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If a general can blog, so can a CEO

Submitted by on Tuesday, 21 July 2009 No Comment
The question posted in March was as simple as it was audacious: What's the stupidest rule you've seen in the Army?

It drew 93 responses.

One soldier wanted to know why sweaty clothes weren't allowed in the chow hall. "How about some common sense here," he wrote. "Heck, you work up a sweat just WALKING to the chow hall these days... Hey, I'm not asking for anything special - I'm trying to be more efficient..."

There was widespread dissatisfaction with the beret that became standard headgear in 2001.  "If you want to copy the French, serve more French fries."

There were gripes about don't ask/don't tell. "It is ridiculous (not to mention potentially dangerous to those serving) to discharge a high-speed soldier who may be an expert marksman just because they are homosexual, yet retain the straight soldier who can barely hit the target or function."

The most astounding part, though, was who asked the question: Maj. Gen. Michael L. Oates - he's just Mike on the blog. He's also commander of the 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum, N.Y.

That's right: A leader in one of the most rigidly hierarchical organizations on the planet is asking for dissent.

You want a bar on post? How can we make that work, Oates asked.

What was the biggest lesson you took away from the last deployment?

Oates might be the first blogging division commander in the Army, though he's no newcomer to using social media. He's long hosted online chats, doing so even while the division was deployed in Iraq.

It still astounds him that more generals don't do the same.

“The reason I use a blog is because that’s where the soldiers are,” Oates told Armed Forces Press Services. “So you have to fish in that water.”

He believes social media are a good way to promote candor. "Soldiers aren’t intimidated typing onto a screen,” he said. “So if you want soldiers to be honest with you, you have to set the conditions for them to be honest.”

In the civilian world, social media also can promote snark and vitriol. While there is some disagreement on Oates' blog, it's not nasty.

Which goes to prove two things:

Online forums are as civil as the moderators demand that they be, so fear of nastiness is no excuse to sit on the sidelines.

And Lyndon Johnson, like Oates a Texan, was right about critics: It's better to have them inside the tent er, peeing out, than outside the tent peeing in.

If the head of an organization that's the epitome of top-down management can figure that out, it seems that civilian leaders should be able to understand it as well.

Copyright 2009 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

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