Chapter 11 Reading: Article regarding Colonel Dowdy’s loss of command

November 4, 2009

I think this article presents something of a cautionary tale for those whose managerial roles lies outside the top of the organizational structure. The message here is clear—if you have two conflicting choices, one which involves doing what is best for those under your command and one that is what the boss wants, if you want to keep your job, you better go with what the boss wants. Here, Colonel Dowdy was concerned about the safety and well being of his men and took actions that were based in large part on those concerns. The end result of this decision, however, was that Dowdy did not complete his mission with what Major General Mattis considered to be appropriate haste and that resulted in Dowdy losing his command, and, ultimately, his career in the military.

Dowdy made what, to him, was the best decision possible—to not push through the city—and he did so in the face of conflicting information on whether he should push through or withdraw. And, even though his unit completed its mission with ample time to spare, he takes the fall because he did not achieve that goal in the way that his boss, Major General Mattis, wanted it achieved. The article does note that there were a handful of other concerns that the higher ups had with some of the things going on under Dowdy’s watch, but the way the article presents this information makes it appear that these were, at best, secondary concerns. The primary problem was Dowdy did not achieve the goal with the speed Mattis wanted, even though Dowdy was successful in getting his unit where they needed to be with time to spare.

I found what happened to Colonel Dowdy to be very disheartening. While I realize that there was a specific strategy in place for this portion of the Iraq mission, it seemed like the approach Dowdy took allowed him to both keep his men safe and achieve his mission on time. Despite that achievement, however, Dowdy’s career with the Marines is brought to an abrupt halt because his mission is not completed with what Mattis determines to be the appropriate speed. Although the article states that the decision of how to proceed through the city was left up to Dowdy, it clearly was not truly up to him. The message here is—you can make the decision, as long as the decision you make is the one the boss would have made. Given the circumstances Dowdy was dealing with, it seems like if how the task was achieved was just as important as if the task was achieved, Mattis should have simply instructed Dowdy as to how he wanted him to proceed in the first place.

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