#83 Inputs

I think today's post will be a mix of a lot of different inputs that have been stuck in my head and swimming around for a little while. None of the thoughts are fully formed yet, but they all seem to be loosely connected to one another.

First: Yesterday I had a Facebook interaction with a 3 star General regarding the changes to physical training and rifle marksmanship that are being implemented in Basic Combat Training. What struck me about the exchange was that (1) It happened very quickly and (2) That it happened at all. LTG Hertling, the Deputy Commanding General for Initial Military Training, posted a link to a NY Times article regarding why, and how, physical fitness training is being modified to increase fitness and reduce injuries for our newest Soldiers. I responded to his post by telling him that I thought we needed a 'bridging' strategy to ensure that leaders in our line units properly understood the manner in which their newest Soldiers had been conditioned so that they wouldn't injure them by doing exercises that the Soldier was unfamiliar with, or are actually detrimental to their health. I also stated that we needed the same type of 'bridge' with regard to marksmanship.

Within an hour...on a Saturday, I received the following reply from him:

"Jeff, We're doing the best we can on the "education" program. I've talked to Division Commanders at the ATLDC, we're sending out MTTs as best we can to various posts (given we have limited resources), but the real issue: TC 3.22-20 is released to the field...it's up to commanders to follow doctrinal manuals. (emphasis added) As for the changes in Basic and Advanced Rifle Marksmanship, we're providing Soldiers to the field who understand marksmanship, and can shoot better...the expectation is for the units to link that to their own training plans. That's why the CSA is asking leaders to reframe the fundamentals that we've lost: Training Management, Leader Development, etc. (emphasis added) We gotta get out of the "train me!" mode that we've been in for the past several years, which was brought about by operational deployment timelines."

Talk about flattening the organization! Two things about this exchange that struck me. First, as I was composing it, I kept wondering if somehow I would 'get in trouble' for by-passing my local chain of command in such a public manner. Since I grew up in a more structured time in the Army, things like talking out of turn, or expressing your opinion to someone much higher than you on the totem pole still makes me nervous. That is a product of the Army that raised and cultured me. It's not that I don't have ideas and opinions, it's that I worry that someone else is going to get upset and that the interaction might have a negative effect. The second, was how quickly he responded. Generals are pretty busy people. The fact that he took my question seriously, and replied to it quickly implies that he respects and values the user-level perspective. It also occurred to me that this interaction would never have occurred if he came to my post for a visit. The visit structure would not allow for it. He would be escorted everywhere and briefed to death on what our post is doing in this or that area and then taken to observe some training events, but the interaction with Soldiers and leaders would probably be limited. And, most certainly, would not have included people like me who sometimes don't quite know when to be quiet.

Second: The following quote from a document that tracks trends throughout the Army. It came in an Issue/Recommendation format:

Issue: "Platoon leaders and troop commanders struggle understanding the squadron commander's intent. As a result, squadron commanders struggle with closing the experience gap between them and the platoon leadership."

Recommendation: "The squadron commander must be able to communicate his commander's intent to the platoon leader/sergeant level within the squadron. The commander's intent is his visualization of an operations based on a blend of his knowledge, experience, and intuition."

These two quotes struck me because they speak to a lot of different ideas I have previously discussed. There are only 2 levels between a Squadron (Battalion) Commander and a platoon leader. Only one between him and the Company Commander. And yet, a common theme is that the senior leader is having difficulty getting his junior leaders to understand his intent. Why? Could it be that Battalion level commander's aren't doing the right type of leader development that closes the experience gap through a better communication process? Is it their inability to 'see' themselves correctly? Is it heuristics and ego? Is it that the Orientations of the different levels are markedly different? I have repeatedly stated that it doesn't matter if I as the senior leader have a perfect view of what I expect to happen. If my subordinates do not understand it, if they do not, or cannot share the same vision - if the aren't Oriented in the same manner I am with regard to an expected outcome - then the mission will probably fail. If we are having this much trouble at the local level developing a common understanding problems and potential solutions, then it is likely to get exponentially worse the further up the hierarchy we go. These questions are not only limited to tactical operations either. In fact, they may be even more important in the more traditionally garrison realm of reintegrating Soldiers, families, Wounded Warriors etc. The battlefield can sometimes take care of itself. It is after the fight that some of our most important leader decisions will be made. We owe that to all our Soldiers.

