Military Gear & Army Surplus Gear Blog

Dave Prakash: A Tale of Two Leaders: Strategies for Enhancing Military Leadership

Dave Prakash: A Tale of Two Leaders: Strategies for Enhancing Military Leadership


[MUSIC]>>In the aftermath of the 9-11
I quit my career as a doctor so I could serve in the Air Force as a pilot. And at the end of my 13 year career, I had the opportunity to work as
a dual qualified pilot and physician. I was an operational test pilot
in a nuclear bomber as well as a flight surgeon. And there was 11 of us in
the entire Air Force at the time. And over my service, I had
the privilege and honor to work for so many incredibly inspiring,
talented, and motivating leaders. But over that time I also saw how often
our senior leaders fell short of what we needed them to be, and
that’s why I’m on this stage today. I want to improve Air Force leadership and
make it the service that this nation needs it to be, specifically,
by focusing on how we improve our leaders. To help you understand the leadership
gap that I’m talking about, I want to share with you
a tale of two leaders. One of my first commanders in one of
my earliest squadrons that I joined, two months prior to me getting there, he had taken over that squadron after
the previous commander had been fired. There was a nuclear missile incident
that had reached national attention. And when I joined, this squadron was
under intense scrutiny by the entire Air Force and even higher up to make sure
that that mistake never happened again. And this meant working through
grueling inspections and exercises, basically
simulating World War III. And if any of us made a mistake where we
decoded a nuclear message incorrectly, or had a procedural misstep,
entire base fails. Careers are ended. And it was during this intense
period of scrutiny that my wife and I received some difficult news. We learned that Naomi was going
to need a kidney transplant. We didn’t know when, but
it was going to happen. And that’s when my commander,
who’s call sign was Rude. He wasn’t rude at all, just his call sign. But I remember he came up to me one day,
and he said, Dave, listen,
I heard what’s going on with your wife. I’ve talked to my boss, and we think it’s
best that you just take some time off I know we’re severely undermanned for
this next inspection but I think you need to focus on your family. The fact that he cared so
much about my family more than his career just made me want to work ten
times harder for this man. And that’s simply because he
understood a very simple fact. There’s a difference between what
the Air Force pays us to do and what it asks us to do, and leadership
is what makes up that difference, leaders like Rude. Now over the next two years, we completed
all our inspections with flying colors. We completed a successful deployment. We also had a jet crash, and
we lost several of our own. But through all of this,
I was part of a team that was so committed to each other,
their job, and their boss. And I wouldn’t trade that for anything. Now contrast that experience with
another commander that I had. Went by the call sign of Panzer. And when he joined our squadron his
reputation already preceded him. And I remember early on he walked up to
one of the young pilots in our squadron and he goes, hey captain? I understand you’re going to
weapons school right after this six month deployment so you might be away from
your family for about an entire year. I was just thinking, what if we just
keep you back and you just go to weapons school for six months
instead of going on this deployment. Captain looks at him up and goes well
gee sir that’s not a bad idea at all. I mean, I just spent six
months deployed last year. My wife just delivered our
first child three weeks ago. Maybe it wouldn’t be such a bad idea
if I just focused on preparing for weapons school. Panzer looks at him again. That’s not what I wanted to hear. When I ask you if you want to deploy,
the only thing I want to from you is sir, yes sir, I’ll do whatever you
want me to do for you sir! Three days later, this pilot and the rest of us are assembled in our
squadron getting ready to deploy. And he gets up in front
of the entire squadron. Understand we have all said
goodbye to our families. Children are still crying
in the parking lot, but he gets up to address all of us and
he goes, today we’re going to deploy. We’re going to do what
we’ve been trained to do. Now we’re all thinking we’re going to get
one of those rousing patriotic speeches you hear about in the movies. Maybe this guy isn’t so bad after all. And you know what’s so
great about deploying? I get to get the hell away
from my wife and kids. I don’t have to go to any of my
daughter’s damn baseball games anymore. Look, I mean,
we’re just as shocked as you are. I mean, this is the guys that’s
going to lead us into combat? Turns out this incident was
really a sign of things to come. Because the next two years, we dealt
with a great deal of his malfeasance, misconduct, and general misbehavior. And no amount of investigations and evidence that piled up against what he
