Critical Thinkers and Creative Leaders in The Professional Military Education System


The U.S military is led by several of the most educated professionals in the world. It is also not uncommon for a retiring commissioned officer to have spent lots of time in a classroom learning. Every commissioned officer and a number of career noncommissioned officers have a college degree, and add an advanced civilian degree. This is boosted by what is known as the “professional military educational system,” of which is comprised of specialized schools operated by the military services. The most significant are staff colleges, whose students have 12-14 service years, and war colleges, of which often come between the 18th to 22nd years of the career of an officer.

Today’s military leaders are constantly compelled to act as “out of the box” thinkers. Such statements give the impression that the only comprehensive solutions are those that have never been conceived. However, what the professional military education system (PMES) as well as the military really endeavor to produce are leaders that have strong critical as well as creative thinking skills. Both indirectly avoid the idea that a box even exists.

Importance of critical thinkers and creative leaders in PME

Today’s organizations function in what the U.S War College describes as a VUCA setting. Volatility, complexity, uncertainty, and ambiguity are continuous realities within the 21st century. The military tries to prepare for challenges it could probably face by creating realistic training scenarios as well as routinely adding such activities into its ongoing operations. The objective is not to teach them what to think, but to develop their ability to think creatively and critically about the number of contingencies posed by a dynamic environment-in essence to teach them how to think and not what to think.

The expression “professional military education”(PME) shows the duality of the system. It is intended to both increase the military’s professionalism as well as educate it. These are related as well as overlapping goals, but they are not similar. Professionalism means that the military leaders share both an amount of knowledge directly associated with their mission and ethics. While education implies a widening beyond the limitations of knowledge directly associated with the mission and the advancement of critical and creative thinking.

Good decision making is one of the traits together with good leadership that is significant when it comes to command. Critical and creative thinking also has significant consequences for group dynamic skills as well as quality control. Critical and creative thinking skills are needed in order to produce constant honest quality improvements. However, while several military processes depend on good critical and creative thinking, evidence shows that behaviors as well as skills may be lacking. A constant changing environment also requires a constant change in the approach to education.

Critical and creative thinking for military leaders to succeed

The increasing complication and changing landscape of the human environment necessitates critical and creative thinking skills. These thinking skills have not been taught as part of the traditional education nor are they emphasized within the military. Critical and creative thinking is vital to professional military education in that it provides a strong tool to function within a complex, and changing world.

One of the most significant facts about PME’s is training, and the most significant points concerning training is the importance within the training environment as well as the focus on creative solution. In addition, it is totally critical to focus on the advancement of personal leading and thinking skills. Gaining technical skills, collective training, and knowledge are significant but secondary educational requirements are needed. A military leader is the focal point of failure in military undertakings. Skills, collective training, and Knowledge mean little unless exceptionally trained as well as competent leaders engage units and soldiers correctly and effectively. Furthermore, military leaders make two vital contributions to military success: one, effective decision-making and two, capitalizing on the abilities as well as potential of subordinates. One of the best methods for military leaders to become successful is by using simulation and technology in order to train critical and creative thinking as well as decision-making. However, the technology is there to support the thinking process, but the military generally has not made the necessary steps in using the technology to train individual critical and creative thinking as well as decision making skills.

Every action and every undertaking by humanity was first a thought, every decision, problem, solution, and new invention or creation was initiated by some particular form of thought process. The capability for a purposeful thought is what lifts military leaders, yet sometimes, their strongest attribute is their obvious weakness. Instead of formulating rational solutions based on realities of the environmental, military leaders seem to be essentially prone to reshaping environmental reality to fit pre-predestined answers. The military leadership thinking process is normally anything but rational, and worse yet, they are totally blind-sided concerning mental failings. Faulty actions is driven by faulty thinking. History has proven this. For example, Japans defeat during the Second World War was due to its leadership’s incapability to critically and creatively position herself as the war turned against them. Another example of a poor decision-making process was the Vietnam War whereby highly intelligent people were perpetuated by collective stupidity. Therefore, no amount of good leadership can improve a decision that is faulty from the beginning. Good leaders have to first make good decisions, and yet good decisions require critical and creative thinking and leaders have to understand the limitations and capabilities of their own thought processes.

In industry, 90% of the time is spent on executing business actions, and less than 10% is apportioned to increasing organizational as well as individual abilities through training. On the other hand, the military spends a lot of time training and executing-even in the middle of high risk operations. For example, a unit in Iraq or Afghanistan will not put aside its experiential training program while engaged in combat operations, because its capability to clearly and creatively address future challenges is improved by a persistent commitment to improving soldier’s adaptability and competence through experiential exercises, and actual experiences. However, the real lesson for military leaders is not merely that training is paramount. The real issue is the value of how the military structures its training opportunities.

The Army describes leadership as both completing the mission as well as improving the organization. Permanently improving the organization necessitates the development of human capital. The military believes that people are substantively improved by improving their capability to skillfully address challenges within their environments. Therefore, the military does not find ways to limit thinking by limiting available solutions, unless the suggested action infringes any of the criteria of which are morality, safety, ethnicity or illegal.

So as to have people tussle with what it takes to have action plans where the above-mentioned criteria establish their only limitations, the military structures its experiential training undertakings with broad parameters. Events are made to mirror uncertainty within operating environments (while targeting specific needs of the organization). Military leaders are responsible for setting the conditions in all training activities and resourcing them correctly, as well as reminding participants all through the exercises that there are many potential solutions to each unclear challenge.

There are two significant things to take away from military practice of which engage in routine experimental training. One, crucial feedback. The military practice of having intermediate as well as final after-action reviews (AARs), whereby all participants test the preparation, execution, planning, and follow-up of any vital organizational initiative which promotes a learning culture. Two, coaching is needed so that feedback is translated into behavioral changes. Studies have shown that feedback without coaching hardly results in changes in behavior. Therefore, all military leaders must develop their ability to coach others. Dialog and reflection lie at the center of development. Experiential training creates the drive for both to happen.

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