The Army’s Mission Command philosophy is a strategic cultural and intellectual shift in how to run the Army of the future. The Army is a large and complex organization founded in policies and procedures, derived from tradition and past success. Even though the army hasn’t realized the overall adoption of Mission Command, it is imperative to continue to lead the organizational change in pursuit of that vision since Mission Command provides the only known advantage in future complex environments because it promotes creativity and strategic thinking, fosters innovation and communication and empowers leaders at all levels.
In order to achieve this change, the Army should strive to remove barriers to change, encourage praise and recognition for its practice and reinvigorate the strategic communication campaign. First, the Mission Command philosophy focuses on the only known strength in future conflicts, that adaptive leadership can exploit opportunities to create an advantage over an adversary. According to General Dempsey, an increasingly competitive world will give rise to the potential of diverse simultaneous conflicts in multiple domains.
The frequency of operations along with potential crisis and a fiscally challenged environment will create the requirement for smaller units with decentralized decision making authority. To ensure their future success, these forces must be fully immersed in the Mission Command philosophy, culture, and systems. The US Army’s ability to fight and win in future conflicts relies heavily on leaders’ abilities to make timely decisions to, seize, retain, and exploit the initiative in order to gain and maintain a position of relative advantage.
Instead of thinking of objectives, the leader focuses on the initiative and maintaining a relative advantage with the environment. The concept application adapts to any environment if the leader trains to think following the Mission Command philosophy Creativity and strategic thinking are leadership traits required and produced using the mission command philosophy. While some decisions can be made using an “automatic” mode of cognitive thought, military leaders often need a more “controlled” though process like the critical thinking model to develop strategic thinking and address challenging decisions.
The Army War College defines strategic thinking as “the ability to make creative and holistic synthesis of key factors affecting an organization and its environment in order to obtain sustainable competitive advantage and longterm success” The first commander task, exemplifies the requirement for strategic thinking and creativity, to drive the operations process by understanding the problem, visualizing the environment, and describing it to others. This is the essence of strategic thinking; those leaders who grow up in the age of mission command will have better developed this skill, which will serve them well as future strategic leaders.
Mission Command fosters innovation and communication. “The creation of a culture that is supportive of continuous innovation within the organization underlies all other elements of the innovation process”. Mission Command is a cultural change within the Army, which fosters innovative thought. The continuous evaluation and striving to gain and retain a position of relative advantage allows teams to constantly examine the environment searching for those areas providing that advantage. When inculcated, it will resonate through all organizations at all levels within the Army to create that culture.
It crosses all boundaries because a position of relative advantage can be applied virtually anywhere, militarily, economic, diplomatic, or informational, what is important is realizing that it is temporary and that the environment and competition is always affecting it. Mission command continuously focuses on the initiative and how to exploit it. Communication is a critical element in Mission Command it is at the center of the philosophy. The ability to communicate a vision or intent is what starts the mission command process.
Mission Command will force a cultural change in the way the Army talks with each other as well as its stakeholders. Explaining the visualization of the environment in descriptive terms as opposed to simply providing data will assist teams in a mutual understanding and picture of the problem and those things that are affecting it. This method of communication will aid in getting to the why and how to alter, adjust or refine the current plan or intent. Communication and the freedom to voice dissenting opinions are the critical piece to identify deficiencies in process and procedure and manage an appropriate bureaucracy.
Empowering leaders at all levels is the most critical aspect of the Mission Command philosophy. History shows that empowered leaders have risen to greatness and that examples of decentralized command and commander’s intent have a record of success throughout the military. As an example, in 1864 the following communication took place between General Grant and General Sherman. General Sherman, “You I propose to move against Johnston’s Army, to break it up and get into the interior of the enemy’s country as far as you can, inflicting all the damage you can against their War resources.
I do not propose to lay down a plan of Campaign, but simply to lay down the work it is desirable to have done and leave you free to execute in your own way. ” Sherman responds to Grant with his plan and states: “That we are now all to act in a Common plan, Converging on a Common Center, looks like Enlightened War” While some commander’s in combat have instinctively and effectively used intent to empower leaders and seize the initiative, it’ lack of use during peacetime or in other areas of the Army have resulted in underutilized potential of leaders and the overall organization.
Mission Command and leader empowerment focus on three key attributes, understanding, intent, and trust. Understanding is the commander’s continuous ability to see the problem, analyze decisions, manage risk, and adjust the plan. It is essential to have two-way communications up, down and lateral to support the process. “Intent fuses understanding, assigned mission and direction to subordinates. ” Trust is the key component as it provides the “moral sinew” that binds the team together. These basic attributes when incorporated and practiced by all levels of leaders have the ability to transform the Army into a perpetually learning organization.
The challenge that remains is how to lead such a holistic cultural shift in an complex institution such as the Army. The Army has not fully internalized the concept of Mission Command even though it has been in the organizations’ doctrine since 1982. The managerial style of the Army has long dominated the organization. The focus was on business and managerial tasks such as logistics, manpower, mobilizations, and other quantifiable items. Leaders used standardized procedures, detailed planning and analysis to maximize efficiency and minimize risk and uncertainty.
The desire to quantify everything in an effort to display it on spreadsheets and slides spread through all functions of the army. The management bureaucracy engulfed all aspects, training, personnel, maintenance, logistics, and readiness. Throughout the years, leaders have identified its deficiencies and attempted to minimize the impacts. The phrase “train to standard not to time” was surely developed to promote leading training as opposed to managing it. Ironically, large-scale change becomes even more difficult with size, tradition, and relative success all of which apply to the Army.
A cultural change of this magnitude may well have been virtually impossible because it required individuals in the appropriate positions to attempt the enormous task of establishing a new vision and leading such large-scale organizational change. This requires strategic leadership and a unique self-awareness to understand the complex adaptive system and its barriers to change. General Dempsey set this in motion in 2012, by explaining the challenging future environment and establishing the vision for the Army.
He understood the challenges of implementing this major cultural change. “We will not embrace mission command from a single combination of policy, doctrine, and training. These guide and shape, but they do not create belief and capability. Understand my intent: I challenge every leader in the Joint Force to be a living example of mission command. You have my trust. ” The process is slow, but according to a 2013 study three-fourths of respondents rated their leaders effective with regard to mission command principles.
The same study identifies junior leaders as the group most unfamiliar with Mission Command philosophy and principles. 44% of 2LT-CPT and 57% of SGT-SSG were either not familiar or had not heard of ADP 6-0, Mission Command. Using this type of data, leaders can continuously visualize the environment and inject change within the organization to assist in the modification of the strategic implementation plan. Strategic messaging is critical both internal and external to the organization to ensure receipt of the message throughout the Army.
If the Army is going to continue with the organizational change to Mission Command, leaders like the Army Chief of Staff need take a more active role in the communication campaign. Leaders such as Gen. David Perkins should continue to deliver the Mission Command message, and further emphasize why it is critical to the Army’s future. The message should focus on removing barriers at all levels, and encourage praise and recognition for its use. A specific message should be tailored to address the junior leaders within the organization to accelerate their knowledge and understanding of the philosophy, function and systems.