As historian Hew Strachan states in The Direction of War, “Operational thinking finds its intellectual focus in doctrine.” Doctrine drives how leaders think and fight. But when the Army publishes new doctrine, as an institution we owe it to ourselves to do a better job informing, then educating, the Total Army force.
Bayonets, Forward! With this command Union Army Colonel Joshua L. Chamberlain ordered the 20th Maine Regiment to execute a daring counterattack against the 15th Alabama Regiment of the Confederate Army on July 2nd 1863 during the Battle of Gettysburg. At the extreme left flank of the Union Army, the 20th Maine fought off repeated assaults for the past several hours against the determined Confederate Soldiers.
Outnumbered and low on ammunition, Chamberlain’s bold decision and courageous leadership led his men of Maine down the slopes of Little Round Top at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania and stopped the Confederate assault against the Union Army’s left flank.
This iconic scene immortalized in Jeff Shaara’s Killer Angels, the movie Gettysburg, and Army Doctrine publications as the epitome of leadership in action, is just a snapshot in the portfolio of Chamberlain’s remarkable and unparalleled career.
Good staff officers surge right away on mission analysis
after identifying a new problem or receiving guidance from the commander.
Even though the task suspense may not be pressing, they ‘get after’ the problem because doing so:
- Defines the problem as a result of the design process
- Gives the staff (and the commander) immediate perspective on the problem
- Injects a surge of energy into the organization
- Allows everyone to analyze the problem with the commander’s guidance and situational conditions fresh in mind
- Results in a reference product (e.g. staff estimates, Mission Analysis Brief, or at least pages of notes)
- Shapes immediate coordination/guidance to give subordinate headquarters.
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Effective organizations rely on leaders to balance uncertainty, remain flexible, and provide a climate where subordinates have the latitude to explore options.
– ADP 6-22 Army Leadership, pg. 2
It’s happened to all of us. We receive a mission or task and launch into generating creative ways to execute it…only to be told which course of action to take and methods to use. This is a let-down for people who like tackling challenges on their own. Further, this directed approach prevents the subordinates from contributing alternate (and perhaps better) solutions.
Several factors about the military culture make it easy for leaders to reduce subordinate latitude:
- the premium we place on the leader’s “experience”
- the severe consequences of underperformance or failure
- the complexity of the missions
- the fast pace of operations
Nonetheless, doctrine asserts that the good units are the ones that foster critical thinking and creativity in solving problems. In fact, consider the opposite point…units will be ineffective if they do not give subordinates latitude in executing their missions.
Consider a few ways to ensure you’re giving your team the freedom to explore options:
- Acknowledge that you don’t have all the answers
- Ask for different perspectives in defining the problem and generating solutions
- Realize that your perspective is different from your team’s (you’re probably giving more guidance than you think)
- Adopt the “left and right limits” approach to giving guidance (typically associated with Mission Command)
- Be patient when subordinates complete a mission in a way that’s not what you would have chosen; as long as it’s not illegal, immoral, unethical, and meets your intent…let it ride.
“Encouragement and inspiration characterize leadership whereas coercive techniques run counter to Army leadership principles. Subordinates respond well to leadership that encourages commitment to achieve shared goals, thus improving the leader’s ability to use indirect influence in situations where clear lines of authority do not exist. Leadership seeks to influence others through the communication of ideas and common causes. Positive, empowering influence comes by knowing how to lead, relate to others, and free other to manage tasks.”
– Army Doctrine Publication (ADP) 6-22 Army Leadership
Two points are worth noting about this paragraph from ADP 6-22 – Army Leadership.
- When was the last time you encouraged and inspired your team? The guidance clearly states that Army leaders are to develop their leadership styles based on “encouragement and inspiration” and that coercive influence is not acceptable. It’s very easy to focus on task accomplishment and forget the emotional component of performance. Truth is, that’s what most people respond to; we all like to find encouragement and inspiration. And it doesn’t have to be the soft and cuddly encouragement; your team likely won’t respond to that. Connect your team to the unit’s or the Army’s history; remind them of the higher purpose of serving; or highlight the long line of sacrifice that others have made. In accordance with ADP 6-22, find ways to create a positive environment…not one that is simply absent of negativity. There’s definitely a difference.
- The other interesting point within the text is that leaders who create trust through positive leadership and shared values create the impetus to accomplish the mission when “clear lines of authority do not exist.” Essentially, this builds an environment where team members excel even when they aren’t required to, which can be powerful for an organization.
“Not being toxic” is not enough for Army leadership. Our Soldiers and officers deserve more. They deserve leaders who build their leadership personas on positivity and inspiration, knowing that such an environment will allow their teams to accomplish more.