Millennials in the Military

Who would have thought that Generation WHY? (aka the Millennials) could have ever made such an impact on the long-held military system called “The Chain of Command.” But guess what?  They have.

The US military has been the last institutional structure to embrace top-down, hierarchical leadership, not allowing for questions, excuses, or discussion about orders given.  When a commanding officer tells a lower ranking soldier to do something, they do it without hesitation.  Or so we thought.

It seems the armed services have begun to notice a significant change in the attitude of new recruits between the ages of 18-25 (i.e., the Millennials) concerning taking orders.  These newly enlisted men and women ask a never-before heard question to their commanding officers.  They ask, “Why?”  Why must I do this?  Why is that skill so important?  Why is this method the only method we can use?  Commanding officers respond confused and quite angry at such insubordination and breaking of the chain of command.

But wait.  Times, they are a changin’.  The craziest thing is the military is actually changing its style of leadership, to some degree, to accommodate this emerging generation.

According to recent conversations with retired military personnel from the Army and the Air Force, there are now orders that can be discussed on certain grounds.  If the order compromises a person’s ethical or moral convictions, the order can be questioned.  Or if the order puts the soldier in a situation where they feel “overly uncomfortable,” they can ask to discuss the order privately with their commanding officer.

This reshaping of the American military is truly astounding to me.  However, I am not surprised.  I get asked “Why?” all the time, in nearly every class.

But to see the Millennials changing military practice and long-standing tradition is completely shocking.  I guess an overarching principle must be learned here.  When people change, institutions must change around them.

One thought on “Millennials in the Military

  1. It wasn’t this generation that has begun the transformation of autocratic leadership. The military has realized, gradually over the last couple of decades, that kind of leadership style is somewhat archaic. I have a post discussing this very thing entitled, “Decision-Making in the New ‘Leadership Organization.'” I invite you to read it –>

    It is becoming less top-down and hierarchical leadership structure. Think about the military, in total, as a leadership organization where you invite participatory involvement in decision-making; where people at every level, from the sides and the bottom, have a voice and a view, and are permitted and encouraged to provide feedback. If you delegate more, if there is more distributed decision-making, then you see an organization that is a ‘leader organization.’ That is exactly what is happening in today’s military.

    Granted, it does help that this generation does need that kind of approach. So, your premise is correct, but not the primary reason for the changes.

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