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A Lesson in Meritocracy from the U.S. Army

June 14, 2011

“Poor leadership is driving soldiers to leave the Army…”

That is the opening line of a recent article written by Michelle Tan in the Army Times. And what is the apparent reason for this lack of effective leadership? Answer: a misplaced emphasis on experience over expertise.

In this article, Sgt. Kevin Doyle, a two-tour veteran of Afghanistan, says “too many soldiers are promoted based on seniority instead of merit…I’ve seen good NCOs and officers who should be wearing one or two stripes or bars led by men who’ve simply served longer…Instead of promoting those who create results, we keep in dinosaurs that meet an easy standard and continue to slide under the radar.”

Merit is often overshadowed by the status quo. When you’re used to doing something a certain way, it’s all too easy to fall victim to flawed logic. We’re all guilty of it in some shape or form. The problem is that most of us either can’t recognize it or are unwilling to break the mold and change our habits. Hopefully the U.S. Army is not too naïve to see that a deep-rooted change is necessary to promote meritocracy so that it can retain and grow it’s bright, young soldiers.

Charles Allen, a retired colonel who is now a professor of cultural science at the Army War College, states in the article, “the biggest concern I have is we’re putting people in positions of responsibility, in some cases, where, if they had the education and the school environment, they could be better at the skills that are required to be successful in the jobs they’re assigned to.”

It sounds like common sense, right? But common sense isn’t always so common if you’re blinded by the status quo. Colonel Allen believes that a more transparent educational structure within the Army can help mend a broken system so that soldiers are promoted according to merit rather than months served. Simply put, seniority shouldn’t rule.

It is no surprise that the U.S. Army lacks meritocratic leadership. It was established in 1775 and probably hasn’t altered its promotional structure since. Albeit with significantly different parameters and consequences, I can’t help but think that our global education system also suffers from a similar stagnation.

With ever-increasing advancements in technology, the international educational playing field is flatter and wider than ever before. And the merits of its players should be rewarded no matter what size ball they play with. We may count score differently, but we’re all trying to swing for the fences. The best jobs should be awarded to the best talent. But they must be able to find one another first.

Groups such as the Association of International Credential Evaluators and SDR Educational Consultants are doing their best to continuously even the playing field and set new standards for transparency and meritocracy in international education. The growth of our global intelligence depends on it. Just as a soldier depends on his ranking officer.

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