Third: From FM 6.0 "Mission Command - Command and Control of Army Forces", paragraph 2-52 and 2-54:

" Human beings do not normally think in terms of data, or even knowledge; they generally think in terms of ideas or images—mental pictures of a given situation. There are three sources for these images:

  • Principles that guide commanders’ behavior: their military experience,
    training, and education, including their knowledge of doctrine.

  • Force goals, the timetable for achieving them, and the end state: militarily,
    they include the higher commander’s intent, the force mission,
    and the commander’s own intent.

  • Decisions for allocating resources and sequencing activities to achieve
    the force goals, including specific actions and expected events.

2-53. Visualizing military operations effectively depends on understanding
the human factors involved in operations and the dynamics of operations
themselves. Commanders consider both of these when performing their commander’s

2-54. Human Factors. In operations, the quality of soldiers and cohesion of
units are critical to mission accomplishment. Commanders know the status
of their forces. They are aware that circumstances may prevent friendly
forces from performing to their doctrinal capabilities. Some units may have
just received new replacements or had an extended period of operations
under heavy stress. Others may be experiencing a lack of repair parts that
renders major equipment unavailable in expected quantities or limits their
capabilities. Still others may have sustained casualties that make them less
capable, experienced an enemy NBC attack, or just arrived in theater and are
not yet acclimated."

These 3 paragraphs all speak to the 'human' element of commanding/leading people. An awareness on the part of the leader of those things that science and technology cannot overcome. While on paper a unit may be at 100% personnel strength, those people may or may not be able to accomplish the assigned mission based upon various circumstances. This brings up the idea of selecting the right people or unit for the right job at the right time. What also struck me though was the idea of visualization. Painting a picture for everyone to see. I (as the leader) describe what I think the problem is, how I intend to solve it, and what I think I'll see after the operation. All of which is dependant on my Orientation. What is critical to remember however is that the Orientation of my subordinates may be (and very likely will be) very different from mine.

Fourth: From an email I received from Joe D. He recommended a book which included the following quote:

"Sometimes the problem in an organization is the leader, and he/she can't see the problem because it is them."

How are these things related? What do they mean? They all got me thinking about how I think. Not what, but how. To me, these are all related. We have a doctrine that speaks to the art of command. Those subtle things that often go unnoticed, but are actually the key ingredient of successful organizations. We struggle in organizations where the leader is so busy listening to themselves that they don't recognize that they are the problem. These two things come together in a report that says that folks only one or two levels below the leader routinely do not understand what his/her intent is.

A wide variety of inputs from official Army documents, email, and social media. All connected and interrelated. All saying the same thing in a slightly different manner. We need to return to human being based leadership. A model focused on the people in the organization. Why they are the way they are, and why they think the way they think. And that includes ourselves. It is not enough to make an effort to only understand and communicate with our subordinates. It is critically more important that they have a manner to communicate with us. They must be able to tell us when they don't understand our vision, or when our understanding of the situation does not match theirs. Without this function, neither side can fully Orient to the environment.

All of which leads me back to the exchange between the LTG Hertling and I. If you don't think that this was extraordinary, then you don't understand where we are in the today's Army. LTG Hertling in one paragraph on a social media site accomplished more than many will realize. First, my response to his posting helps to further inform him by providing a 'low end', 'user level' perspective on how to best solve the problems of Soldier fitness and marksmanship. Second, his response demonstrates a willingness to help develop a common 'visualization' of what must happen. Third, he set his rank and position aside to ensure I understood what the Army was doing to address a serious need. He is the antithesis of the quote from Joe D. Finally, this example demonstrates that cross-communication and a common visualization is possible from the very bottom to the very top of the organization. There are only one or two levels between a lieutenant or captain and their battalion commander. There are at least five or six between the General and I. It works because he recognizes that he must state his 'vision', his 'intent' in a manner that I can hear. He doesn't have to do it that way - his position does not demand this interaction - he chooses to. Which says a lot about leadership. And the people involved.

As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome.