"Leaders throughout our future force must have both the authority as well as the judgment to make decisions and develop the situation through action. Critical thinking by Soldiers and their leaders will be essential to achieve the trust and wisdom implicit in such authority. The training and education of our entire force must aim to develop the mindset and requisite knowledge, skills, and abilities required to operate effectively under conditions of uncertainty and complexity."
TRADOC Pam 525-3-0 The Army's Future Force Capstone Concept - Dec 2009
"Lifelong learning and cognitive skills. Future Army forces require lifelong learners who are creative and critical thinkers with highly refined problem solving skills and the ability to process and transform data and information rapidly and accurately into usable knowledge, across a wide range of subjects, to develop strategic thinkers capable of applying operational art to the strategic requirements of national policy."
TRADOC Pam 525-3-1-2 The United States Army Operating Concept - August 2010
"While these experts note senior leaders are more prone to empower subordinate commanders than ever before in combat, these same senior leaders tended to micromanage subordinates in garrison. Senior leaders emphasized that mutual trust and confidence originates and is reinforced in garrison through day-to-day activities and procedures (figure 2-7). This evolved concept of mission command demands subordinates are entrusted with decisionmaking authority and placed in demanding and complex situations in garrison to forge the trust relationship and develop their competency for armed conflict. This is a profound cultural issue that calls upon leaders at every echelon to exercise nerve, restraint, and calculated risk."
TRADOC Pam 525-3-3 "The United States Army Functional Concept for Mission Command" - October 2010
Last night I went over to some friends of mine for dinner. They have both recently returned from a year long deployment and are now slowly easing their way back into life in the States. I am glad they are home and was really happy to have chance to get caught up. He is a Company commander and she works in an operations shop. They are both young, aware, self-confident people who have a great desire to serve and succeed in the Army. They are the next generation of Army leaders and I am proud to call them my friends and honored that they would consider me one of theirs. I always enjoy getting a chance to see them and share ideas and thoughts with them and get their input and ideas in return.
At one point in the evening, his phone rang and he suddenly got a look in his eye and his shoulders tensed up as he answered. Apparently it was a wrong number and as he hung up the phone there was a visible wave of relief and relaxation that passed over him. He had gone through an entire cycle of emotion from enjoying a quiet evening, to 'switched-on' and putting his professional brain back into gear, to relaxed again all in about 30 seconds. Kind of interesting to watch. When he hung up, I asked him about it and it started a discussion about things that had come up since the unit had returned. Soldiers in jail and other issues that happen upon redeployment and reintegration back into the much wider and much more free life back at home. He made the comment, "It's easier to command downrange because there are walls. Soldiers can only go so far." Since he has been home, he is finding out one of the limits of his authority as a commander. Whereas when the unit is deployed, he can track and control his subordinates activities due to the physical limitations of the environment, when he comes home many of those restraints are removed and his Soldiers have a much greater degree of individual decision-making autonomy. And while the vast majority will make proper and well thought out choices, there will certainly be those who do not.
As we were talking about the phone call and another incident he has been dealing with it came up that he really has no idea how to command his unit under his present circumstances (at home station) and that lack of familiarity and experience is unsettling. In many ways, because he has spent all of his command time so far in a deployed environment, his experience and knowledge, and expertise about command and leadership is almost completely formed by life downrange. He is now beginning a 2nd deployment cycle as a commander - only this time it is in the United States. He is finding out very quickly that it is a far more treacherous battlefield to navigate back home than it is downrange. I brought up an idea I have mentioned many times before that if we would treat the return back home as a deployment with all of the same preparations we give to understanding the downrange environment we would be much better off than we currently are. Is it really that much different to understand the social, structural, behavioral and cultural norms of an American Soldier than it is for the people in a province in Iraq or Afghanistan? Not really. We can do the same analysis of our Soldiers and their wants and needs and understandings as we do for indigenous populations downrange. We already have the tools to gain this insight, but we don't often use it to look at ourselves. Why not? Why not take all the tools for counterinsurgency operations we have been painstakingly learning over the past decade and put them to use in order to assist Soldiers in making the necessary behavioral changes that life in the States requires?
Look again at the opening quotations from the TRADOC publications above:
"While these experts note senior leaders are more prone to empower subordinate commanders than ever before in combat, these same senior leaders tended to micromanage subordinates in garrison."
"Leaders throughout our future force must have both the authority as well as the judgment to make decisions and develop the situation through action. Critical thinking by Soldiers and their leaders will be essential to achieve the trust and wisdom implicit in such authority."
"Future Army forces require lifelong learners who are creative and critical thinkers with highly refined problem solving skills....."
What do these things really mean? On their face, the fact that they are stated in the documents as a need, implies a recognition that we are not doing them now. That alone should give us all pause....
