#91 The Future is Now

Throughout my writing there are a few themes that have popped up time after time. Primarily that we lead human beings not organizations, and that the development of the human being should be the primary purpose of all leader development programs. More importantly, we need to force people through those programs to study themselves - who they are, what formed them, how they think, and the potential consequences of those thought processes. That we need to make self-awareness a primary focus of leader development. My contention is that by concentrating our efforts inward, we will develop leaders of known moral character, with the ability to critically view their environment and make decisions consistent with the values of the nation and the Army and that advance the commander's intent and mission accomplishment. They gain the understanding of why they make the choices or decisions they do and then possess the character to stand by them once made, or adapt them when they become aware that they will not work. In my early posts, these ideas didn't generate a lot of discussion or thought mainly because I think that most folks found the ideas to 1) be self evident and 2) they believed that the institution was already doing those things. Obviously, I do not believe that they are self-evident, nor that the institution is doing them. My personal experiences in Iraq had given me a 'front row seat' to the limitations of many of our current leader development programs - including mine, and had awakened me to a different set of possibilities. However, because my experiences are relatively unique and don't happened often, many folks probably didn't see much value in them because they are highly unlikely to occur in their world. And that is a fair assumption. War crimes, while providing high drama, a lot of emotion and capturing people's attention, are extremely rare and therefore are almost an anomaly that can be easily disregarded. Additionally, the posts regarding risk, trust, ethical development, individual responsibility etc didn't get much attention early on because those subjects call for a lot of individual 'gray area' interpretation and no institution likes gray. Institutions like black and white. They like structure and rules and orders and definiteness. They do not like chaos and ambiguity and personal interpretation. Counterinsurgencies, what happened to my platoon, and what is currently going on in 5th brigade, 2nd ID, however, highlight what can happen when we don't make an attempt to understand that we live in an inherently gray world, and one that is becoming more so each day. The Army calls it "..conditions of uncertainty and complexity." Of course, the Army's "..conditions of uncertainty and complexity" are focused outward towards our adversaries while I have often contended that we can use the development of those very same skill sets necessary for counterinsurgencies to look inward at ourselves and our own people.

Recently the Army has published a series of pamphlets outlining how it intends to operate for the next decade or so. What its' projected missions look like, how the system will function, and what it thinks it's requirements will be in different areas. This started with something called the Army Capstone Concept published in Dec 2009, which outlines very broadly what the Army predicts the future will look like in terms of threat, and what will be needed to meet it's requirements. In general, the ACC takes advantage of lessons learned from the last decade of conflict and combines them with the most likely course of events for the next 10 years or more to determine what capabilities the Army must possess in order to remain a predominant power and conduct the nation's land warfare business. The Capstone Concept was followed by The Army Operating Concept which outlined two broad functions that the Army must provide - combined arms maneuver and wide area security. And just two weeks ago, another volume was published entitled "The United States Army Functional Concept for Mission Command". You can find the link to all of these papers below:


The "Mission Command" pamphlet is a critically important document and well worth the read for both military and non-military alike for it speaks more to the human element of leading people in decentralized environments (business or war) than anything I have seen to date. It moves the discussion from one of command and control, to one of mission command. Two very different things. Importantly, this document begins with an explicit recognition that technology has limitations and wars are fought in and amongst people.

"The renewed emphasis on mission command corrects the 1990s defense transformation view that emerging technologies would lift the fog of war and allow unprecedented awareness of every aspect of future operations. This view argued that operational images and graphics displayed on computer screens, in combination with processes such as system-of-systems analysis and operational net assessment, would permit an all-knowing headquarters to develop detailed plans, make near-perfect decisions, closely control organizations, and direct operations toward mission accomplishment.

In fact, however, operations over the past decade have reminded the Army that armed conflict is first a human undertaking and what matters most are the opaque intentions, dynamic relationships, and covert actions of human groups, mostly invisible to technical intelligence. Additionally, the same technology that provides greater awareness to higher headquarters also enables subordinates to be better informed and to make better and timelier decisions. Thus, the U.S. Army is more committed than ever to the concept of mission command."

