Posted on May 1, 2020
MAJ Senior Test Officer
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I'm interested in understanding the effectiveness of this process because the topic of "toxic leadership" seems to no longer be a significant talking point lately.
Note: For the purposes of this question, please do not comment on any open investigations. I ask this in order to ensure your safety and mine while also preserving the integrity of your investigation. Thanks!
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Responses: 15
Maj John Bell
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Edited 12 mo ago
I am a dinosaur. When I served the phrase "toxic leadership" had not been coined, at least I never heard it. There were many times that I thought the leadership set a bad example or made a bad decision, but to be honest that was just a difference of opinion. Years later, in some of those cases, I might have been wrong, and in some I still feel I was correct.

"Management by walking around" was all the rage. There were no cell phones, and in garrison, there were at least two formations a day. A squad leader didn't think it was strange to have the Battalion or Regimental CO, XO, SgtMaj, and/or Chaplains stop by and have a quick chat, or observe training, every week or two. I can remember seeing the CO's and CG's above my billet fairly regularly. Senior leadership pretty quickly found the "toxic leaders" and they were corrected or dispensed with pretty quickly.

In my last billet, I worked in the CG's office and a collateral duty was to investigate and report on Congrints and request mast to the CG. About 2/3 of the complaints from Marines were because the command would, or would not, treat someone "special." About 1/3 of the complaints were because the command couldn't be bothered with giving a decent answer to an honest question, and there was a rounding error of cases where the command was "toxic." The CG was pretty decisive and trusted my judgment. When I came back and said the command was wrong and unrepentant, he was down there by the end of the day having one-sided, very loud conversations that almost always did the trick the first time.
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CPT Lawrence Cable
CPT Lawrence Cable
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That was my experience also. I have had three commanders relieved for cause, only one of whom I would classify as Toxic. He certainly was my nemesis, but also managed to piss off most of, maybe all of, the senior NCO's, but especially the Ops Sergeant and the First Sergeant. He was not in command for very long after that happened. The first one wasn't a bad commander, I liked him and he was one of the smartest men I've ever met, but tactically he was a disaster. We were in one of those yearly evaluation exercises and the first two problems hadn't gone well, to put it mildly. That evening, all the platoon leaders got individual visits from first the S-3, then one of the evaluators, both of whom were asking question that became obvious to me were aimed at seeing if the problem was at the top or were we a bunch of dumbasses. The Commander was relieved the next morning and replaced by one of the BN Staff. Thank God, because I think I would have been senior Lt. While I like to think I channel Audie Murphy and Gen. Patton, didn't seem to be good for career longevity to take command of a unit with everyone and God watching how it's going to perform. The last Commander relieved just couldn't keep his pants buttoned. I had actually sat down with him and advised him that his course of actions would have negative consequences. He chose to continue anyway, so no sympathy about the outcome.
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MCPO Roger Collins
MCPO Roger Collins
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From a fellow dinosaur, in our time you did your job as well as you could, regardless of of your leadership. Sooner or later, either you or they transferred. Worked for me, promoted to MCPO in 18 years.
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CPT Brock Young
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I have been interested in this topic to the point of writing about it several times in both the ARMY Magazine and Task & Purpose. Up front, at least in the Army, from what I've experienced it's not the IG's realm to fix "toxic leadership." That is a Command responsibility (be it company, BN, BDE or higher).

IG's review processes, identify where shortcomings or failure are, and file reports for the applicable level of command to consider. The decision to change rests with the commander.

That's the insidiousness of some types of toxic leaders. They are "effective," meaning they accomplish the tasks given to them. They probably follow the strictest letter of the regulation, so there is no process to fix. Their metrics rock, so there is no visible shortcoming. They make their superiors look good, so there is no incentive to change what's happening (even if it's the subordinates doing all of the work). So if you're trapped in a toxic environment where these things are going on, there is quite literally nothing the IG can do for you.

It's my honest opinion that it takes courage and a willingness to do the right thing on the part of senior leaders to combat toxic leadership. But I've seen that those traits are few and far between. If your BDE commander doesn't want to do anything about the toxic BN commander, there's nothing the company commander can do but keep their heads down and slog it out until the change of command. You can talk to the Chaplains, and CSMs; you can utilize open door policies and speak your peace; but in the end, it takes that next level commander to step up and do something.

I honestly wish the Army had a system set up like SSgt Christophe Murphy describes, but I just haven't seen it.
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SFC David Rohe
SFC David Rohe
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Capt Brock is correct. I spent 5 years as an EOA and worked a lot with the IG and speaking to command groups and Soldiers about "Toxic Leadership". It was especially difficult during deployments. It essentially falls on the next higher command to recognize it. Low morale among Soldiers, high sick call rates were two things that I talked to commanders as a key way to start noticing it. But again it falls on the higher commanders.
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SSgt Christophe Murphy
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I think Toxic leadership is just one of the negative staples of military life that make a general cycle through a unit over time. It's like the tide. Sometimes it's low tide or high tide but eventually it comes and goes. Just like hazing and alcohol related incidents. They aren't always happening but it always seems they are either on the way in or on the way out depending on culture climate and leadership.

I got a close up look to the IG process while with 3rd Marine Air wing Headquarters element. The IG office pulled subject matter experts from the HQ element to fill out the role of inspectors while visiting units for readiness inspections. While I was with the team IG complaints were briefed and handled quickly and with professionalism. It was a matter of pride to ensure things were done correctly and by the letter. But just like Toxic leadership anywhere else I would assume the IG team was only as good as it's members and the leaders they reported to. I'm sure there are some piss poor IG teams out there who work for or are covering up for poor leadership.
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LTC Multifunctional Logistician
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Great comment here especially the ending.
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