Last year I had a series of discussions with a guy named Nick Parish. Back then he was working at Contagious – and now he’s at Uncorked. Nick was interested in knowing how SOF approach ambiguity in their formal planning processes – and related our discussions to advertising processes between clients and their agencies. Very good connections – and just the tip of the iceberg. Check it out for yourself.
Gross’ first law states that it’s almost impossible to communicate anything to anyone. This truth about human interaction creates a lot of problems in communicating vital information in a military orders process – problems that can and do derail the flow of operations and lead to their failure. In a military setting this means defeat with lives lost. In a business setting it can mean loss of market share, revenue, profit. Both cases are very important – they mean success or failure in mission accomplishment. The purpose of this post is to consider one way of overcoming barriers in communication within an organization – military or civilian.
Backbriefing is a military practice of a subordinate explaining his or her understanding of the plan to the leader (the one who had originally briefed the plan), prior to execution. It’s considered a critical practice to ensure the subordinate understands the plan and to ensure the leader understands implications of the orders. At the tactical level, subordinates can have between hours and days after getting an order to read it closely, determine their own plan, and prepare their brief back to the leader.
Most who have an Army background at the tactical or operational level are familiar with this concept. What was news to us is that this concept has existed on the civilian side for at least half a century. The Manager’s Letter was first pointed out to us in Stephen Bungay’s book the Art of Action – Bungay, a career management consultant with BCG and historian, goes into depth about how it’s a great military practice that can have great effects for civilian organizations. He cites Peter Drucker’s explanation of the Manager’s Letter as proof of how it can work.
In his book The Practice of Management first published in 1954, Peter Drucker gives a great summary of the Manager’s Letter. Instead of trying to summarize it further, I’ll just let you see it for yourself:
Being a manager demands the assumption of a genuine responsibility. Precisely because his aims should reflect the objective needs of the business, rather than merely what the individual manager wants, he must commit himself to them with a positive act of assent. He must know and understand the ultimate business goals, what is expected of him and why, what he will be measured against and how. There must be a “meeting of minds” within the entire management of each unit. This can be achieved only when each of the contributing managers is expected to think through what the unit objectives are, is led, in others words, to participate actively and responsibly in the work of defining them. And only if his lower managers participate in this way can the higher manager know what to expect of them and can make exacting demands.
This is so important that some of the most effective managers I know go one step further. They have each of their subordinates write a “manager’s letter” twice a year. In this letter to his superior, each manager, first defines the objectives of his superior’s job and of his own job as he sees them. He then sets down the performance standards which he believes are being applied to him. Next, he lists the things he must do himself to attain these goals – and the things within his own unit he considers the major obstacles. He lists the things his superior and the company do that help him and the things that hamper him. Finally, he outlines what he proposes to do during the next year to reach his goals. If his superior accepts this statement, the “manager’s letter” becomes the charter under which the manager operates.
This device, like no other I have seen, brings out how easily the unconsidered and casual remarks of even the best boss can confuse and misdirect. One large company has used the “manager’s letter” for ten years. Yet almost every letter still lists as objectives and standards things which completely baffle the superior to whom the letter is addressed. And whenever he asks: “What is this?” he gets the answer: “Don’t you remember what you said last spring going down with me in the elevator?” The “manager’s letter” also brings out whatever inconsistencies there are in the demands made on a man by his superior and by the company. Does the superior demand both speed and high quality when he can get only one or the other? And what compromise is needed in the interest of the company? Does he demand initiative and judgment of his men but also that they check back with him before they do anything? Does he ask for their ideas and suggestions but never uses them or discusses them? Does the company expect a small engineering force to be available immediately whenever something goes wrong in the plant, and yet bend all its efforts to the completion of new designs? Does it expect a manager to maintain high standards of performance but forbid him to remove poor performers? Does it create the conditions under which people say: “I can get the work done as long as I can keep the boss from knowing what I am doing?”
These are common situations. They undermine spirit and performance. The “manager’s letter” may not prevent them. But at least it brings them out in the open, shows where compromises have to be made, objectives have to be thought through, priorities have to be established, behavior has to be changed.
Though the concept is in reverse – a civilian management genius describing a valuable communications practice more common in the military – it gets to the core of what this blog is all about.
Also – in researching this post we found a quote that proves Drucker understood the military approach to leadership and management:
“Never mind your happiness; do your duty.”
Image and quote above from Lifehack at quotes.lifehack.org
Drucker, Peter F. The Practice of Management. New York: HarperBusiness, 1993. Print. (ISBN 0-06-091316-9)
Bungay, Stephen. The Art of Action: how leaders close the gaps between plans, actions and results. London: Nicholas Brealey, 2012. Print. (ISBN 978-1-85788-559-0)
Below is the text of a small handbook for junior officers of the US Marine Corps from the early days of the Second World War. In it there are some great quick leadership guidelines. As Dylan posted earlier there’s the striking presence of qualities sorely lacking from today’s leadership learning or in many cases leadership practice: seemliness & propriety. Indeed many of the rules herein are strict by today’s standards – what makes me wonder is how closely these were followed by the men that led combat operations on Tarawa, Peleliu, Okinawa or Iwo Jima.
Our copy belongs to Dylan – a gift from his aunt Debra on the occasion of our commissioning in 2002 – we took the time to make it digital for all those who could benefit.
As Weaponsman would say, “The past is another country” and we’d do well to regard it with the same respect we give to other cultures today.
“Thou shalt not”
HINTS TO NEWLY COMMISSIONED OFFICERS
MARINE CORPS SCHOOLS: MARINE BARRACKS QUANTICO, VA.
Your duty towards others
1. DON’T neglect the comfort and general welfare of your subordinates. This is your first duty.
2. DON’T go to your own meals unless you are satisfied in your mind that those you are responsible for are being properly fed.
3. DON’T say “Hi, you,” or refer to those in the ranks as “What’s-your-name.” Learn the names of your subordinates; it can be done rapidly with practice. They appreciate being addressed by their proper names.
4. DON’T neglect to investigate any complaint submitted, but don’t be imposed upon.
5. DON’T show favoritism. If your subordinates think you are unjust and partial, things will soon go wrong.
6. DON’T overwork your staff. There is a difference between over-working and working hard.
7. DON’T hesitate to keep the “backward” ones at work. The good ones will look after
8. DON’T curb your subordinates’ initiative; direct it into proper channels.
9. DON’T permit N.C.O.s to be aggressive or overbearing towards the rank and file; insist on the same kind of attitude which you set for yourself.
10. DON’T forget to study your subordinates. Learn their idiosyncrasies. Mark the weak ones and those on whom you can implicitly rely to do their job efficiently.
It is equally important to study the idiosyncrasies of your superiors. The higher their rank the more important it is that you should keep a watchful eye for their “hobbies.” It may be “toothbrushes,” “cubic air space” or “flying regulations”; Whatever it is, if you wish to succeed, you will require to use your ingenuity and tact in the matter of idiosyncrasies.
11. DON’T allow the sick to remain on duty; order them to “report sick.”
12. DON’T forget to supervise by occasional checks the duties you have delegated to subordinates.
13. DON’T desert your subordinates the moment the day’s work is done. Take an interest in their entertainment, and “off-duty” amusements. Help organize them; it is part of your duty.
14. DON’T make recommendations for promotion unless you are certain the person concerned is competent. You have a duty to the State, the Service and your unit.
15. DON’T forget that a house divided against itself will come to grief. Be loyal to your C.O. in thought, word and deed.
Your personal efficiency
16. DON’T scorn knowledge of Service matters. It is better to know a thing and not want the knowledge, than to want it and not know it.
17. DON’T lack initiative; we are not all born with it, but it can be cultivated.
18. DON’T be afraid to make up your mind quickly and rightfully. This is termed
“character.” Take charge.
19. DON’T forget to cultivate tact; you will want it all day long. Some people are always at the beginning, middle or end of a row which could have been easily avoided.
20. DON’T forget confidence is begotten of experience and knowledge. The latter must be acquired by your own efforts. Experience comes to you.
21. DON’T use civilian terms for Service matters. The Service vocabulary is your professional language. It is essential that you should understand Service expressions.
22. DON’T, when given an order, explain all the difficulties you will have in carrying it out. Overcome them and give effect to the order as speedily as possible. In other words, “Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do to-day.” Do it now!
23. DON’T economize with your “Uniform Allowance.” The Government is not a philanthropic institution and you may be sure the allowance is only just enough.
24. DON’T obtain your uniform from “any old tailor.” Be correctly dressed by one familiar with the precise details appertaining to your Service. There is such a thing as a “Sealed Pattern,” and there are also “Uniform Regulations,” which are exacting in their demands for uniformity. Ask for advice rather than have to replace what you have purchased.
25. DON’T omit, when in uniform out of doors, to be correct in all essentials of your dress. There are such things as gloves, and gas masks, without which you aren’t properly dressed and “letting your Service down” in the eyes of those whose judgment matters.
26. DON’T smoke a pipe in uniform when in public places such as streets of a town, etc.; it isn’t done.
27. DON’T neglect your personal appearance. Be smart. Your subordinates will soon spot whether your boots and buttons are as clean as theirs. Yours should be cleaner, even in war time.
28. DON’T lounge about. Cultivate an erect carriage and always move about smartly.
29. DON’T omit to wear your headdress on all occasions out of doors. It is slovenly not to do so.
How to use your authority
30. DON’T be sarcastic with subordinates or hold them up to ridicule. Learn to “tell off” those deserving it, quietly, strongly and to the point. Fools must be suffered gladly sometimes.
31. DON’T ever lose your temper. It will only result in ridicule and indignity.
32. DON’T be pompous, adopt a bullying attitude or shout when there is no occasion to do so. Orders can equally well be given in a quiet but firm manner.
33. DON’T curse subordinates. It is cowardly. They cannot curse back. This includes mess servants, as they cannot stand up for themselves without danger of dismissal. Make your complaint to the Mess Secretary, who will take proper steps to deal with it.
34. DON’T be guilty of “nagging.” Cultivate the art of a short, sharp reproof should the occasion demand it.
35. DON’T find fault unnecessarily, or omit to find fault when the occasion demands it.
36. DON’T reprimand a non-commissioned officer in the presence or hearing of those in the ranks. You will undermine his authority if you do.
37. DON’T fail to correct your subordinates if you hear them speak disrespectfully of superior officers, but do it tactfully.
38. DON’T interfere unnecessarily with subordinates in the street or other public places. The golden rule is: if your authority as an officer is necessary for disciplinary reasons, and is likely to carry weight, use it; if not, pass on.
39. DON’T exclude common sense when interpreting the regulations.
40. DON’T give slovenly orders. They must be clear and lucid, both oral and written. Say what you mean, and mean what you say. The power of clear, unambiguous expression is not such a common gift as is usually imagined. Try to acquire it.
41. DON’T leave drunken Service personnel to their own devices if they are behaving in such a manner as to bring discredit on the Service, injury to themselves or others. If no N.C.O., Service police or civil police are handy, find a telephone and ring up the nearest Service unit; failing that, a police station. Give your name and request that the offender be taken into custody. Don’t go near the offender yourself on any account you may cause him, unwittingly, to commit a more serious offense.
42. DON’T forget that all your orders must be “lawfuI” i.e., the disobedience of which would tend to delay or prevent some military or air force proceedings.
Your behaviour and personal example to others
43. DON’T criticize superior officers (whatever your private opinion may be of individuals), particularly in the presence of juniors.
44. DON’T live beyond your income, get into debt or borrow money.
45. DON’T push yourself forward at the expense of others, especially your seniors.
46. DON’T be unpunctual. The Services are run to the exact minute; synchronize your watch daily with the official time.
47. DON’T quarrel; it dissipates energy needlessly.
48. DON’T walk arm in arm in public. The relationship doesn’t matter; don’t do it.
49. DON’T waste time and breath grumbling. Have this text in a visible place to cure you of this habit:— “Lord, teach me not to whimper.”
50. DON’T carry informality too far in the informal conditions you will find in Mess.
51. DON’T fail to show respect for senior officers at all times, but avoid a servile or fawning manner as you would the plague.
52. DON’T allow your personal dislike of an individual to impair your good manners.
53. DON’T remain seated if your C.O. enters the room you are in. Stand up.
54. DON’T bore people with your own doings, however interesting they may be. You have no idea how popular a “good listener” can become.
55. DON’T open a conversation with very senior officers; leave it to them. In other words, don’t thrust yourself forward uninvited; you might meet with an unexpected reception.
56. DON’T “stand drinks” to members of your Mess.
57. DON’T be afraid to refuse a drink at any time if you don’t want it. Only a “boor” would press drinks upon a guest unnecessarily.
58. DON’T acquire the aperitif or cocktail habit in war time. Both sometimes affect the moral as well as the physical fibre.
59. DON’T forget that ladies — even if they are serving as officers — are only allowed into that part of the Mess set apart for their use.
60. DON’T introduce religious or political into conversation in an Officers’ Mess.
61. DON’T seek popularity with other ranks by assuming a contempt for authority and strict discipline. You will lose their respect and gain nothing.
62. DON’T strike fancy attitudes of your own, or move about when giving a word of command on parade. Stand to attention.
63. DON’T apply for leave the first day you arrive at your new station. You will create a bad impression.
64. DON’T try to evade your responsibilities. You are not paid to “pass the baby” to others.
Relationship between officers and rank and file
65. DON’T be familiar with those in the ranks. They like you to keep your proper place.
66. DON’T be familiar with your N.C.Os., however efficient they may be. Young officers need great care when handling experienced N.C.Os. Keep your dignity. Common sense and understanding on both sides will simplify matters.
67. DON’T enter a Sergeants’ Mess unless invited by a general invitation to officers.
68. DON’T stay for more than one hour at any dance to which you (in common with other officers) have been invited by the Sergeants, Corporals or rank and file.
69. DON’T attempt to buy N.C.Os. a drink at any such entertainment; remember they are collectively “Host” and it really isn’t done.
70. DON’T try to create an impression by consuming a large number of drinks. You will lose your subordinates’ respect (if nothing worse happens).
71. DON’T enter or remain in the “bar” of a hotel if rank and file are present. The “lounge” is more suitable for officers.
72. DON’T, because the “ranker” happens to be your father or brother, drink with him in a public bar. Find somewhere private. He is sufficiently proud of you not to want you to behave in a manner unbecoming to your rank.
73. DON’T take an N.C.O. or any of the rank or file into the Officers’ Mess.
74. DON’T inquire into the private domestic affairs of those in the ranks who are married; leave this to senior officers. If they want your help in any such matters they will ask for it.
75. DON’T attempt to know the “married families” socially, that is, by visiting their homes or forming any other social liaison. To do so is to invite accusations of partiality and favoritism, which are difficult to refute, bad for your reputation amongst seniors and juniors, and detrimental to Service discipline.
76. DON’T allow the attractiveness of your “lady driver” to make you forget, even temporarily, that the dividing line between officers and rank and file must be maintained.
77. DON’T shirk saluting senior officers at all times, Whether “on” or “off duty.” There is nothing servile or derogatory to yourself in this. It is an ancient Service custom with hundreds of years of tradition behind it.
Irrespective of rank, you must salute your superiors in rank before addressing them, or being addressed by them, on duty or parade.
78. DON’T fail to return every compliment paid to you by rank and file, and acknowledge it with a proper full salute; never touch your cap like a taximan acknowledging a tip. There is only one kind of salute, and it is the same for officers as for those in the ranks.
79. DON’T forget to salute if covered when you enter and leave an office occupied by a brother officer of equal or senior rank. It is courteous and has now become an established custom of the Service.
80. DON’T forget to salute a bier, uncased Colors or when the National Anthem is played.
81. DON’T salute or return compliments if you are without your head-dress.
Disposal of offenders
82. DON’T find an alleged offender “guilty” if any reasonable doubt still remains as to his guilt. He must be allowed the benefit of the doubt.
83. DON’T punish a first offender for a minor offense.
84. DON’T fail to keep an alphabetical roll of first offenders you have “let off with a caution,” so that swift and suitable punishment follows a further offense. Every offense cannot be treated as a first offense, or it becomes a habit.
85. DON’T forget to inform an offender whom you have decided to punish that you are doing so for three reasons:-
(i) Because he deserves it;
(ii) To deter him from committing that offense again;
(iii) To deter others from committing a similar offense.
86. DON’T use your position to inflict any punishment which could be termed “malicious.”
87. DON’T forget that the careers of your subordinates can be seriously damaged by a mistake on your part. Be correct in all your dealings with offenders, and above all be just.
Your correct conduct in private affairs
88. DON’T discuss official Service matters in private correspondence.
89. DON’T indulge in adverse criticism of junior or senior officers in private correspondence. It is grossly unjust: they cannot defend themselves.
90. DON’T discuss official Service matters with anyone, unless it is a matter which their official position demands that they should know.
91. DON’T, when permitted to wear “mufti,” wear any old clothes. Re-member that you are still an officer. If someone recognizes you in “loud” or any clothing unfitted to a commissioned officer, you bring discredit not only upon yourself, but the status of officers generally.
92. DON’T discuss Service matters at home. Your family will undoubtedly be curious, and you may wish to impress them with the importance of your position, but careless talk even amongst those you trust most, may sacrifice valuable lives. Do not by mere foolishness become an unpaid agent of the enemy.
93. DON’T attempt to gain a personal advantage by writing a private letter on an official matter to a friend or relative who may hold high rank or be in a position of authority.
Do not confuse “duty” with what other people expect of you; they are utterly different.Duty is a debt you owe to yourself to fulfill obligations you have assumed voluntarily. Paying that debt can entail anything from years of patient work to instant willingness to die. Difficult it may be, but the reward is self-respect.But there is no reward at all for doing what other people expect of you, and to do so is not merely difficult, but impossible. It is easier to deal with a footpad than it is with the leech who wants “just a few minutes of your time, please — this won’t take long.” Time is your total capital, and the minutes of your life are painfully few. If you allow yourself to fall into the vice of agreeing to such requests, they quickly snowball to the point where these parasites will use up 100 percent of your time — and squawk for more!So learn to say No — and to be rude about it when necessary.Otherwise you will not have time to carry out your duty, or to do your own work, and certainly no time for love and happiness. The termites will nibble away your life and leave none of it for you.(This rule does not mean that you must not do a favor for a friend, or even a stranger. But let the choice be yours. Don’t do it because it is “expected” of you.)
Before leaving Army’s 10th Mountain division in early 2007, I went up to battalion headquarters, found an old quotations book I’d seen in the “Battalion Library” near the Battalion Commander’s office, and copied every page on the headquarters copying machine. Years later I found that there’d been a copy of a handwritten list written by the famous Command Sergeant Major Don Purdy in it. It’s a bit tough to read – much of it is maxims about Small Unit Tactics and patrolling, other parts are things just about every crusty senior NCO in an infantry unit yells about several times a day. Others are distinctly Purdy. The legends of the guy I’d always heard were likely exaggerated, but the guy apparently did love training with bayonets and was hell on targets on a live fire objective. And he wasn’t “a” hardass – he was “the” hardass to hear it from the guys who served with him.
Purdy held NCOs, the Army’s frontline managers and in my view the greatest differentiator between our Army and Marine Corps and those of just about every other nation, in high regard but also responsible for quite a lot. Rules about what training should be executed accounts for a lot of this list – which indicates how important training is and should be to the position of frontline manager. This whole list is a magnificent organizational artifact of the military manager – in essence, it’s a guide for “doing things right” when it comes to tactical-level combat operations and leadership practices and principles. This is the type of knowledge that seriously affects the perfomance of an organization.
Purdy also professed truths about his domain (number 39) that many senior leaders will disagree with on a fundamental level. It’s striking how focused this CSM was on combat and not haircuts, uniforms, equal opportunity or resilience. Rare was the infantry CSM I served with who had these combat priorities and drive. I like to think that more than a few other great NCOs I served with who went on to serve as CSMs did, though.
So what’s the leadership value in this document? What about this is valuable for leaders of all kinds? This list is foremost an example of the value of intense focus in an institutional leader of frontline managers. Don Purdy was a guy who understood not only what made infantry units successful but also what kept infantry soldiers alive – and constant rigorous training, down to daily habits, seems to have been it in both cases and he wasn’t afraid to be direct about its necessity. This focus is terribly valuable in an NCO, and this list is an outstanding example of it.
My favorite rule is number 68 – this seems to be a rule a lot of guys followed (with exceptions) up until a few generations ago. If you have a personal reputation like Purdy’s, I imagine this one’s important.
Don Purdy Rules to LIVE By (Don’t Forget Nothin!)
- Shoot from the shoulder. Pistols are back up weapons. Learn to shoot well. Marksmanship is critical.
- Carry all the ammo and water you can on your person.
- Don’t lean weapons agains trees and walls.
- Weapons on safe until its time to kill.
- Machine gunners should be corporals.
- Guns must be trained to maneuver on there (sic) own. Crew drills are critical.
- Reload drills are critical.
- Firing in the blind and dead gunner drills must be executed.
- Soldiers must know how to use the weapons properly and everyone elses.
- Train on foreign weapons when possible.
- Camouflage! It works.
- A bayonet is a weapon. Train your soldiers to use it to kill the enemy.
- Do Combatives. Also rifle P.T.
- When in the defense or preparing one never get more than arms reach from your weapon.
- Keep shirts and K-Pots on when digging.
- Don’t lay ammo in the dirt. Carry sand bags so you can lay magazines and other ammo on the bags when in defense.
- Soldiers need to know basic demo.
- Use VS–17 panel for daytime signal that you have no verbal commo.
- Handling of POWs and medevac must be practiced constantly.
- Execute withdrawals under pressure. Live fire when possible.
- Silence is golden. Learn to whisper. Even on radios.
- When in the heat of battle leaders talk others shut up.
- Stay off the radio. No unnecessary chatter.
- Use whistles, star clusters as back up signals.
- When in a MOUT Defense have a destruction plan in case of a withdrawal under pressure.
- Wheel barrels (sic) are great in a MOUT environment.
- Don’t forget! Sanitation Plan.
- Always think dirty. Think about what you would do if the doo doo hit the fan right now.
- Move like a cat (rat?) and don’t hesitate.
- Read the battlefield.
- Do bang! drills. This teaches soldiers to react to every contact instantly. In less than one second rounds should be going back at the enemy.
- Hip pocket training is excellent. All leaders need to know how to do this properly and efficiently.
- NCOs TRAIN Soldiers!
- Discipline, Discipline, Discipline. Its too late when the fighting begins.
- Drill & Ceremony is important. Do it right.
- Uniformity is important.
- If you think something is wrong it is.
- Be prepared to take charge.
- Not everyone can be an Infantry soldier. Get rid of the weak.
- Nothing out of a ruck sack except what is necessary.
- Eat one thing at a time and immediately pack it up.
- Trash goes back in the rucksack (MRE).
- Be ruthless on those who leave equipment or ammo on the battlefield.
- Keep the plan simple and violent.
- Smoke doesn’t stop bullets.
- Breaching tools are a last resort to breach.
- Never pass a threat.
- Don’t daisy chain claymores.
- Train with live grenades as much as possible.
- Train soldiers to react to bumping into enemy personnel in close quarters.
- Talk to your soldiers about the reality of there (sic) mission (Life and Death).
- NCOs must never back down in front of there (sic) soldiers.
- Never reduce standards of discipline when in a hostile environment. Be ruthless.
- Leading from the rear is like pushing spaghetti up hill.
- NODs on during darkness.
- Improvise when necessary. Don’t reinvent the wheel.
- Field hygiene is important.
- If you want to know what the enemy is doing think about what you are doing.
- Treat your enemy as if he is the baddest of the bad. Do not underestimate him.
- Always use boot laces not zippers.
- Boots stay on. Only remove when necessary one boot at a time.
- Infantrymen must have the heart of a lion. Leaders (NCOs) must develop that heart. The infantry has no room for the weak or faint of heart.
- Your mission is to close with and destroy the enemy with any means possible. You must live in the environment on the ground. The mission has priority. The fight comes first then the recovery of dead and wounded.
- Always plan resupply and medevac procedures thoroughly.
- Keep the bi-pods down on MGs and SAWs when moving.
- Place two tracer rounds in magazines first so you will know when your (sic) about to have to change mags.
- Teach your squad leaders how to direct guns with tracers.
- Never smile for photographs.Always keep things simple. Complicated plans don’t work out well.
Lastly I wish to point out that the role of the NCO is awesome. You own the soldier. Train them for war not for peace. Be hard but fair. Never forget where you came from. Learn from failure and confess when your (sic) wrong.
There is no room for boot licking, gut eating, ticket punching NCOs in the infantry. Police your ranks of self servers. There (sic) scum of the earth.
P.S. Root Hog or Die
March or Die
Get tough or Die
More rules to Live By
- When preparing to move don’t let everyone get up at the same time.
- When searching enemy bodies strip them and put the clothing in a trash bag.
- Before assaulting across a kill zone throw hand grenades.
- When moving across the kill zone remove weapons from enemy bodies.
- Gun crews do not fire claymores.
- Sqd leaders fire on semi during an ambush so they can pick up the fire if there is a lull. Team leaders also if it is a platoon size ambush.
- Weapons will cook off when hot. Be careful.
- Rear Security!
- Use snipers whenever possible. Good for your moral (sic), bad for the enemies.Fix Bayonets!If possible carry concealed back up radio.Make the enemy die for his country.
Lastly always quit (sic) yourselves like Soldiers.
Photo from Rear Security Magazine, 2003 (http://www.lrrp.com/docs/200302.pdf)
Also – Purdy’s Ranger Hall of Fame Citation (See Page 5)
What would you give to hear the man many have called the greatest British general of all time give a talk on leadership? In 1952 Field Marshal Sir William Slim did so at Fort Leavenworth and it was reproduced through Her Majesty’s Stationery Office and then in the pages of Military Review (page 10). Dylan and I have been reviewing it ourselves and not only is there a ton to pull out but there’s a lot that links to many other fascinating leadership topics. Here I’m going to look at the Qualities of a Commander that Slim listed and see if we can make some comparisons.
Slim named five qualities that make a commander. They include Determination, Judgment, Flexibility of Mind, Knowledge and Integrity. If we look at his explanations, we can pull even more out of his reasoning and then specifically which facets of these qualities he seems to highlight the most. For me it’s most interesting to look at his background, approach and habits and wonder how his experiences in the First World War and in Asia in the Second led him to believe these things. I’ll use some comparisons with other sources to contrast as well.