It then goes on to say:

"It establishes operational adaptability as its central tenet and asserts success in future armed conflict depends on the ability of Army leaders and forces to understand the situation in breadth, depth, and context; then develop the situation through action in close contact with enemies and civil populations."


"TRADOC Pam 525-3-7, The U.S. Army Concept for the Human Dimension in Full-Spectrum Operations 2015-2024 emphasizes optimization of the cognitive, physical, and social components of every Soldier with the objective to improve the acquisition and selection of personnel; maximize leader and organizational development; establish the ability to rapidly adjust, deliver, and provide accessibility of training and education ultimately balancing Soldier knowledge, skills, and abilities with full-spectrum operations mission requirements."

The "Human Dimension" document is one that I referenced very early on in my writings as something we all need to study and use in our daily interactions. I continue to suggest it to all leaders as they attempt to understand their subordinates and how to develop them and make use of their particular skills and abilities.

The "Functional Concept for Mission Command" pamphlet contains a lot of things that also reinforce many of my personal observations and thoughts as the blog has progressed. Consider the following:

"The purpose of military action is never purely destructive. In every case, it is to influence the behavior of various groups of human beings toward some greater purpose. Since humans are products of their genetic inheritance, education, and experience, they perceive the world selectively, making judgments of fact and of value. They continually negotiate their perceptions and interpretations of the world with others. Thus, key individuals in any mission are as influenced from inside this system of humans as much as they are by outside intervention. Not surprisingly, therefore, they do not always behave in a logical and rational way....Prevailing in the contest of wills will require acute understanding of human behavior and place increasing demands on leaders to make decisions and act without the benefit of complete information."

While these statements are generally focused on the idea of understanding with regard to potential adversaries, I believe that their central themes of exercising influence over human beings towards the achievement of a common goal, understanding the vaguaries and individuality of human beings, and decision making in context are equally applicable to leading our own Soldiers. Remember, the Army defines leadership as:

"The process of influencing people by providing purpose, direction, and motivation while operating to accomplish the mission and improving the organization."

Seems the same as "Influencing the behavior of various groups of human beings towards some greater purpose" to me. Only that by Orientation we read the paragraph from the "Mission Command" document as being outward focused and the leadership definition as being inward focused. In fact they are both saying the same thing.

Paragraph 2-3 of the document states the following:

"Mission command is the exercise of authority and direction by commanders, supported by their staffs, that fosters mutual trust, encourages initiative, and empowers subordinate leaders to develop the situation, adapt, and act decisively within the commander’s intent."

Suddenly, the idea of leadership, or the role of the leader, begins to shift away from commanding something and more towards themes of trust development, the exercise of initiative and the empowerment of subordinates. A fundamental role of the commander or leader becomes the enhancement of his or her subordinates to be able to act quickly, make ethical decisions and take actions with the faith and confidence of their seniors. This paragraph explicitly affirms the need for leaders to spend significant time and energy in articulating the desired outcomes and allowing their subordinates as much freedom as possible to achieve them, all in support of the mission and the ethical/moral expectations of the institution and the nation. This is a direct refutation of the micro-management and fear based development that many leaders today have experienced. We have finally accepted that the complexities of the decentralized environment are too much for any one person to be able to exert direct command and control over. The changed environment is dictating that we cannot control every action therefore we have to trust that our subordinates can understand what must be done, understand their left and right limits, and can recognize when a changing situation requires a new understanding.

We have come full circle. And whether or not they acknowledge it, the Army has certainly returned to the OODA cycle and the work of John Boyd. The emphasis on "Orientation" is found throughout the "Mission Command" document. Of everything I have read since learning about Boyd two years ago, this pamphlet is a very close interpretation of Boyd's "Organic Design for Command and Control".

Consider the following from Boyd:

"Commanders need insight and vision in order to unveil adversary plans and actions as well as 'foresee our own goals and appropriate plans and actions."

"Commanders need focus and direction to achieve some goal or aim."

"Commanders need adaptability to cope with uncertain and ever-changing circumstances."

"Commanders need security to remain unpredictable."

Compare that to the following:

"Commander tasks. Execute the role of the commander by understanding the problem, visualizing the end state, and nature and design of the operation, describing the time, space, resources, and purpose action, direct the warfighting functions, and constantly assess the process. Develop teams among modular formations, and joint, interagency, intergovernmental, and multinational partners. The commander must build teams with assigned and supporting organizations as well as with joint interagency, intergovernmental, and multinational partners. The commander must lead inform and influence activities by establishing themes and messages and personally engaging key players. Effective full-spectrum operations require commanders to establish and synchronize information themes and messages and integrate with actions to achieve a desired end state."

"Mission command envisions commanders enabling agile and adaptive leaders and organizations to execute dutiful initiative within the commander’s intent as part of unified action in a complex and ambiguous environment. Mission command offers no panacea or rigid formula for success. Instead, it is integral to successful full-spectrum operations, challenging leaders to cultivate a bias for action in subordinates, develop mutual trust and understanding, and exercise moral nerve and restraint."

"(1) Mutual trust, understanding, and dutiful initiative. These are keystones of mission command, energizing subordinates to accomplish assigned missions (tasks) in accord with the commander’s intent (purpose). Mission command thrives where mutual trust, understanding, and dutiful initiative outweigh the sum of all fears."

Insight and Vision = Understanding the problem and its' context

Focus and Direction = Themes and messages

Adaptability = Agility and dutiful initiative

Security = Trust

I blog about human being leader development and how it happens (or does not happen) in the context of the Army. These same processes happen in industry or academia, just with a different vocabulary. The themes themselves are universal. Any industry that wants to survive must see itself clearly, understand the human beings who reside in it, develop them in context with it's expected norms and do the same for the environment it is working in. The acronyms and abbreviations might be different, but the concepts remain the same. That is why you don't have to be in the Army to read this as long as you don't get too wrapped up in the language of the Army.

There will be a return to emphasizing personal leader development throughout the Army in the next 5 to 10 years. The circumstances demand it. Thankfully, we have some leaders in the Army today who recognized this need and are already addressing it. If you follow my work at all, I routinely cite the work of Don Vandergriff, LTG Hertling, and recently, the ideas and comments of LTG Caslen and General Demspey because these are the people who are leading this process. I also hope that my thoughts here contribute a little to that discussion. It is now time for the rest of us to study what has been put out there, embrace the requirements of the next 25 years, and do everything in our power to ensure we provide the next generation of leaders the tools they need and a proper climate to prevail in the 'contest of wills' that is warfare.

The future is now. The development of one young Lieutenant, one young Noncommissioned officer, and one young Soldier is our responsibility. Done correctly, it will become our legacy. Done incorrectly, we will do a disservice to the nation.

As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome. The blog gained an additional 120 viewers this week. I am grateful to everyone who follows it.


  1. I fear I have published a rather savage commentary on this blog. I'll be interested to learn if it causes offence or simply invites derision:


  2. nice that the Army is digging into the "human dimension"...after all, Soldiers are human...and humans are lead by other humans....all being different....

    our commonality is our Professional Ethic...gets back to your previous blog....and we should talk about out Ethic (in messhalls, orderly rooms, S3 shops, FOBs, COPs, gyms, pubs, etc) in real and practical ways....what does "duty" mean? what does it look like? what does it not look like? same with loyalty, respect, integrity, empathy, trust...etc etc

    leaders should not shy away from these talks...make them as common as talking about the Giants winning the World Series, the latest National Election, college football, music, HALO, or anything else....

    we all need to show courage in talking about that which we don't want to talk about...