Feature Article: West Point, Scenarios and Leadership Development

Feature Articles / July 2005

Russ Volckmann

Since the readership of the Integral Leadership Review constitutes a diverse international group, a few words about this article may be helpful. The United States Military Academy (West Point) is where career officers are educated and trained for the United States Army. In addition to providing military leadership, the graduates of West Point, upon leaving their military service, have entered into formal leader roles in industry, not for profits, government and politics. Some have even attained the position of President of the United States, the most recent of which was Dwight D. Eisenhower.

The Cadets and graduates of West Point are held to a very high standard of ethics. The motto of West Point is, Duty, Honor, Country. As military officers, for example, they may not criticize the President of the United States, who is their commanding officer. However, once separated from their military positions, many former officers have been critical of various presidents and their decisions, as well as other international and government institutions and actions.

This and potential articles in subsequent issues, which may focus on leadership development practices and theory at West Point, are not to be construed as advocacy for United States military policy or action anywhere at any time. However, learning about leadership in this context continues to be very important for all of us. Security institutions in all countries and internationally are positioned to invest more over time than most institutions in ongoing leadership development. We can learn from them.

Military policy and action is often the result of political decisions. Issues that you and I may have with these should in no way be construed as a lack of respect for the cadets and graduates of West Point who put their lives on the line for some of the best values represented by the United States. As much as those values may have been besmirched in recent years by the actions and decisions of individuals in and out of power, I am certain that West Point is a model for many important values, not the least of which is honor. I trust we share the commitment to that value, even while recognizing that its definition is not formulaic, but an ongoing challenge to each and every one of us.

NOTE: Just prior to publication of this issue Jossey-Bass’ Leader to Leader, published a 92-page supplement to its Summer 2005 issue subtitled Leadership Breakthroughs from West Point. It should be noted, while I have not yet read every article thoroughly, in what I have read and skimmed there is no reference to the work cited in this article. I hope to learn how the explorations that are being done received no attention, even in an interview with the same Lieutenant General Lennox, Superintendent of West Point, whose letter is reproduced below.

I recently received an invitation to join my Class at West Point (1959) in initiating its 50th anniversary. This summer we entered West Point as Plebes fifty years ago. About the same time I began to come across material about the work that Colonel George B. Forsythe and others have been doing to foster leadership development of Cadets that meets the requirements of a new kind of leadership, one that can effectively address the challenges of highly complex military missions that demand very different leadership capabilities than those of the traditional army. As is the case with industry and other organizations this complexity is characterized by ambiguity and unpredictability.

Drawing on the work of Robert Kegan, Harvard University developmental psychologist, Forsythe and his colleagues are seeking to develop level-4 leaders, the developmental level that Kegan calls the self-authoring mind. He and his colleagues found that the West Point experience moved individuals on the average from level 2 or 2/3 to level 3 over the four years of the Cadet experience. When they tested mid-career and senior officers they found that almost half of the Majors had shifted to 3/4 and that almost 90% of senior officers had achieved some fourth level self-development. This occurs in the face of more and more refined selection processes which lead to smaller numbers of individuals being studied at each level.

And where did I first read of this? In WIE ( What is Enlightenment?), Andrew Cohen’s slick magazine for modern consciousness and spirituality! Then, it showed up again in Jonathan Reams’ Integral Review article [see Coda below], “What’s Integral About Leadership?” where I also learned of an unpublished paper by Michael Putz and Michael Raynor, “Integral Leadership: Overcoming the Paradox of Growth,” which draws on the West Point studies.

Well, the signs were too overwhelming to ignore and I placed a call to Colonel Forsythe. I wanted to know more about his work and its connection to integral theory, as well as the strategies and methods that were being used to further promote leadership development at West Point. I also wanted to share some of my thinking about the use of scenarios and learn if this approach was being used at West Point.

I hope to write more about the West Point approach in the future and possibly include an interview with Colonel Forsythe who is retiring from the military this summer and taking on the role of president of a small mid-Western college. His is an example of what I referred to in the preface of this article— a West Point graduate who has moved into a formal leadership role in the civilian sector.

Included in the papers that I received about the West Point studies was this letter from the Superintendent (like the president of a university) of West Point. It provides an interesting context for understanding the leadership development approaches being devised at the Academy. Note particularly the paragraph in bold (my emphasis).

