Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force James Cody, the service’s senior enlisted advisor, made some remarks back in November at the Airlift/Tanker Association Symposium that were captured by Air Force publicists and made into a video. That video, labeled a “leadership short,” features a 272-word speech by Cody wherein he seems to explain (or attempt to explain) something. Something important.
The problem is that’s not clear what, exactly, he’s talking about or what conclusion he wants the audience to draw from his remarks. It’s also not clear what about this bundle of syntax purports to comprise “leadership” … and arguably, there’s nothing “short” about it. At times in Cody’s rambling exposition, it’s not entirely clear that even he knows what he’s trying to get across.
It seems reasonable to surmise Cody was talking about the micro-mangled rollout of the new Enlisted Evaluation System (EES). The new system started with the eminently worthy objectives of addressing grade inflation in performance appraisals and returning the enlisted Air Force to a performance orientation. But Cody, rather than genuinely listen to feedback from the field in determining the direction of the new system, hatched a concept in backroom briefings with personnel weenies and retired grand poobahs, eventually fielding a system that airmen can plainly see won’t eliminate careerism — or its ugly cousin, obligatory volunteerism — and will instead turbocharge the engines of pragmatic square-checking by imposing a quota system. Even the name given to this innovation is positively Orwellian: “forced distribution.”
But it’s not so much the back alley “I got a secret” chicanery of the new program’s genesis that has airmen up in arms so much as the abject ineptitude of its implementation. Cody and his minions actively refused to educate the field on the new system for fear of pesky questions. For this reason, Cody chose instead a tightly controlled rollout employing the tools of propaganda rather than the tools of education. NCOs were not taught how the program was supposed to work, and couldn’t get their questions asked or answered. What they got instead was a series of pre-baked recitations from appointed spokespersons.
Now, because NCOs have no idea what they’re doing, the rollout is turning into a bloody train wreck. With the wreckage smoldering against the backdrop of official inaction, Chief Cody shared the November “leadership short” video on his official Facebook page on December 5th with the following caption:
We’ve certainly faced challenges as we’ve unrolled the Enlisted Evaluation System … but it’s what we expected. We’ll face the challenges, we’ll make adjustments … and we’ll get through it. We’re heading in the right direction.
And to underline this assurance, he shared a video in which he utters the following:
“You can sit there and say hey, every one of these things has met with some challenges, and I would completely agree with you. Almost everything that we’ve tried to execute during our tenures has met with some level of challenge. Uh, yeah, uh, what have we ever done that didn’t meet with some level of challenge, so maybe we didn’t really set the right expectation up front in the idea communicated down to the right level that says hey … we’re gonna make contact and learn a lot of things as we go through, and we’ll make adjustments … but as long as we keep the force whole … as long as we don’t hurt anybody in this process … that’s part of … that’s the cost of change, I mean change is gonna be a little bit difficult sometimes … the systems that we think are gonna work don’t always work. They work with a thousand, they don’t work with ten thousand. You know? And and and, you know, all these things happen and none of that is an excuse, and that’s what I tried really to champion — we’re not making any excuses … for the challenges we’re facing. These are very deliberately approached things. But that doesn’t mean they’re gonna execute perfectly. And we just have to be professional enough … to have that conversation … take the feedback … make the adjustments, or tell you why we can’t make the adjustments, and move forward. And over time, this will become normal, whatever it is that we’re talking about, will be normal … and we’ll get through it.”
Now, maybe I’m missing something, but I have no earthly idea what this means. It seems something happened, and it didn’t go the way it should have gone, but it’s to be expected, and yet you can’t expect things, but if we just talk about it, without expecting too much, then everything will be fine. And because we will do that, everything is fine and there’s nothing to see here.
Reading more speculatively, here’s my more charitable translation:
“We made mistakes. We had good intentions. Change is hard. We should have warned everyone we would suck. Change is hard. We didn’t foresee the foreseeable, because change is hard. This, too, shall pass.”
This translation achieves arguably the same communication value with an 88% reduction in word count. To be sure, neither version reassures, explains, or takes responsibility … but at least my version employs clarity in achieving nothing, while Cody’s achieves maximum uselessness while struggling to decide between insurance and snake oil.
Perhaps this clip would be a fitting compromise … useless, harmless gibberish, but somehow entertaining in its utter banality:
Then again, The Dude was merely trying to get his rug back. Chief Cody is, at least in theory, trying to build an enlisted force capable of winning wars through air and space now and into the future. We should and must expect more from him than what he gives us here.
This is not leadership. It’s propaganda.
It’s also not short. It uses 272 words to say what could be said perfectly in three:
“I screwed up.”
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