Small Wars Journal

Bleeding Talent

Sun, 01/06/2013 - 10:17am

The New York Times reviews Tim Kane's new book Bleeding Talent: How the U.S. Military Mismanages Great Leaders and Why It’s Time for a Revolution. Dr. Kane is a former Air Force officer and now a PhD economist at the Hudson Institute. He argues that the military's all-volunteer force attracts a population more talented than their private sector peers and that the armed forces are a leadership factors, producing a high number of future CEOs, for example. But when it comes to retaining and managing that talent, we have a problem.

According to the review, Kane sees some of the major issues are that talented members have no control over their careers and that the seniority-based up-or-out system is largely talent blind. Kane argues that an internal labor market would help to rationalize the system. That is, if you have to compete for jobs like those in the private sector, the market would do a better job of managing talent than the bureaucracy which, frankly, makes no effort to manage talent.

This is likely to be a frustrating read for almost everyone. If you agree with it, it will frustrate you with the inanity of the system. If you don't, well, you'll still be frustrated. I hope that it sparks some serious soul searching in the Pentagon, though. Well...


Mr. Kane addresses a need that is important to any organization, how to ensure the best talent is identified and properly placed. Someone may be a great staff officer but not a great commander or vice versa. In the current system, you have to be both. Why? I suppose the ideal officer would be perfect at staff and at command but those two jobs require different skill sets and it is natural that an officer would be stronger at one than the other. Our system does not accomodate that. Our system prioritizes the math problem of getting assignments filled over the personnel management problem of getting key assignments filled with the right person first before worrying about the shear numbers. Hopefully we will use this time of transition as an opportunity to build a better personnel management system.