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    WHY BRILLIANT MILITARYLEADERS FAIL: LEARNINGFROM THEIR MISTAKES

    BY

    LIEUTENANT COLONEL DONALD R. DRECHSLERUnited States Air Force

    DISTRIBUTION STATEMENT A:Approved for Public Release.

    Distribution is Unlimited.

    This SRP is submitted in partial fulfillment of therequirements of the Master of Strategic Studies Degree.The views expressed in this student academic researchpaper are those of the author and do not reflect theofficial policy or position of the Department of theArmy, Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.

    U.S. Army War College, Carlisle Barracks, PA 17013-5050

    USAWC CLASS OF 2009

  • The U.S. Army War College is accredited by the Commission on Higher Education of the Middle State Associationof Colleges and Schools, 3624 Market Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104, (215) 662-5606. The Commission on

    Higher Education is an institutional accrediting agency recognized by the U.S. Secretary of Education and theCouncil for Higher Education Accreditation.

  • REPORT DOCUMENTATION PAGEForm Approved

    OMB No. 0704-0188Public reporting burden for this collection of information is estimated to average 1 hour per response, including the time for reviewing instructions, searching existing data sources, gathering and maintaining thedata needed, and completing and reviewing this collection of information. Send comments regarding this burden estimate or any other aspect of this collection of information, including suggestions for reducingthis burden to Department of Defense, Washington Headquarters Services, Directorate for Information Operations and Reports (0704-0188), 1215 Jefferson Davis Highway, Suite 1204, Arlington, VA 22202-4302. Respondents should be aware that notwithstanding any other provision of law, no person shall be subject to any penalty for failing to comply with a collection of information if it does not display a currentlyvalid OMB control number. PLEASE DO NOT RETURN YOUR FORM TO THE ABOVE ADDRESS.1. REPORT DATE (DD-MM-YYYY)

    24-03-20092. REPORT TYPE

    Strategy Research Project3. DATES COVERED (From - To)

    4. TITLE AND SUBTITLE

    Why Brilliant Military Leaders Fail: Learning From Their Mistakes

    5a. CONTRACT NUMBER

    5b. GRANT NUMBER

    5c. PROGRAM ELEMENT NUMBER

    6. AUTHOR(S)

    Lieutenant Colonel Donald R. Drechsler

    5d. PROJECT NUMBER

    5e. TASK NUMBER

    5f. WORK UNIT NUMBER

    7. PERFORMING ORGANIZATION NAME(S) AND ADDRESS(ES)

    Department of Command, Leadership, and Management

    8. PERFORMING ORGANIZATION REPORTNUMBER

    9. SPONSORING / MONITORING AGENCY NAME(S) AND ADDRESS(ES) 10. SPONSOR/MONITORS ACRONYM(S)

    U.S. Army War College122 Forbes AvenueCarlisle, PA 17013 11. SPONSOR/MONITORS REPORT

    NUMBER(S)

    12. DISTRIBUTION / AVAILABILITY STATEMENT

    Distribution A: Unlimited

    13. SUPPLEMENTARY NOTES

    14. ABSTRACT

    In the first decade of the 21st Century, the military observed the firing or resignation of the Chief of Staff from Air Force, theSecretaries of Army and Air Force, plus several General Officers to include the Commander of Central Command. Naturally,the question is why did these smart and otherwise extremely successful senior leaders lose their jobs? We can learn fromtheir experience and improve ourselves as leaders. Success in modern war requires a keen ability to lead large, complexmilitary organizations to tackle complex and often wicked problems. The commander will not be able to solve each and everyproblem, but to achieve victory, he must instill in his personnel an attitude and ability to learn and adapt to an ever-changingenvironment. Since the future will be volatile and uncertain, the leader must encourage a culture of adaptation coupled with aninsatiable drive to wina culture of innovation. Failure to achieve mission success as a result of organizational failure was anecessary, but not sufficient condition for leaders to be removed from their position. Only after these leaders becamedisconnected from their boss(es) and demonstrated their inability to propose and enact a new strategy were they relieved.