had done was going to make a difference. Basically, up the chain, the swept it
under the rug and made it go away. Those two years, really rather uneventful. But we,
as a squadron were left completely broken, demoralized, doing the bare minimum
to get through each day and counting the days that we’re going to
be able to get out of this unit. I wish there was a better
ending to this story, but the fact of the matter is,
Rude, my earlier commander, his career plateaued,
he’s no longer in the Air Force. Panzer is in line to be a general
in the US Air Force today. Why does this matter to anyone here? Well, the US Air Force is in
a serious crisis right now, that affects our national security. Pilots are getting out of the Air Force
as soon as their committment’s up. There are cockpits going
unfilled right now and it poses a serious threat to our security. We’re not able to do our mission anymore. Most people aren’t aware of this fact. And what I’ve watched is
the Air Force talk about how we need to pay the pilots more. Change a deployment schedule. And that’s missing the heart
of the matter here. Pilots aren’t quitting their jobs. They’re quitting their bosses, bosses who don’t care about their
people as much as they care about their own promotion, bosses who won’t speak
truth to power, bosses like Panzer. I’ve had the great opportunity to spend
the last year at business school at Stanford. And I’ve looked over how
we can fix this problem. I’ve looked at the private sector,
looked at the HR practices and the talent management strategies
that I think will make a difference. And three of the top things that I think
the Air Force can do to really make it into what this nation needs it to be are,
hiring a professional search firm, 360 evaluations, and
neuropsychiatric evaluations. And let me explain what I’m talking about. Hire a professional search
firm that can come in and identify exactly what kind of leader
you need, what kind of skills, characteristics and
experiences these leaders should have. And once you’ve built your target you
can just work backwards from there and develop a set of promotion criteria
that can identify, develop, and select those specific leaders. Right now, in my opinion,
we have an arbitrary gauntlet of promotion criteria designed to see who wants to
be promoted the most instead of having promotion criteria developed to see
what kind of leaders we need the most. Number two, 360 evaluations,
we’ve all done this in business school. And a lot of companies,
this is standard operating procedure. I would argue that
the people at the bottom of the chain are often in the best
position to identify the best leaders. Look, I think we can all agree. Anyone can look good for the priest on
Sunday morning, it’s how you act on Saturday night that tells me really
what kind of person you are. And third, neuropsychiatric testing,
now this one really caught me off guard. I didn’t realize that so many companies
were already doing this to make sure that they identified and
promoted the best leader. Turns out Army Special Forces and
Navy SEALs already employ neropsychiatric testing to pick through
all of their recruits. You can be the biggest, fastest,
strongest recruit in Navy SEAL training. But if your test comes back
showing narcissistic or sociopathic tendencies,
you’re done, you’re out. Special Forces don’t tolerate people they
can’t trust, neither should the Air Force. Conveniently, the Air Force has all
this data for every one of its pilots. I and everyone else spent five
hours taking this IQ test and personality test before we
can go to pilot training. It’s just that they only revisit those
results in the event that one of us has a head injury and we need to be
cleared before we can fly again. So professional search firms, 360
evaluations, and neuropsychiatric testing. That’s what I think would
make a real difference, and this is pretty standard
in the private sector. So why aren’t we moving the needle
on this in the military if things are getting so bad? Well I’ve talked to military leaders,
political scientists, and famous authors on
this topic and they all agree. This is a growing problem and
something needs to be done about this. But the only thing that’s going to fix it
is an attack on the scale of Pearl Harbor. What, why do we need
to sacrifice blood and treasure to get an organization
to embrace true leadership? I’m not asking for $1 billion and I’m not
asking to send a Tesla Roadster to Mars.>>[LAUGH]
>>It’s simple standard private sector HR practices. But I will admit, it is difficult. The three things that any organization
is going to need to embrace to implement these decisions and
these actions are first, have the strength to look in the mirror and embrace the
uncomfortable truth staring back at you. Two, discipline, have the discipline to take action before you’ve
run out of all other options. And finally moral clarity, have the moral clarity to
put purpose above promotion. Thank you.>>[APPLAUSE] [MUSIC]


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *