#5 Words Matter

I read my new Commanding General's philosophy the other day and it struck me that without knowing it, he may have placed his soldiers in a rather untenable position. The General had a quick Power Point slide show that introduced him to the Division, and outlined his priorities as the commander. Nothing too different from what any commander should do to ensure that his subordinates know what matters to him/her and what he/she thinks are important. This is critical because it helps to reduce the ambiguity that always arises from changes in leadership at the top. However, as I read it, I began to think that by using commonly refered to phrases and the institutional language of the Army, he was, in effect, putting one toe in the water, and keeping one on dry land. And creating a lot of confusion for his subordinates, exactly the opposite of his intent. As an example, there is a quote that says something like, "We will accomplish any mission, but are always looking for a fight." Another quotation said "Be creative". Yet another said "Use Task, Condition, Standard".

Now lets look those phrases independently. By stating that we will "Accomplish any mission", he has accepted that our soldiers need to be more than mere combatants. They must be able to conduct Full Spectrum Operations which includes offense, defense and stability ops. And, in reality, they will do all 3 - usually simultaneously. But, then he undercut this requirement by adding the 2nd part, "...but always looking for a fight." This will have the effect of focusing his subordinates to emphasize offensive, violence based, 3 GW tactics and training. Now, as the debate continues on how to effectively fight a 4GW war, two separate camps are likely to show up in the subordinate battalions and brigades: Those who favor the broader requirements of "accomplish any mission", and those who favor "looking for a fight". In the macho, type A world of an Infantry battalion or brigade, it's not too difficult to imagine which camp will win out. After all, shooting guns and blowing stuff up is much more preferable than shaking hands, learning cultural considerations, and building schools and hospitals. Especially if you are an 18-24 year old soldier who joined the Army to be an infantryman. From a training perspective, it also yields results which are much easier to see and quantify. One can always count the number of bullets expended, or targets hit, but one can't ever measure the effect of providing running water or medical aid, or an expression of human kindness.

In another part of his briefing he said that he likes to see creativity in his subordinates. When I first read this, I got excited and thought that we might have found a leader who was more than willing to allow his subordinates to open up the box of possibilities to find training solutions that would meet their needs. But then he went on in another place to reinforce Task, Condition, Standards based training. T/C/S does not allow for any creativity. By definition it is a one way only path. Take X task, train it to Y condition, and meet Z standard. All of which are outlined quite nicely for you in whatever manual happens to be related to your training.
We are at a place in the Army where the words matter. Buzzwords like agility, adaptive, creative, outcome-based, results oriented etc are creeping into the lexicon and being thrown around a little too loosely. If we truly want those things then we have to understand what they entail and then train ourselves to overcome the institutional biases we have and learn how to achieve them. Creativity implies more than one solution to a problem. Agility implies the ability to move quickly or change direction rapidly. Outcome based means we're going to pay more attention to what we are producing than we are to the amount of resources that we put into the training itself. We will find ways to measure whether we are getting the correct return on our training investment.
And so I am confused - a little. Because I know what the man means, but I also know what he said. Sir, words matter. But until you clarify your position, I going to nervously approach each situation and wonder to myself, "Is this the time to be creative, or is this the time to stick with T/C/S and not risk anything?" You see, in many ways, I'll be forced to bet one way or the other each time and hope that I place enough correct bets over time to build a reputation within the organization that I'll be somewhat insulated against the one time my bet doesn't pay off. Risky business when I'm looking over my shoulder at the boss as often as I'm scanning my perimeter to search for the enemy.