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Bleeding Talent

Wednesday, January 9th, 2013

In a new book about the US military and civil-military relations, the Hudson Institute’s Tim Kane argues that it is time to reform how the military manages its leaders. “In terms of attracting and training innovative leaders, the U.S. military is unparalleled,” he writes. “In terms of managing talent, the U.S. military is doing everything wrong.” Instead of continuing on its current trajectory, he says, the military should borrow some business practices from the civilian world.

Reviewing Kane’s book, Bleeding Talent: How the US Military Mismanages Great Leaders and Why It’s Time for a Revolution, for the New York Times, Fred Andrews writes:

It was once a wry joke that the military was designed by geniuses to be run by idiots. Not anymore, Tim Kane writes. As an all-volunteer force, the young men and women who serve these days are top drawer; it is the institution that is idiotic, he argues. And he has a drastic remedy in mind: a dose of classic economics. [...]

The core problem, he argues, is that while the military may be “all volunteer” on the first day, it is thoroughly coercive every day thereafter. In particular, it dictates the jobs, promotions and careers of the millions in its ranks through a centralized, top-down, one-size-fits-almost-all system that drives many talented officers to resign in frustration. They leave, he says, because they believe that “the military personnel system — every aspect of it — is nearly blind to merit.”

Mr. Kane knows whereof he speaks. An Air Force Academy graduate, he worked in military intelligence for five years before resigning, in the mid-1990s, after the Air Force declined to send him for graduate studies in economics. He is now chief economist at the Hudson Institute, a conservative research group. In the years between, he helped start a couple of small companies and picked up a taste for entrepreneurship. [...]

He looks at today’s military and sees suppressed entrepreneurs among officers and enlisted ranks alike. “America’s armed forces are a leadership factory,” he writes, saying that former military officers are three times as likely to become corporate C.E.O.’s as their raw numbers would suggest.

In surveying recent West Point graduates, he found that only 7 percent believed that most of the best officers remained in the military. It is not the combat, the low pay or the pull of family life that is the top reason they quit in surprising numbers, Mr. Kane writes, but rather the “frustration with military bureaucracy.” One study found that young officers left because they wanted a sense of control over their careers. In short, they wanted what the rest of us want.

Continue reading Andrews’s review, here, to learn about some of Kane’s proposed remedies to the military’s bleeding of talent.

AEI