Office of the Superintendent
West Poiny, New York 10996-5000
MASP 3 June 2002


SUBJECT: Cadet Leader Development System (CLDS)

1. The West Point Experience – the 47 months cadets invest at West Point – is all about planned change: a transformational development process that includes a multi-dimensional array of challenges building skills, maturity, judgment, values, and character. The academic curriculum is broad-based and demanding, causing cadets to think, innovate, and explore. Our military and physical training is tough, challenging, and standards-based. The West Point Experience must inspire cadets, it must make them proud to be a member of the Long Gray Line, and it must give them a passion for the profession of arms and a desire to pursue a career of Army service.

2. West Point fosters development through the Army’s Be-Know-Do concept. CLDS introduces the concept of Officership and focuses primarily on the Be component of the Be-Know-Do paradigm. This does not imply that the Know and Do are less important. On the contrary, Know and Do are vitally important, since they are the essence of professional competence. While it is critical to maintain high standards for Know and Do, influencing the Be component is a significant challenge. It entails affecting an individual’s core beliefs: what one stands for, how one views oneself, and how one views the world. It is an individual’s character. By focusing on the Be, CLDS aims to inspire cadets to live the spirit of the West Point motto Duty, Honor, Country.

3. Leader development is the mission of the United States Military Academy. CLDS is our philosophical framework for preparing young men and women to meet the challenges of 21st Century leadership. It focuses on Officership: what it means to be a commissioned officer, and the unique characteristics and attributes that are essential to leading soldiers. We want America’s soldiers to say of our graduates, “This officer is a good leader; I would trust him or her to lead me in battle.”

4. Commander’s Intent: As West Point embarks on its third century of producing leaders for our nation, I charge each of you to fulfill your duty developing competent leaders of character. This is your opportunity to have a lasting and significant influence on the future of our Army and nation. Embrace it!

Lieutenant General, U.S. Army

Further on in the document we learn that “Cadets develop intellectually, militarily, physically, spiritually, ethically, and socially. Officership is a matter of both competence and character; thus, the first three domains emphasize competence, while the final three describe character.” For those of you who have been reading these pages or who have been studying integral theory, you will no doubt recognize this list as an example of lines or streams of development.

And from the perspective of ethics and values there is much we can learn from the West Point culture. But how does this relate to scenarios?

One of the advantages for using a scenario approach to leadership development is that it provides an opportunity to view how these lines of development show up in the analysis of how an individual or team brings levels of development to the analytical process. To do this, however, requires that those who work with leadership development have the skills, tools and knowledge to engage individuals and groups in exploring multiple lines and stages of individual and systems development.

When I spoke with Colonel Forsythe I asked if there were a use of scenarios in leadership development at West Point. I hypothesized that there was because at least some of the developmental activities along some of the lines of development would be based on conscious practice. Included in his response was his noting the challenge of developing faculty and others who have the knowledge and skills to support the quality of reflection that would generate learning. On reflection, it seems that this is the same kind of challenge faced by those using the Kegan Subject-Object interview or Cook-Greuter’s Leadership Development Profile—and then some.

Being able to read scenario analyses for what they have to say about levels or stages of development (Kegan, Cook-Greuter, Spiral Dynamics—integral or otherwise) will require significant training. And this does not even include the question of whether those at lower levels of development can “read” those at higher stages of development—a contentious issue that has not yet been resolved, except by expert opinion. Looking at this issue in the context of scenario analysis and learning might offer some useful findings.

I would suggest that level of development does not matter. Having coaching skills and an understanding or framework of integral development does. The coaching skills are important because the goal is not to “teach” the individual about different levels of development (although some of that will be necessary). Rather, it is to facilitate the individual’s own analysis of the scenario through an integral and developmental lens. The emphasis needs to be there because the goal is to develop habits of viewing the world and one’s own thoughts in a way that opens the door to considering alternatives, including the fact that these alternatives may represent different views than one’s own.

Development occurs also as individuals learn to examine their own values and beliefs in relation to their behaviors and within the context of their understanding of the culture and systems of which they are a part. Key questions would revolve around such subjects as self-management, attunement with the culture, alignment of behaviors with the system, and the evolution of the system under different life conditions.

The use of scenarios as a tool for leadership development offers a strategy for scaffolding learning for individuals that may position them to recognize and access stage perspectives above their own under some conditions. This is different from the use of case studies, situations generally drawn from past experience. Scenarios are about future possibilities, about the unexpected, situations that may or may not ever occur. The value of having leaders use scenarios for development is that it prepares them for engaging with what is not expected. It prepares them for real change, as Joseph Rost (See Interview, below) might say.

In leadership development we are concerned with the “Be-Know-Do” of leadership in any context. We are also concerned with the fact that leadership development is not just about individual development but about organization and institution development. The use of scenarios can support both.

> Russ Volckmann