Leadership is a critical aspect of management that ensures teams achieve organizational goals. Good leadership is essential in all sectors as it enables a workforce to operate within the confines stipulated by an organization. Effective management of groups requires able leaders with unique traits. Leadership has a direct impact on group aspects such as morale, team unity and commitment to the mission (Morgeson, DeRue, & Karam, 2010). In the absence of good leadership, teammates can easily fail to observe basic norms governing the group. Thus, members are likely to deviate from the primary objectives due to lack of proper guidance. Issues such as indiscipline and conflicts among members characterize groups with toxic leadership. This essay analyzes the impact of dysfunctional leadership and how to avoid similar disasters as portrayed by Jim Frederick in the book "Black Hearts: "Black Hearts: One Platoon's Descent into Madness in Iraq's Triangle of Death,"
Frederick's work offers readers an unsettling vicarious look into the lives of members of the armed forces deployed in Iraq. The author documents one of the most grievous crimes committed by American soldiers. The story is a build-up of events which culminated in the gruesome rape and murder of a fourteen-year-old girl and her family(Arias, 2017). Frederick vividly portrays the role of leadership in the military context. His representation of the crimes takes the reader through a journey of lousy leadership styles in the face of a brutal war. Overwhelmed by the war, soldiers of the Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment, and 101st Airborne Division fail to fulfill their duties. The author takes into account the failure of the leadership to respond appropriately to the needs of the casualty-plagued platoon.
At forty-seven years, Tom Kunk assumed command of the battalion. As battalion commander, he would spearhead the activities of the soldiers heading into the insurgent-ridden territory. For a light infantry commander, Kunk lacked a Ranger Tab. The Tab was a symbol that the leader had completed Ranger School. The school provided critical leadership lessons and skills to prepare unit leaders for the most grueling battle scenarios (Frederick, 2010). Kunk had not undergone the essential leadership course but had a good record from previous tours he had served. As the battalion trained in readiness for deployment in Iraq, the soldiers observed that he was too demanding and hot-tempered. At the Joint Readiness Training Center (JRTC), Kunk proved his poor leadership skills even before the actual battle begun.
During a training exercise, nineteen of his men were 'captured.' He formulated an action plan without consulting his fellow commanders. After that, he imposed his decision on the team regardless of divergent opinions that offered a better tactical approach. Thus, he set in motion a style of leadership that was intolerant of criticism. His disrespectful mannerisms and poor communication with his team would later adversely affect the team. He woefully overlooked the psychological distress the platoon faced due to immense losses and battlefields stress (Frederick, 2010). Kunk failed to mitigate the impending disaster that was Private Steven Green. He constantly dismissed the concerns of the 1st platoon and issues presented by its leadership. Kunk's lousy leadership contributed to the degeneration of the platoon. As a commander, he failed his team and its mission by not looking after the interests of his men.
Given Kunk's poor management style, I would shape my leadership to be more involving. A leader who listens to the opinions of his or her subordinates' cultivates team cohesion. Valuing the input of others creates a sense of purpose and does not isolate some members. Avoiding a negative governance approach is critical to building team relations. The commander's condescending attitude limited his scope on the realities of the battle. Thus, it is necessary as a leader to engage with teammates without patronizing them (Morgeson et al., 2010). One-on-one engagement provides insight into how well or poorly a unit is coping with mental stress. Nurturing good communication skills can also help ensure mission success and goal achievement. Self-expression requires working and respectful channels of communication. Thus, the soldiers can share their doubts and concerns without fear. An approachable leader forms a good rapport with the various units; hence, enhancing operational efficiency.
Captain John Goodwin, Bravo Company commander's ineffective governance style impacted the platoon's success, or lack thereof. After serving in the army two times, he admittedly made a mistake in his application and ended up with an active-duty Army ROTC contract. Similar to Kunk, Captain Goodwin did not receive a ranger tab. The captain failed in enforcing primary military discipline such as uniform dressing and neatness while in service (Frederick, 2010). He allowed his men to dress in a casual manner, despite commander Kunk's protests. Overwhelmed by his responsibilities, he could barely leave his seat and spent nights in the tactical operations center. Goodwin could not articulate the needs of his team to the commanders. As a result, the Bravo Company operated under horrendous conditions. He also adopted an ineffective troops-to-task strategy that stretched out the already thin human resources.
As a leader, it is essential to ensure that members operate within group norms. Enforcing discipline in the workforce ensures that everyone behaves as expected. A good leader leads by example. Thus, I would avoid actions that encourage soldiers to disregard basic rules of operation and engagement. High discipline standards ensure individual accountability (Morgeson et al., 2010). Disciplined forces have high levels of situational awareness and can respond fast when need to arises. To be an effective leader, I would have to ensure that soldiers under my command have the necessary tools and technical support required to carry out their duties. Meeting the needs of the Marines in an exceptionally hostile environment has a direct impact on their mode of operation. As the leader, I would also strive to establish trust through honest communication to ensure soldiers' compliance with issued orders.
Sergeant first class Jeff Fenlason had the reputation of a good organizer and disciplined soldier. Qualified as a Ranger, Kunk expected him to deliver where others had failed. The 1st platoon needed staff sergeants but received Fenlason. Among his primary duties as the platoon sergeant, he was to restore the unit's discipline and boost their morale. The soldiers were exhausted and had lost confidence due to the loss of their leaders (Frederick, 2010). From the moment he joined the team, he was unwelcome. While he had good intentions to rejuvenate the group, his failure in communication proved to be just as fatal. He could not correctly relay information to his subordinates. Poor coordination and communication mishaps put the soldiers at risk. His attempts to encourage necessary discipline in the soldiers failed as he did not actively engage with them. Also, he barely visited the traffic control points.
It is crucial for leaders to choose subordinates who are qualified and capable of achieving set objectives. Kunk's choice of Fenlason as platoon sergeant exhibited lack of commitment and goodwill to the welfare of the 1st platoon. Fenlason's poor communication strategies inhibited his attempts to restore the team's discipline and basic courtesies. As a leader, it is prudent to establish clear lines of communication (Morgeson et al., 2010). It is also necessary to check up on troops regularly to avoid making them feel isolated and uncared for in the battlefield. Occasional visits can create the impression that the leadership is aware of the challenges the troops face. As a leader, I would ensure that I spare time for interaction and sharing of ideas on best strategies. Genuine interaction can boost team cohesion and commitment to goal realization.
Considering the various lapses in leadership portrayed in the book, the failure of the 1st platoon was imminent. Right from the start, the battalion fell under an incapable leader. With poorly defined goals, the units set out into a hostile environment, understaffed and ill-equipped. The book's detailed descriptions of the events before the heinous crimes can serve as a guide to avoid making similar management errors (Arias, 2017). From the experiences of the soldiers, I have gained insight on the adverse effects of war ordeals, death, and trauma that can subvert even the best intentions. Thus, to ensure the sanity of my Marines, I would endeavor to provide quality therapeutic services. Additionally, I would emphasize the necessity of rest and recuperation time to subordinates in command of the troops.
In conclusion, dysfunctional leadership has adverse impacts on organizational efficiency. Lousy administration in high-intensity situations can result in catastrophes as portrayed in the book. Jim Frederick tells a horrifying tale that highlights a fault in the leadership of the army. His story gives the readers a background view of the rough, inhumane conditions that troops have to endure. In addition to poor administration, the soldiers are expected to fulfill mission objectives under cruel and unsympathetic conditions. Administrative failures that overlooked signs of a breakdown in communication and management nurtured an atmosphere that resulted in chaos. Thus, it is critical to embrace good governance practices such as effective communication to avoid a similar, horrific incident.
Arias, L. (2017). Playing by the rules: An assessment of combat atrocity during operation Iraqi freedom, 2005-2006. Retrieved from https://repository.wellesley.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1667&context=thesiscollection
Frederick, J. (2010). Black Hearts: One Platoon's Descent into Madness in Iraq's Triangle of Death. Crown.
Morgeson, F. P., DeRue, D. S., & Karam, E. P. (2010). Leadership in teams: A functional approach to understanding leadership structures and processes. Journal of Management, 36(1), 5-39. doi: 10.1177/0149206309347376
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