    15. SUBJECT TERMS

    Leadership, Strategy, Military Failure, Agency Theory, Adapting, Learning, Air Force, Army, Operation IRAQI FREEDOM,Disconnected Senior Leader, Nuclear Weapons, US Army, US Air Force, Corporate Failure16. SECURITY CLASSIFICATION OF: 17. LIMITATION

    OF ABSTRACT18. NUMBEROF PAGES

    19a. NAME OF RESPONSIBLE PERSON

    a. REPORT

    UNCLASSIFEDb. ABSTRACT

    UNCLASSIFEDc. THIS PAGE

    UNCLASSIFED UNLIMITED 5219b. TELEPHONE NUMBER (include areacode)

    Standard Form 298 (Rev. 8-98)Prescribed by ANSI Std. Z39.18

    Professor Charles D. Allen

  • USAWC STRATEGY RESEARCH PROJECT

    WHY BRILLIANT MILITARY LEADERS FAIL:LEARNING FROM THEIR MISTAKES

    by

    Lieutenant Colonel Donald R. DrechslerUnited States Air Force

    Professor Charles D. AllenProject Adviser

    This SRP is submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements of the Master of StrategicStudies Degree. The U.S. Army War College is accredited by the Commission onHigher Education of the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools, 3624Market Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104, (215) 662-5606. The Commission on HigherEducation is an institutional accrediting agency recognized by the U.S. Secretary ofEducation and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation.

    The views expressed in this student academic research paper are those of the authorand do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army,Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.

    U.S. Army War CollegeCARLISLE BARRACKS, PENNSYLVANIA 17013

  • ABSTRACT

    AUTHOR: Lieutenant Colonel Donald R. Drechsler

    TITLE: Why Brilliant Military Leaders Fail: Learning From Their Mistakes

    FORMAT: Strategy Research Project

    DATE: 24 March 2009 WORD COUNT: 10,324 PAGES: 52

    KEY TERMS: Leadership, Strategy, Military Failure, Agency Theory, Adapting,Learning, Air Force, Army, Disconnected Senior Leader, OperationIRAQI FREEDOM, Nuclear Weapons, US Army, US Air Force,Corporate Failure

    CLASSIFICATION: Unclassified

    In the first decade of the 21st Century, the military observed the firing or

    resignation of the Chief of Staff from Air Force, the Secretaries of Army and Air Force,

    plus several General Officers to include the Commander of Central Command.

    Naturally, the question is why did these smart and otherwise extremely successful

    senior leaders lose their jobs? We can learn from their experience and improve

    ourselves as leaders.

    Success in modern war requires a keen ability to lead large, complex military

    organizations to tackle complex and often wicked problems. The commander will not be

    able to solve each and every problem, but to achieve victory, he must instill in his

    personnel an attitude and ability to learn and adapt to an ever-changing environment.

    Since the future will be volatile and uncertain, the leader must encourage a culture of

    adaptation coupled with an insatiable drive to wina culture of innovation. Failure to

    achieve mission success as a result of organizational failure was a necessary, but not

    sufficient condition for leaders to be removed from their position. Only after these

  • leaders became disconnected from their boss(es) and demonstrated their inability to

    propose and enact a new strategy were they relieved.

  • WHY BRILLIANT MILITARY LEADERS FAIL: LEARNING FROM THEIR MISTAKES

    In this first decade of the 21st Century, the military observed the firing or

    resignation of the Chief of Staff from Air Force, the Secretaries of Army and Air Force,

    plus several General Officers to include the Commander of Central Command.

    Naturally, the question is why did these brilliant and otherwise extremely successful

    senior leaders lose their job? Is there something we can learn from their experience to

    improve ourselves as leaders?

    A well-known expression states we can learn more from our mistakes than our

    successes. Therefore, we may be able to learn a great deal from studying senior

    leaders and organizations who have failed. Based upon the number of books that

    appear on bookstore shelves from biographies to leadership books touting new

    techniques and examining many great leaders that have achieved success, I expected

    to also see some books examining failure. Unfortunately, books on leadership failure

    are rare, but through the study of historical cases much can be learned from leadership

    failure.1

    History tends to build monuments to past achievement and provide motivation for

    new members of an organization. Historians remind students that history is written by

    the victors. Thus, an historical analysis can be filled with a priori misconceptions.

    Additionally, immediate histories are typically biased and written without the perspective

    of time which provides additional details and perspectives.2 Those immediate histories,

    such of those of S. L. A. Marshalls reports on Korea, are often written through capturing

    vicarious experiences of those who fought the war. Historians are thus left to their own

  • 2

    capacities to put these personal experiences into perspective for readers and to fill in

    the gaps with investigative work and often their imagination to fill in the missing details.3

    Another source is a leaders personal notes or autobiographies. Personal

    memoirs of great leaders should not be read as fact, but rather as one perspective. Dr.

    Antulio Echevarria cautioned that The memoirs of Ulysses S.