Best Defense

How to do that ‘mission command’ thing: Some easy steps you all can follow, dammit

Everyone talks about mission command, but then they find out how hard it is to do.

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Everyone talks about mission command, but then they find out how hard it is to do. Fortunately, some 25 years ago, one Lt. Col. James Dubik wrote a terrific article about it. He’s a smart guy, so pull up a stump and listen.

To have a unit operate on the principle of mission command, a commander must create an environment in which people trust each other to execute correctly and to standard. To do that, Dubik says, you need intense training, and education led by senior leaders. Indeed, officer professional development generally needs to be done personally, by the commander. That’s the best way “to convey intent that is two levels down and to develop a command mind-set.”

But this is not intended to make everybody learn how to solve problems the same way. “The goal is to create a common approach to analyzing and solving tactical problems, not a common solution.”

One interesting conclusion: To do this right, Dubik advises, a commander needs to “ensure that each training event is properly focused on the fewest number of tasks possible.” Good training is the opposite of checking blocks, he admonishes. “Such attitudes miss the main point of training — building the kind of soldier and unit proficiency from which confidence grows.”

He also offers a good distinction between “intent” and “operating concept.”

“The commander’s intent should not be a long, drawn-out description of how the commander sees the battle unfolding — that is the concept of the operation.” Rather, “The commander’s intent is supposed to function as a control measure; it guides the subordinate commander without stifling his initiative.” I don’t remember quite seeing intent put that way, as a kind of mental guardrail.

Once you go down this road, you also need to be sure to recognize and reward those who take initiative, he adds.

More here. ‘Nuff said?

Photo credit: Command and General Staff College Archives

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at Twitter: @tomricks1

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