There is enormous demand for leadership development in the corporate America. The search is endless, with companies looking for the right program: one that produces leaders who empower others, who can be trusted to get the job done without prodding or direct supervision. Who would have guessed the best solution comes from the military?
Mission Command, or Auftragstaktik, is a leadership philosophy centered on empowerment, flexibility, and individual initiative. It’s ideal for business, especially those in rapid growth – I know because I’ve based an entire coaching and consulting career using it. How can non-military professionals bring this philosophy of leadership to their companies? Traditionally, the answer has been to read military history. Fortunately for us in the private sector, we have a new resource, Adopting Mission Command (AMC) by Donald Vandergriff.
Overall, Vandergriff has written a treasure trove of practical information for leadership development consultants and coaches. The book is one part history and background of mission command, two-parts practical guide and manual, and one-part an argument for reform in the US Army. To be clear, AMC is a book for written military professionals and leaders. If you can ignore the numerous acronyms and references to army specialty schools and programs, you will find some very important methods for developing leaders, many of which are not known in traditional business leadership training.
Here are the five nuggets that immediately come to mind when thinking of the book:
• “Command and control,” usually a pejorative in corporate America, actually originates from the private sector! “Scientific management” is a management philosophy that has defined American business for most of the 20th century. It’s focus on ensuring order, procedures, and compliance has made efficiency and progress its trademarks. It should be no surprise then why so much leadership training reinforces those exact areas, inadvertently producing managers of processes instead of leaders of people.
• Mission command was devised and applied specifically by the Germans beginning in the late 19th century. It’s a philosophy of leadership that holds that change and disorder are the norms of competition, not harmony and order which is often promoted in modern leadership programs.
• How can professionals lead teams or even organizations during times of uncertainty? By learning to rapidly adapt to one’s surroundings. Vandergriff introduces the reader to John Boyd and his Observe-Orient-Decide-Act (OODA) Loop model. The model has gain international acclaim. Vandergriff clearly explores it, describes how to use it, and explains its value.
• The chapter on wargaming, or “Krieg spiel” is another very important piece for today’s modern consultant or coach. This educational tool that helps student understand their strengths and develop the knowledge, and even self-confidence, in real-time. I’ve used wargames for years in my business, and they have been decisive in ensuring a fun, engaging, and valuable learning experience for my clients.
• Vandergriff walks the reader through the After-action Review (AAR). This tool for organized reflection plays a critical role in developing smart, agile leaders. AARs promote personal reflection and potentially the creation of best practices. They are invaluable as they facilitate the performance improvement and potentially increase the bench-strength of capable leaders available at one given time.
Mission command is a philosophy that the US Army has tried for years to adopt. I know because I remember as a junior officer being educated on it. I wish I had a book like AMC to help me as a junior officer.
On a final note, given how popular mission command is, in respect to being promoted in the US Army, wouldn’t this book be championed by military leadership? You would think so but it’s not. The simple reason is that for all its boast of developing adaptive leaders, the 21st century US Army lives in the era of 20th century scientific management. Compliance and conformity trump innovation and initiative. This does not have to be the rule for modern businesses; actually, it won’t, because it doesn’t work in dynamic, changing environments. Companies fail daily because of a lack of agility and adaptability by their leaders. If you are a leadership consultant or coach, do yourself a big favor and read Adopting Mission Command. It will greatly enhance your skills and likely raise your value.