If we truly want to imbue these abilities in our junior leaders then here is what that phone call really means:
Instead of the relief- alert-action-tension-relief cycle there could be a calm understanding that the commander is trusted by his superiors that he can make the proper assessments and judgments regarding incidents with his Soldiers. He doesn't get tense answering the phone because it is not a challenge of his abilities or his judgment. Instead of nervousness he could concentrate on the problem itself. And as part of that he could recognize those times when he needs to ask others above him for advice and counsel, as confident in his knowledge of those things unfamiliar as he is with those things familiar. He would not spend time gaining approval before making a decision. He would make the best one possible using his experience and rest easy in that. After all, isn't that why he was selected to command the unit in the first place? And part of this confidence would come from a recognition throughout the command from top to bottom that after a year-long deployment there are going to be a myriad of issues, problems, and incidents - both major and minor -that will inevitably arise. Instead of trying to set the conditions for 'zero defect', all levels of leadership from the lowest to highest, should be working to create environments where there is an unwillingness on the part of the members to put themselves in those tenuous situations in the first place. Instead of, "If you do this, then I will punish you by doing that", everyone would be working to create units where we have increased Soldier judgment and esprit de corps so much that the individual does not want to let the unit down by doing something to discredit it.
There would also be the implicit understanding that when issues do arise, they are not always an indictment of the commander personally. Since there would be an acceptance that leaders cannot control every action or decision made then we would be forced to remove the personality and solve the problem. There really is no difference between solving a logistical problem regarding how to get water, food, fuel etc to Soldiers on the battlefield, and how to get a Soldier who has been arrested, arraigned, and back to post and through the remaining legal processes. The steps of the process are similar, only the conditions are different. That recognition seems to me to be the critical 'agility' and 'adaptability' steps that have become the buzzwords that describe the type of Army leader we are all looking for but don't seem to know how to develop. It is an implicit understanding of the operating environment. It's not a judgment of an individual person (Jane or Joe is a lousy commander because they lead the unit in XYZ incidents), but rather an acceptance that Jane or Joe is leading a unit in a new environment that neither they nor their Soldiers are familiar with and this spike in incidents will have to be reduced over time by the application of leadership.
Finally: "The training and education of our entire force must aim to develop the mindset and requisite knowledge, skills, and abilities required to operate effectively under conditions of uncertainty and complexity."
Yup. My friend got failed by the Army because it has done none of the above for his current environment. His command experience just became a lot more uncertain and a damn sight more complex! The Army has not provided him the knowledge he needs to have when a Soldier arrives home to a spouse who has decided to leave and take their children. It has not provided him the knowledge of why and how so many Soldiers engage in risky behaviors that can have horrible effects. It has not given him the skills necessary to navigate the many personal, human being challenges that will arise over the weeks and months ahead. We have the ability to do these things, but we have not because no one seems to realize that the critical understanding of the environment is equally as important back home as it is deployed. The problem is the same, it just needs to be Oriented to differently. Soldiers who were 'switched-on' for the better part of the last year will now have the ability to flip that switch on and off as they see fit. What have we done to prepare them for that personal responsibility?
Because we haven't done those things, the need for micromanagement will make a nasty and very swift return. And here's how it will happen. A senior leader will want to start tracking the number of incidents that occur in his or her unit. As the chart is built, inevitably it will be broken down by subordinate unit. This company or that platoon etc and then the number of DUI's or domestic violence, or speeding tickets all neatly charted in rows and columns. As soon as that happens, then the competition has begun and micromanagement has returned. As the senior leaders work to out-do each other to have the smallest number of incidents, it will require them to emplace further and further restrictions on their Soldiers actions. What gets lost in this contest however is that no one is actually doing the one thing that will, in the long run, make the most difference. No one is developing the critical judgment ability of the individual Soldier. They have not become any more self-aware or able to make sound judgments. I'm not kidding here. The thing that scares me the most for the Army as the rotation and deployment schedule slows down is the return of 'zero defect' mentalities and the frontal attack that is coming from micromanagement. It will take an amazingly strongly command climate to hold these things at bay and ensure that we concentrate our efforts of the development of trust, agility, critical thinking, and esprit de corps.
Thankfully, last night's phone call turned out to be wrong number. Imagine what might have happened had it been something serious.....
Why are we putting our young leaders in positions where they cannot wait to accept the challenge of command and then in very short order cannot wait until the mantel is passed? Could it be because we are not providing them the critical abilities they need, the trust they deserve, and the climates that truly care for them? Maybe. We'll have to wait and see if the next generation of leaders can fight back hard enough against micromanagement and competition to actually focus on what matters - developing Soldiers at all levels from Private to General capable of making sound decisions, under challenging circumstances with a wide understanding of the environment and their place in it.
Over 40 years ago, General Melvin Zais said the following:
"It is an interesting phenomenon and paradox that go to school after school and we spend 80% of our time on tactics, weapons, logistics and planning and 20% of our time on people matters and then we go to our units and what do we do? We spend 80% of our time on people matters and 20% on tactics, weapons, logistics etc."
Welcome to your second deployment as a commander. Too bad we didn't prepare you for it the way we should have.
As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome.