By Brig. Gen. James Bonner
Special to GUIDON
Mission command stands as the Army’s approach for how commanders, supported by their staffs, combine the art and science of command and control to understand situations, make decisions, direct actions and lead forces toward mission accomplishment.
Military operations are inherently chaotic, and no plan can account for every possibility. Instead, plans must evolve based on situations. The environments in which we operate require commanders to provide clear intent, in addition to well-defined left and right limits, so that subordinates may make decisions and exercise disciplined initiative. However, mission command is impossible to execute without a foundation of trust between our leaders and the Soldiers they lead.
This trust is a two-way street. Leaders must feel that their Soldiers understand the big picture, will operate within given control measures and will adapt plans within their intent as the situation requires. Meanwhile, Soldiers must feel their officers and NCOs are leaders of character that set conditions for mission success and care for the welfare of the unit.
Character is particularly important because it is a prerequisite to the development of trust. Our Army Profession and Ethic and values provide the blueprint for ethical conduct and set a baseline for all Soldiers to follow. On and off the battlefield we must believe in the character of our leaders, peers, and subordinates and that their character will lead them to do the right thing to accomplish the mission.
Mission command: what it’s not
Some mistake mission command for a laissez-faire, or hands-off, approach to leadership. This could not be further from the truth. Leaders must be flexible with levels of control based upon personnel being familiar with their missions and roles and based upon the complexity of the mission. For example, a person or unit new to a mission may require different engagement or guidance than another with more experience. A commander may want to provide additional guidance to a unit serving as a mission’s main effort. It is the leader’s responsibility to understand which method is appropriate based off the training, experience and capabilities of subordinates and the needs of the mission.
Similarly, mission command does not mean that leaders refrain from detailed guidance or leader checks. Leaders must absolutely be engaged with their formations. Leader presence and accessibility are key. This principle holds true at every echelon, from fire team to our most senior leaders.
Mission command is not just for commanders and their supporting staffs. All of our subordinate leaders and their teams need to understand their roles and nested purpose within the bigger picture to effectively execute the mission. Subordinates need to continually seek opportunities and develop themselves and each other to stay battle focused in their tasks and battle drills — they must be ready to fight at any time.
Leaders need to encourage this development climate by providing avenues for subordinates to demonstrate their abilities. By living by our ethic as leaders of character, by designing tough and realistic training and by placing subordinates in positions of increased responsibility to test their skills, we build the culture of trust necessary for the execution of mission command.
To learn more about mission command and the great things it allows our Army to achieve, I encourage all of you to watch a series of YouTube videos from the Center for the Army Profession and Leadership on the five mission command myths and to read ADP 6-0 “Mission Command: Command and Control of Army Forces.”
(Editor’s note: Bonner is the Maneuver Support Center of Excellence and Fort Leonard Wood commanding general.)