Leadership: The Cult of the Sergeant Major Expands


September 13, 2007: One of the many American military innovations of the last few decades was that of the Command Sergeant Major. Many other nations are now adopting this leadership technique, which has been common in the U.S. armed forces since the 1960s.

Historically, the sergeant major was the senior NCO (Non-Commissioned Officer) in a company or battalion sized unit. In the United States, the company size unit title for the senior NCO was "1st Sergeant", while the top NCO in battalions was a "Sergeant Major." But after World War II, the practice of having a "Command Sergeant Major" (CSM) at all levels (including a "Command Sergeant Major of the Army") developed. By the late 1960s it was accepted that having a CSM for every unit commander (brigade, division, and so on) was a good idea. The CSM stayed in touch with all the key NCOs in his unit, and could quickly let his boss (the commanding officer) know what was going on down in the ranks. The CSM also served as a trouble shooter, and even peacemaker, if there were disagreements between senior officers. The CSM was the official, "old soldier" that every officer quickly learned was invaluable if you wanted to get things done.

Many officers from foreign nations noted this use of the CSM. Some countries had similar programs, but the CSM approach was direct, and had an impressive track record. So now many nations are adopting the CSM, in one form or another. This is part of a trend where foreign militaries, impressed by how effective the American ground forces have been over the last two decades, have been looking more closely, and adopting practices that appear likely to help.


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