Defense and leaders transformation

This month, the Indonesian Military (TNI) would have embarked on around 12 years of reform since Soeharto fell in 1998. Though civil society groups might still cry foul over their lack of “wholehearted” willingness to change, we need to think about what’s next; the transition from a “military reform”-oriented process to a “defense transformation”.

A “reform” agenda implies fixing certain aspects of the military’s “distorted” roles and functions. Given that Soeharto abused the military as a regime maintenance tool, this would logically mean focusing on getting the TNI out of politics and out of business, and submit to democratic civilian control and the rule of law.

These goals however, though clearly not without merit, touch only the “symptom”, not the root causes of the problems surrounding TNI’s reposition and re-functio-nalization.

A “transformation” process on the other hand suggests a complete overhaul of the military’s world view, institutions, and even missions and future development.

This is not the same as modifying the TNI’s doctrines and increasing their defense spending on complex weapons systems — as the Defense Ministry recently announced.

Instead, a defense transformation implies an institutional and paradigm shift on how the military views itself, educates and trains its members, how it equips itself and how it plans to fight.

This requires an overhaul of the entire education and training system, strategic and operational plans, as well as defense budgeting and the management process along with acquisition and R&D practices.

This process, however, requires a different approach than what we have seen for the past decade practiced by civil society groups and the government.

For one thing, a defense transformation process is long and winding — not to mention extremely complicated and expensive. So one should not adopt the same mentality of expecting instant results and definitive outcomes within a short time span.

For another, it requires the presence of a strong civilian defense community with advanced expertise to help plan and manage the transformation process in a, for a lack of a better term, “technocratic” way. Of course, recent announcements by officials that nearly all aspects of military life is now “classified” couldn‘t help this process any easier.

That said, despite these complexities and challenges, we have to start somewhere. This means that first and foremost we need to clearly articulate and envision the kind of leadership to guide us in our defense transformation journey.

In this regard, “transformative leaders” might provide the answer. Leaders are needed who can induce followers — by creating a deep sense of ownership among them and appealing to their values — to rise above their self-interests to a higher purpose, and more importantly, to develop them into leaders themselves.

In essence, according to James MacGregor Burns, who first coined the term back in the 1970s, transformational leadership is a process that continues until, “leaders and followers help each other to advance to a higher lever of morale and motivation.”

These processes, therefore, could “redesign” perceptions and values of the members of the organization — a necessary foundation for any institutional and paradigm shift within the TNI in the future.

It could also allow the military to go beyond the existing “transactional leadership” — exchanging something of value the leaders possess or control that followers want in return for their service, which historical studies have shown to have been critical for the TNI high command, and even the president, to fully control and enforce order within the ranks.

But more importantly, in the long run, transformational leaders could create future leaders, not obedient followers, with a better contextual intelligence: the ability to recognize and diagnose the plethora of contextual factors inherent in the strategic environment and adapt accordingly.

This is because by appealing to a higher sense of value and purpose as well as deeper affinity, the TNI’s future leaders can eventually learn to develop a good grasp of past events, acute awareness of present variables and a vision of preferred futures — the three main preconditions of contextual intelligence, according to Matthew Kutz in his “Leadership Review” article.

As such, when transformative leaders within the defense establishment transform its followers into leaders themselves, leaders with better contextual intelligence, the TNI’s long-term organizational flexibility and adaptability will increase as well, especially amid a rapidly changing strategic environment.

To sum up, a defense transformation process is the next logical step following the near completion of the 1998-driven military reform. As such, transformative leaders are needed to circumnavigate the process — leaders who are, as former US Naval War College president James Stockdale said, “Great teachers, able to give those around [them] a sense of perspective and to set the moral, social and motivational climate among his followers.”

The article was written in beautiful Honolulu and was originally published by The Jakarta Post | May 12, 2010


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