Mission Command 201

Mission Command: The Who, What, Where, When and Why, An Anthology
by Donald Vandergriff (Author, Editor),‎ Stephen Webber (Editor
August 2017

I like good anthologies, and this is a very good one. Good anthologies can do several things, among them:

  • Provide discrete bins of thought that you can mine for nuggets — parts for your snowmobiles.
  • Let you look at a concept, in this case, “mission command,” from alternative viewpoints. Sometimes this can lead to an “Aha!” moment.
  • Expand your orientation — are you really doing all you could to engage the hippocampus? Be honest, now.

Cover of Mission CommandDon and Steve have done a great job of collecting essays that take you far beyond “What is Mission Command?”  In fact, when you get through, you may find that you know less about the concept than you thought. For example, people sometimes equate mission command with the German term Auftragstaktik.  But Auftrag doesn’t mean “mission.” It’s more like the English “contract.” When Boyd’s talking about “the German concept of ‘mission,'” he notes on Patterns of Conflict, slide 76:

The German concept of mission can be thought of as a contract, hence an agreement, between superior and subordinate. The subordinate agrees to make his actions serve his superior’s intent in terms of what is to be accomplished, while the superior agrees to give his subordinate wide freedom to exercise his imagination and initiative in terms of how intent is to be realized.

As part of this concept, the subordinate is given the right to challenge or question the feasibility of mission if he feels his superior’s ideas on what can be achieved are not in accord with the existing situation or if he feels his superior has not given him adequate resources to carry it out. Likewise, the superior has every right to expect his subordinate to carry out the mission contract when agreement is reached on what can be achieved consistent with the existing situation and resources provided.

So there’s obviously a lot more to the concept than simply “Tell people what to do and let them decide how.”   Don’s and Steve’s anthology will help you broaden your understanding and, perhaps, improve your use of the underlying philosophy in your own organization.

All the chapters are good, but I’d like to draw your attention to a couple that you might find especially broadening.

Quo vadis, mission command?

First, Grant Martin’s chapter on “Type II” mission command for situations where “the commander’s intent is ambiguous or weakly connected to the political purpose of the operation. … What should be added is how to conduct mission command when the purpose of the operation is unclear, where the scope is unbounded, and where cause and effect are not linear.”  Most business applications, in other words.  He proposes a new definition

In non-linear causality  situations, however, leaders must both assist and be assisted by their subordinates to best appreciate the context of the situation and during execution must learn and constantly adjust the appreciation of the context based on that learning. Of note: The learning must go both ways.

Boyd, didn’t like the term “command & control,” suggesting instead “leadership & appreciation.” Where does this leave mission “command”? If Martin’s idea intrigues you, you might explore other possibilities for expanding the concept. Boyd used the term “organic,” which has some of the bottom-up flavor suggested by Martin (there’s an example in chapter 5 of Certain to Win). Another idea is not to issue orders, even mission orders, at all, a possibility explored by David Marquet in Turn the Ship Around!**

The requisite physical energy***

Daniel Markert and Scott Sonnon introduce subjects that you don’t often find in leadership texts in their chapter, “Operationally fit for mission command.” For those of you not up on your neurophysiology, this one may be a little challenging. Just accept that the hippocampus, amygdala, hypothalamus, and their kin are regions within the brain (or you could Google them and find out where). Markert and Sonnon address a major but often overlooked issue in leadership, that leaders inhabit human bodies:

The rapid onset of the fatigue reflex elevates stress arousal and degrades cognitive function with negative effects on shared understanding, risk awareness, creativity, and decisiveness.

They explain why this is true and what you can do about it. Recall that Boyd suggested that “Without a common outlook, superiors cannot give subordinates freedom of action and maintain coherency of ongoing action” (Patterns 74), so this is important stuff, and Markert’s and Sonnon’s chapter may start you down a productive path.

Explore, enjoy, learn, question.

Preview / buy Mission Command at Amazon

 


*This idea is implicit in Boyd’s EBFAS climate. Stephen Bungay develops it in detail in The Art of Action, where he, essentially, equates Auftragstaktik with Boyd’s entire EBFAS climate. Mini review in  an earlier post.

**Also covered in my presentation, All by Ourselves, available on the Articles page and in the mini review mentioned above.

***Observation by Gen Hermann Balck, Patterns, p. 118.

A side of tachboulah, please

The Lion’s Gate: On the Front Lines of the Six Day War
Steven Pressfield
New York: Penguin 2014
398 pages

CoverLionsGateIn my last post, I suggested a few things to read once you’ve become satiated with Boyd himself (don’t worry, it happens). A reader kindly recommended Steven Pressfield’s study of the Six Day War, told from the viewpoints of Israeli participants ranging from 19-year-old troopers to Minister of Defense Moshe Dayan. I highly recommend it as a source book for illustrating the major points of Boyd’s work.

I will admit to being a huge fan of Pressfield, beginning with The Gates of Fire. I suspect that regardless of your position on the various players in the Levant, past or present, you’ll find The Lion’s Gate to be a page-turner.

Continue reading

Double Ace

Double Ace: The Life of Robert Lee Scott Jr., Pilot, Hero, and Teller of Tall Tales Robert Coram’s bio of Robert Scott, Brig Gen USAF (1908 – 2006), is now out.  I’ve ordered it and will post a review here.

cover of double aceAlthough General Scott isn’t well-remembered now (a Google search for “Robert Scott” didn’t include him in the first 10 pages of results), after WWII, he was famous as a daring fighter pilot and author of God is my Co-pilot. I met him several years ago when he was running the Museum of Aviation at Robbins AFB, about 2 hours south of Atlanta down I-75. This is an incredible museum, incidentally, with a collection of Air Force aircraft second only to the USAF Museum at Wright-Pat.  You’ll find the L-5E Sentinel (cruising speed 90 mph), the SR-71 (“Over 2,200 mph”), and pretty much everything in-between, including the P-40 Warhawk flown by Scott and the Flying Tigers.

If you can spend a day or two in this area, you won’t be too far from Andersonville and the National Prisoner of War Museum (my dad was a POW of the Japanese from  April 1942 – September 1945).  Boyd emphasized humane treatment of prisoners — and widely publicizing that fact — as a great way to encourage enemy troops to defect. Obviously there have been exceptions, but all-in-all, I think we have done this pretty well since the Civil War.

While you’re down here, check out nearby Macon, one of the capitals of Southern music, including Otis Redding, Little Richard, and the Allman Brothers.

 

 

The Casual Vacancy, a casual review

J.K. Rowling’s’ new book for adults, The Casual Vacancy, is positively Faulknerian. No, I’m not talking about the length of her sentences, but in tone and characterization, it reminds me of his classics like Absolom, Absolom! Light in August, and The Sound and the Fury:

  • It takes place in a small town and exploits long-standing relationships among the town’s inhabitants
  • It deals with “the human heart in conflict with itself,” as WCF put it in his Nobel acceptance speech. And so many of them to deal with.
  • There are Snopeses, lots of them.
  • It’s really dark. Few people laugh, and when they do, it’s rarely a good sign.

Fiction is such a personal preference, so I hesitate to recommend specific works to other readers. As for me, I liked it, but then I like Faulkner a lot, too. And such contemporary noiristas as James Lee Burke. Rowling truly lives up to Faulkner’s imperative:

[Man] is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. The poet’s, the writer’s, duty is to write about these things.

Can Pagford be a 21st Century Jefferson and Yarvil the new Yoknapatawpha? She left enough threads hanging that it should be easy, if she wants to do it, to weave a new tale about them.  I, as a former resident of Jefferson, certainly hope she does.

Agiity and deception

Fighting for Honor
The history of African martial arts traditions in the Atlantic world
by T.J. Desch Obi
University of South Carolina Press, 2008
346 pages, including 124 pages of notes and bibliography

Reviewed by Chet Richards

Kum yali, kum buba tambe! (He is tricky, so I will win by being tricky, too!)

As a southerner of European ancestry, I had long wondered how slave owners kept control over their victims. On many plantations, slaves vastly outnumbered owners and overseers, and because of the hard nature of their work, many slaves were in much better physical conditions than their owners. Why didn’t the slaves revolt or simply leave?

