Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

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.

Screen Shot 2017-04-25 at 9.45.36 AM
Screen Shot 2017-04-25 at 9.45.36 AM

 

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.”

 

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 ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

More from Foreign Policy

An illustration shows George Kennan, the father of Cold War containment strategy.
An illustration shows George Kennan, the father of Cold War containment strategy.

Is Cold War Inevitable?

A new biography of George Kennan, the father of containment, raises questions about whether the old Cold War—and the emerging one with China—could have been avoided.

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks on the DISCLOSE Act.
U.S. President Joe Biden speaks on the DISCLOSE Act.

So You Want to Buy an Ambassadorship

The United States is the only Western government that routinely rewards mega-donors with top diplomatic posts.

Chinese President Xi jinping  toasts the guests during a banquet marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China on September 30, 2019 in Beijing, China.
Chinese President Xi jinping toasts the guests during a banquet marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China on September 30, 2019 in Beijing, China.

Can China Pull Off Its Charm Offensive?

Why Beijing’s foreign-policy reset will—or won’t—work out.

Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar chairs a meeting in Ankara, Turkey on Nov. 21, 2022.
Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar chairs a meeting in Ankara, Turkey on Nov. 21, 2022.

Turkey’s Problem Isn’t Sweden. It’s the United States.

Erdogan has focused on Stockholm’s stance toward Kurdish exile groups, but Ankara’s real demand is the end of U.S. support for Kurds in Syria.