly, I cannot recall a time during my career when I was in full agreement with all the leadership decisions that drove my life.  That didn't make them bad decisions just ones that I might not choose.  There is the crux of the issue as they say.  The have it your way generation has difficulty accepting it someone else's way therefore they don't fit well into the Army's version of democracy.  They never learned the critical art of following.  Somewhere along the way, either at a service academy or in ROTC someone told them that today you are a cadet and tomorrow you're a leader and most of them bought it.  They never learned about pushing the cart.


Those who are leaving the Army are doing so because they no longer want to serve.  The desire is gone and the long, passionate and often scathing letters they write is the tool they use to make themselves feel better about quitting.  Many of them entered the service on a Desert Storm high and soon found out that there is nothing glamorous or easy about being a soldier in a drawn-down peacetime army.  They also discovered that the instant gratification and have it your way approach their generation is accustomed to doesn't exist in the olive-drab world.  They simply lack patience and the drive necessary to stick with something as uncertain and difficult as a soldier's life and they refuse to put in the necessary time learning to follow before demanding to lead.  They're quitting when it's tough and have the need to degrade other leaders on their way out the door - other leaders who didn't quit by the way.  What's interesting to contemplate is how these so-called best and brightest would react if their subordinates openly challenged their decisions.


They are spreading blame about for their quitting in order to lessen their guilt burden for taking a taxpayer paid for education out into an economy that's begging them to and paying top dollar for their qualifications.  That's fine I suppose.  I certainly cannot begrudge a person the desire to improve his lot in life, but spare us (me anyway) from the diatribe on how poorly you feel that you can't do the things you want to do and train the way you want to train.  You're in a predicament you wouldn't be in if you spent a little more time analyzing your leadership skills and decisions and a little less time with those of your boss.


Here's a question for you as you seek that greener leadership pasture.  Do you really think that life is so rosy out here that you'll be in an ideal situation with great leadership?  If that's what you believe, allow me once again to say hog snot.  The peak of the leadership pyramid is tiny out here.  Everyone else is a cart pusher.  However, you'll discover that soon enough and you can exercise your option to quit again any time you like. 


For me there was nowhere else to go in the Army so I went home.  In the case of these youngsters, there is always another assignment and another opportunity to meet the one life-changing leader that usually comes along in a military career.  I met mine early on and stayed around long enough to meet several more.  All of them had a prevailing quality that made them great leaders of soldiers.  The tougher the situation got or the more ridiculous the orders seemed the harder they focused their attention down - toward their soldiers.  An approach that always paid off.  Any so-called leader who spends his time criticizing and second-guessing the decisions of his leaders is focusing attention in the wrong direction.  This person is dangerous for soldiers.


I heard someone say once that everyone can't be a soldier, and when that person comes along we should thank them for their time spent and send them home.  I have a son in the Army and I'd prefer that he not be led by quitters. So thanks for your time guys and adios.