Leadership: Making the Troops Work Overtime, and Love It


February25, 2007: The American military had found the Internet to be a tremendous boost to developing professionalism among the troops. Moreover, military personnel are spending a lot of their own tome to acquire more, and better, skills. How can this be? No mystery, civilian firms are encountering the same phenomenon. How to explain it? Simple, the Internet contains such vast amounts of data, stuff that is so easy to get to, that many users find themselves learning and exploring for the pure pleasure of it. "Surfing the web" is not seen as work, but an entertaining adventure. You never know what will pop up next. Moreover, there's the prospect of finding people like yourself, no matter how unique you may be. Anyone who has a profession, and that means anything from brick layers to fighter pilots to brain surgeons, can find like minded people on the Internet. Not only can you find out what others in your profession are doing (and they are often doing it in ways, better ways, that you did not know about), but you can communicate with them.

The military has always encouraged the troops to talk to each other, and exchange tips and experiences. And for a long time that was done at bars, social events, or anytime the troops were together and able to talk. That was good as far as it went, but it didn't go that far. Now, the Internet provides access to a lot more information, and an easier form of communication. Moreover, the Internet put everyone in front of a computer, with far fewer distractions. People could concentrate, and really get into ways to do their job better. For combat troops, all this was a real lifesaver. Literally.

The World Wide Web showed up in the mid 1990s, and by the time September 11, 2001 rolled around, most troops were on the Internet, and enthusiastic users of the web. Officers were finding much valuable advice from their peers, and from older officers who could dispense their valuable experience widely, and little effort, and often without even disclosing who they were. Troops actually preferred to do a lot of this schmoozing at home, where they could hide behind civilian email accounts. Their military email accounts came with restrictions on what one could say, or how they could sat it. Moreover, the military email accounts were monitored by the Department of Defense. It was much more comfortable asking, sometimes delicate, questions from your home computer.

Once the troops were overseas, in combat zones, one thing they clamored for was Internet access. And mainly they wanted to keep in touch with their peers, as well as their families. Net savvy commanders were not surprised at how quickly their troops picked up new combat tips from soldiers all over the world. That's because the platoon, company and battalion commanders were comparing notes as well. Much was made in the mass media about how the terrorists were using the Internet to stay in touch. But the terrorists were lightweights compared to how American troops used the net to stay up to date and on top of things. When your life depends on it, you don't mind doing all this on your own time.




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