CDR Eugene Fluckey MOH Ceremony

This post is part of a series titled “Perspectives on Military Leadership” by CAPT David Tyler.

Last month we examined the characteristics of leadership and found that as an organizing principle its unique strength was derived from convincing others to willingly act in a desired way to achieve larger objectives. With this in mind, what then is the best way to implement and harness the benefits of sound leadership within a complex organization? Said differently, what operating methodology is commensurate with leveraging the free will of individuals?

One approach gaining renewed interest is known as mission command. Mission command is a command and control philosophy based on “command by influence”, a phrase that reflects the essence of leadership. Mission command is a leadership-based governance concept built on trust and mutual understanding. Mission command depends on an organizational hierarchy that is comfortable delegating tasks and decision making.

The operative function within this decentralized administrative process is leadership. In this organizing mode the commander gives subordinates broad, clear goals, but grants them wide latitude of how to accomplish those goals. In return for accepting the risk of subordinate actions, the commander is rewarded with superior results. The empowerment of subordinate leaders exercising initiative in accord with the commander’s intent has a compounding rate of return in that it enables faster proactive and reactive action; which in turn expands new opportunities for the group and forecloses opportunities for opponents. In short, mission command surpasses other organizing principles because it exploits the power of “leadership-gone-viral.”

Posted by CAPT David Tyler in Podcasts, Training & Education
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  • P.S. Wallace

    The historical parallel is of course Nelson–“no captain can do very wrong if he places his ship alongside the enemy”, that sort of thing. His manuever at Cape St. Vincent is of the same accord. And I am struck, in reading accounts of surface battles in Iron Bottom Sound, of how individual captains would take the initiative because the demands of the moment so required–even though they were still in battleline.

    War is jazz. The players have got to be able to improvise around the notes. And from a practical perspective, this means we need an officer corps able to be officers without being cut off at the knees from above or below. On December 7th a Lieutenant Commander took the Nevada out–and correctly decided to beach her. I submit he was able to do this because his entire career had been spent in an organization that expected him to be an officer, and assume command if his seniors were disabled. That he grew up in an organization that while hierarchical, and perhaps rigidly so, still guarded his prerogatives as much as its, and thus when the moment came, LCDR Thomas had the self-confidence, built up over the years, to act in a command fashion. You can’t get that self-confidence the day Bupers writes the CO tour orders.

    The commission has *got* to mean something, and it has got to mean something from day one, even if the person holding it is not yet ready for the task.

    • P.S. Wallace

      Minor correction–checking my copy of Prange–LT Ruff conned the ship out, LCDR Thomas was in overall command as CDO that day, and though ADM Pye gave the command canceling the Nevada’s sortie, it was Ruff and Thomas who figure out how to do it without blocking the channel, by beaching the ship on Hospital Point.