Kudos to Boyd, Vandergriff, and Dempsey

In a speech to the recent Joint Warfighting Conference in Virginia Beach, Army GEN Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, reached a conclusion that could have come straight out of Boyd:

In the end, said Dempsey, “our best hedge against degraded environments is mission command and adaptive leadership” — the ability of leaders at all levels to think for themselves and find a new way to achieve the objective without waiting for orders. That’s a cultural challenge for the military given a long-established preference for detailed, centralized planning, and modern networks that give top commanders constant computer connectivity to their subordinates only makes micromanagement easier. [From: “Humans, Not Hardware, Will Get Military Through Tough Budget Times: Dempsey,” By Sydney J. Freedberg Jr., AOL Defense, Strategy & Policy, May 17, 2012]

“Mission command” is a common translation of Auftragstaktik, and some of you may recall “adaptive leadership” from Don Vandergriff’s book Raising the Bar.

One way to think of it is that Auftragstaktik makes strong use of the implicit guidance and control feed from orientation directly to action. If you become too explicit, you’ll defeat the entire idea.

On the other hand, adaptive leadership requires the ability to rapidly size up the unfolding situation and get the organization going in a way to influence it.  The fact that it is “adaptive” means that you aren’t just using pre-programmed responses but have gray matter engaged. If you think about it, that’s the classic observe-orient-decide-act pattern, employed to quickly come up with and test new actions on the fly (that is, while under fire), as Boyd described in Conceptual Spiral.

Put them together, you have Boyd’s OODA “loop” sketch from The Essence of Winning and Losing.

The concept of mission control + adaptive leadership harmonizes well with Boyd’s idea of leadership: “implies the art of inspiring people to enthusiastically take action toward the achievement of uncommon goals.” [Organic Design, 37]

2 thoughts on “Kudos to Boyd, Vandergriff, and Dempsey

  1. over in Facebook, Ganske & Leland referenced this

    Complexity, Global Politics, and National Security, Ch 9: “Command and (Out of) Control: The Military Implications of Complexity Theory”
    http://www.au.af.mil/au/awc/awcgate/ndu/complexity/comch09.html

    my comment:

    In Organic Design for Command and Control, Boyd would point out Guderian’s “Verbal Orders Only” during Blitzkrieg as example of pushing decisions to lowest level possible. He would also claim that US corporations were suffering from rigid, top-down, command&control that US military created for entry to WW2 (having to field large numbers with no experience … and leveraging the few skills available (aka as former WW2 army officers took executive positions in us corporations … US military contaminating rest of US culture).

  2. Chet, my only question is WHY is there such a reluctance in many organizations to move towards “mission command” and “ALM”? it only makes sense most especially in this fast paced world that decisions must come from the front-line level if real time opportunities are to be made advantageous. Is it a lack of understanding, acceptance of the status quo and this is the way we have always done it? or is it egos that rule?

    I have been going back over Van Creveld’s “Fighting Power” a great resource on this topic and this information is not new but yet the industrialized methodology still seems to rule the day in the minds of many leaders.

    In Fighting Power, from page 36 is a short explanation of the system provided by Bundeswehr General von Lossov who interestingly notes that it originated with Hessian troops who brought it back from the War of the American Revolution:

    1. The mission must express the will of the commander in an unmistakable way.
    2. The objective, course of action, and mission constraints, such as time, must be clear and definite, without restricting freedom of action more than necessary in order to make use of the initiative of individuals charged with the tasks to be accomplished.
    3. Limits as to the method of execution within the framework of the higher commander’s will are imposed only where essential for coordination with other commands.

    Under a mission oriented command system, in other words, commanders are trained to tell their subordinates what to do, but not how. Provided only that they keep within the framework of the whole, wide latitude is granted the latter to device and carry out their own measures. Such a system, of course, presupposes uniformity of thinking and reliability of action only to be obtained by thorough training and long experience. More important still, complete confidence of superiors in their subordinates and vice versa is absolutely indispensable.

    Provided the above conditions can be met the system’s advantages, again in General van Lossow’s words are considerable:

    1. Leaders of all echelons are forced to analyze their own situations as well as that of the next highest command.
    2. Transmission of orders from one command level to another is expedited.
    3.Measures taken at the scene of action are in harmony with actual conditions.

    When i read this half page from “Fighting Power” my thoughts are WHY are we not leveraging the lessons learned from history in a more robust way and following this type of system? We will spend countless hours and resources developing and writing policies and procedures, purchasing equipment that often times goes unused, etc (speaking from my perspective law enforcement) and very little time training and preparing the front-line. when a crisis hits leaders who you you rarely see otherwise come out of the woodwork and attempt to lead which quite frankly creates more confusion and chaos.

    Mission command and ALM have you preparing and reading your troops before the crisis hits by educating and training them. Leadership is an everyday thing not a crisis driven thing. Meaning if we through hard work beforehand to prepare and strive for excellence in execution before crisis strikes we will have the front-line doing what they know how to do when the crisis strikes.

    Am i way over simplifying this?

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