Envisioning Leadership Beyond the Battlefield: How Do You Do It?

Hello, join the discussion from GovLearning:


As I passed the Pentagon en route to ASTD today, I thought about Georgia Sorenson’s fascinating article “Leadership Beyond the Battlefield” in the most recent issue of The Public Manager. If you missed it you can get more here: http://www.thepublicmanager.org/journal/insidethisIssue.aspx

Fundamentally, Sorenson looked at how civilian and military leaders communicate vision and strategy, which is always critical to success. She reminds us that saying something as simple as “Let me be clear,” the way President Obama does, helps to get the job done.

Additionally, Sorenson compared the concept of Commander’s Intent – the vision statement of no more than a few hundred words that provides strategic guidance to our troops – to the leading change Executive Core Qualifications ( or ECQs) OPM requires.

Sorenson wrote, Commander’s Intent (known as CI) originated because combat orders in past centuries were often a source of confusion. They “needed a sharper focus without infringing on the creative implementation of field officers. CIs” Sorenson explained, simply express “the rationale for an operation and tell the field what the commander expects to achieve.” These missives are short – under 450 words.

Sorenson asserts that like the CIs, the OPM ECQs are designed to help government leaders deal with situations of exceptional urgency – whether they be battles of war, connecting globally via the web, or the economic recession.

I’m curious how you devise your vision and strategic objectives when facing a challenge. Does it come to you alone on your feet, at your desk on GovLoop or in a command center, or do you need to get away for a moment on a run or bike ride? Obviously, sometimes you have no choice and must rise to the occasion wherever you’re needed. Thanks for that.

George E. Reed provided the history of CI’s over the weekend. Read on to find a historic gem from General Dwight D. Eisenhower during World War II:

Commander’s intent is a notion that comes from an approach encouraged by some of those long-dead yet still influential Prussian military theorists, specifically Gerhard Johann David Waitz von Scharnhorst (1755–1813) and Helmuth von Moltke (1800-1891). Von Moltke believed in providing only the most essential orders and encouraging subordinates to exercise initiative and flexibility within them. This was known as Auftragstaktik and we have come to refer to this approach as mission command as opposed to detailed command. While there is a place for detailed orders to address the myriad technical and logistical requirements of modern warfare, thus the encyclopedic nature of many military planning documents, many argue that the most important part of the modern five paragraph operations order is the commander’s intent that is typically expressed in the commander’s own hand. It clearly establishes the desired end state and major parameters that subordinates are expected to follow. It addressed the “why” question more clearly than the “how.” It recognizes that there may be many ways to achieve success and it provides latitude to deviate from specifics so long as the intent of the commander is satisfied.

When developing a statement of intent it is important to note that the authoring commander is not operating from a blank page. He or she is expected to fully consider the intent of commanders two levels up in the planning hierarchy. Thus the intent is nested and bound within the stated objectives of higher headquarters. This nesting is important because it leads to unity of purpose and direction across large and complex organizations. The author should strive to have as complete and clear an understanding of the current situation as possible– a clear eyed view of current capabilities and limitations of resources including time and people. Then think about the key tasks that should be accomplished in order to reach the desired end state. The higher level the commander, the more broad and general the commander’s intent should be. The lower, the more specifics may be included.
Note the elegance of the guidance that Dwight David Eisenhower received for Operation Overlord, the cross-channel invasion of the European Continent, from the Combined Chiefs of Staff: “You will enter the continent of Europe and, in conjunction with the other Allied Nations, undertake operations aimed at the heart of Germany and the destruction of her Armed Forces.” (See: http://www.history.army.mil/brochures/ike/ike.htm) Based on that clear guidance reams of detailed planning followed, but it was all conducted within the broad statement encapsulated by the Combined Chiefs: Target the industrial heart of Germany and focus on the destruction of the German Armed Forces. No plan survives contact with the enemy, but the intent provided useful direction that endured the exigencies.
Georgia Sorenson is someone that I deeply admire and she does us a great service by translating her observations and experiences while a Defense Transformation Chair at the U.S. Army War College to non-military contexts.

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