It turns out that many did. Most Americans are familiar with the Underground Railroad and may even recall the Nat Turner Rebellion (1831), the Fugitive Slave Acts (1793 and 1850) and the Dred Scott Decision (1857). But there are a couple of other ways slaves used to preserve their honor and sometimes even their freedom. One of these was “maroonage,” where they would abandon their plantations and settle in the swamps, rugged hills and dense forests of the South. It has been estimated, for example, that the Great Dismal Swamp of southeastern Virginia and northeastern North Carolina may have harbored maroon communities totaling perhaps 2,000 escaped slaves.

The other was simply to resist. As T. J. Obi meticulously documents in this study, Africans and their descendents brought with them an arsenal of well developed martial arts styles. These provided the basis for preserving honor withing the slave communities and even, on occasion, to resist vicious beatings by overseers.

There were two keys to making this work: deception, because an unarmed defender had to close with his attacker, and agility, to avoid weapons and complete the attack. Obi includes these under the label “tricknology.”

When fighting a white oppressor, the ideal was to strike a butting-style head blow and finish the fight before it even developed. … As such butts had to be delivered at close range to be effective, a fighter had to use trickery to close the distance under some innocuous disguise.  (p. 109)

Readers familiar with Boyd will immediately recognize the concept of “operating inside the OODA loop.”

The book itself is quite academic and heavily footnoted, reflecting its origins in doctoral research. That said, however, it’s not a heavy read and is packed with interesting tidbits. Did you know that maroon communities survive to this day in the mountains of Jamaica, where they won their freedom by successful resistance some 50 years before the official abolition of slavery in that colony? And slave societies developed all manner of methods to conceal their existence from their owners. In one area, for example, the message “weevils in the wheat” meant that overseers had discovered that a meeting was planned and so it was being postponed.

Perhaps the most fascinating conclusion of the book is that African martial arts techniques still survive in the Americas. Perhaps the best known example is the Brazilian capoiera, but Dr. Obi’s research on site in the low country of the Carolinas documents their existence in the Gullah communities and their descendents into the 21st century.

[You want agility? Check out this YouTube video of a capoiera demo. The kicks and sweeps from inverted positions are typical of Angolan fighting styles.]

Down the Sky

by W. Patrick Lang
FT Review by Chet Richards

Did you know that late in the Civil War, July 1864 to be exact, Lt. Gen Jubal Early and his Confederate army made it to within six miles of the White House, coming down from the Maryland side? Well inside the Beltway, as we say today.

Would you like to ride along? How about accompanying the Union counterstrike a few months later, when feisty Phil Sheridan’s famous ride turned the tables on Early and for all practical purposes eliminated his army as a fighting force? Want to know how the Confederates could have saved Ft. Fisher, which defended their last remaining port (and what really destroyed it after the battle)?

Still demand more? I don’t blame you — how about following a Confederate spy as he worms his way into the confidence of the President of the United States? Now, I have to tell you that the spy in question, Claude Devereux, is not a totally likeable person. What kind of man would cheat on his mistress, while also still sleeping with his wife? But spies are not like you and I, and Pat Lang should know. As one of the country’s premier spymasters, when it comes to intelligence, he knows whereof he speaks.

Down the Sky is Lang’s third in the “Strike the Tent” trilogy. Although he says that it stands alone, I think you’ll find the experience much more satisfying if you start with The Butcher’s Cleaver and proceed through Death Piled Hard to this one.  There are a lot of characters, and like in any good spy novel, they do a lot of confusing things. There is a list of characters in the back — bookmark it.

So you’ll get a great intelligence thriller, a vivid work of historical fiction, and a lot of maps and pictures of real people.  You’ll also get some insight into the motivations of the ordinary people of the period, particularly in the South, and including both blacks and whites. You’ll understand better why the poor farmers of the South — few of whom owned slaves — fought on, desperately, long after the Confederacy had any chance to achieve its goal of independence. People just don’t like to be occupied, a lesson we might pay more attention to today.

Is it good literature? I’ll tell you this: I downloaded it from iUniverse to my iPhone and read it on a recent trip to New York. Late into the night. When I was supposed to be preparing presentations. It works fine as an ePub on the iPhone, but a larger screen would make the maps more legible and cut fewer generals in half.