Training Young Officers to be Leaders

Field Marshal  Helmuth von Moltke the Elder of Prussia, who considered himself a disciple of Clausewitz, was posted to command a cadet school in Frankfurt  called Kadettenschule.  He is credited as the father of the modern concept of war games, which he adapted from regular chess.

Moltke was known for his dependence on decentralised style of command in the army termed ‘Auftragstaktik’.   In this concept, the junior officers were required to take crucial decisions and that necessitated a drastic change in officer training.   He was of the opinion that in the war front, rapidly changing scenarios will surely make a senior commander’s decision obsolete in no time.  Here, the subordinates have to take independent decisions  as the situation evolved.  It may sometimes result in defiance of orders, without impeding discipline.

Moltke ensured that ragging was stamped out in Kadettenschule  and he stressed on the cadets achieving self-confidence and independent thinking.  He had a promotion policy in place where he rewarded  junior cadets excelling with promotions where they could overtake their seniors.  The instructors were specially selected and trained to motivate and train the cadets and with their exemplary conduct could wipe out ragging.  This resulted in cadets turning into officers who were decisive.

The need for ‘ragging’ in cadets’ training is to break the cadet’s ‘individuality’ and make him ‘fall in line’.   This has in fact resulted in inability of junior commanders at various levels to act as the situation demanded, based on their judgements.  What we need to do at our Academies is to encourage youngsters to speak up against cheating, stealing, etc; but the toughening aspects, including group ragadas (punishments) strengthen one mentally and physically.  What we need to do is to adapt and reinvent to empower the cadets with better all round knowledge.

While commanding the Regiment, our young adjutant came to me to say that there is a paper to be written about the training aspects of our radar operators (Operator Fire Control [OFC]) in view of induction of modern surveillance and gun locating radars. He added that it would be better that I wrote it as I had the best written expression in the regiment.

We then had a brief discussion wherein I brought out that every officer of the Indian Army is in fact capable of writing a good paper and if he was incapable, he would not be sitting in front of me. All officers have been through Services Selection Board (SSB) interview and there they wrote nine stories based on pictures projected (Thematic Appreciation Test [TAT]) and the tenth slide shown was a blank and still wrote a story. Then there were 100 words shown at an interval of 30 seconds (Word Association Test [WAT]) and a sentence was written. In case the candidate’s literary capability and imagination was not pretty good, he would have never qualified the SSB. Now, after the training at the academies, at the regiments and at various courses of instruction, here they are, scared of producing a simple paper, based on their routine tasks.

Army courses conducted at various schools only teach a standard baseline aspect.  In most cases, there is hardly any real soldier involved, which means only the science of warfare and military leadership is taught, but never the art.  The courses are structured around ‘What to think’ than ‘How to think’.  All training must be to create critically thinking junior commanders  with ability to think and execute plans well ‘outside the box’.  Promoting adventure activities to be taken up by young officers in their fields of interest, unsupervised and un-assessed, duly supported by the army, will surely develop self-confidence and independence of judgment among junior leaders.

Here is a story- purely a figment of imagination – I told our officers to analyse various levels of training-  regarding planning  a raid by a section to capture two hidden militants – each officer to work out their individual solutions.  The first group is of 10 young officers, fresh out of the academy, then 10 Junior Command (JC) Course qualified officers – Captains with about six to nine years of service, followed by 10 Staff College qualified officers  – Majors with 10 to 12 years of service. The 10 young officers will come out with about eight solutions, but the staff would not be complete, out of which seven will work and one may fail. Ten JC officers will come out with five solutions, the staff work may not be all that good, of which three will work, one may work and one likely to fail. The 10 Staff college officers will all come out with one or two solutions, complete with all staff work,  and the likelihood of success, you can guess. That is what the structured training (with pinks) has resulted into.

A friend asked me to suggest methodology to make the training at Staff College creative. I suggested that for one exercise, provide just a map with minimum guidelines on force levels and resources. Let the students mark the International Boundary, deploy troops including the enemy, assume additional resources, etc and come out with a complete package. Run one exercise found suitable for a group. Idea was well received and was presented to the faculty and for the most unthinkable reason, it was thrown out. One senior officer asked only one question – “How will we assess the students?” It appears that the essence of all Army courses is to assess and not to teach or learn.

Coming to the physical training, the current one is archaic.  All  cadets  want to put in their best in physical training and want to pass all the tests as early as possible.  No two cadets are alike and some will lag behind.  The aim of the instructors must be to motivate them and not belittle or humiliate them, especially in front of their peers and they will surely achieve the desired results in most cases.

Modern sports medicine has developed much beyond and the nation has adequate trained doctors in this field. In the Academies, it tends to be an overdose of unscientific physical training.  The Army Physical Training Corps (APTC) has to get more Sports Medicine trained Doctors. The Physical Training Officer at the Academies got to be Sports Medicine trained.

Cadets’ training at the Academies and Officers’ training in the Army, both in the Regiments and during various courses need to be scientifically analysed, mainly to impart application oriented education, develop decisiveness and remove ‘over standardisation’.

2 thoughts on “Training Young Officers to be Leaders

  1. Extremely thought provoking blog. Its high time we evolve our training philosophy. In my view sir one of the critical factors is the fact that we have an extremely steep pyramidical structure. This precludes review of our training methodology because as you said aim of training no longer remains “to train” , but is merely relegated to selecting instructors.
    But a little application can achieve both. Hope the men who matter take note and act accordingly.
    Congrats sir for a nice blog. Regards

    Liked by 1 person

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