The first, and most important quality Slim mentions is Determination – or what he calls willpower. It seems to fit perfectly with a military priority of mission accomplishment – but the interesting thing is that if you look at the US Army’s attributes of a leader, Army values, etc. you won’t find determination anywhere – much less in first place (actually in the US Army’s leadership manual, ADRP 6-22, you get the word 3 times: referring to judgment & ethics, under the 4th bullet “displays character” in the competency “Leads by Example”, and in a description of delegation). Slim’s explanation is that a commander’s going to find opposition everywhere – internally his staff and subordinate commanders will tell him that what he’s asking is impossible, or inadvisable, so he has to push through that. Additionally allies, as he illustrates in his famous quote, present all kinds of roadblocks. Finally, as American commanders today are so fond of saying, “the enemy has a vote” and of course is not just trying to resist you but trying to defeat you in other ways. A commander needs strong sense of determination to get what he wants to accomplish through all of that. If a commander couldn’t overcome, remove or bypass obstacles to success, he wouldn’t accomplish much – and in Slim’s view, wouldn’t be a commander.
The part of Slim’s Determination focus that squares with current US Army teaching is his idea that determination is rooted in moral courage – which maps to integrity and personal courage in some ways. If I understand where Slim’s headed with this, it’s that in order to have a strong sense of determination, the leader has to be himself convinced that what he’s doing is right, worth doing and honestly, worth risking his job. So many military leaders talk on and on about moral courage, but Slim lays it out best here:
“Moral courage simply means that you do what you think is right without bothering too much about the effect on yourself. That is the courage that you will have to have. You must be as big as your job and you must not be too afraid of losing it. It does not matter what your job is, whether supreme commander or lance corporal, you must not be too afraid of losing it – some people are. So the one quality no leader can do without is determination, based on moral courage.”
The second quality Slim lists is Judgment – he says that in many ways it could be as important as determination. He explains that it’s a special kind of judgment that’s needed because it’s using imperfect and incomplete information (almost echoing Clausewitz). Slim explains that a good sense of judgment of human beings is an important facet – a commander needs to know the best man for the task, based on his own qualities. This leads to the importance of delegation – a judgment sense of ‘what should I be making the calls on and what should my subordinates be making the calls on’.
Slim has a great explanation of his ideas on keeping his decision workload simple and focused on the future rather than the past – which Dylan will explain in another post. Where Slim really links his quality of judgment to so many others is his explanation of a “lucky commander” – what he explains isn’t really luck but a sixth sense for choosing the right way forward. Slim says it’s a combination of “training, knowledge, observation and character” that allows a commander to be right more often than wrong and explains it through the image of a painter mixing paints. His is another way of explaining the Fingerspitzengefühl concept or Clausewitz’s combination of coup d’oeil & conviction. In a final note he says a commander must be able to balance his determination and judgment – calling to mind the Kurt von Hammerstein-Eqúord 2×2 of initiative and intelligence.
Slim speaks little of the value of Flexibility of Mind but lists it nonetheless as a quality of a commander. He defines it as adapting to changes in war ranging from innovation to politics to the weather. The valuable part is that he sees conflict between flexibility of mind and determination and that a leader needs to seek a balance – “see that your strength of will does not become just obstinacy and that your flexibility of mind does not become mere vacillation”.
Slim notes knowledge as being another quality of a commander – and lists both knowledge of friendly forces (their capabilities and limitations and the capabilities and limitations of their equipment, as well as their context) and enemy forces and their character as being the core of this – and he explicitly mentions a knowledge of the enemy commander. What this points to is experience – it would take an obscene amount of study to equal the decades of experience a Field Marshal would have – there is likely no substitute for experience in this regard.
What’s really interesting about Slim’s description of a commander’s requisite knowledge is what he calls “the real test of a great commander in the field” and mentions an argument with Field Marshal Bernard L. Montgomery. Slim says it’s a commander’s ability to “be a judge of administrative risk”. Now Brits use the term “administrative” or “admin” more than just a bit differently than us and from my own experience seem to use it interchangeably with “logistics”, “supply” and “task organization” depending on the context. I’m assuming he’s saying that judging administrative risk is, as he mentions before, the ability “to know…if he can do it with the resources he has” – and if that’s the case the “resources” include task organization. The ability to know accurately whether or not a unit could accomplish a military task given all the obstacles and adversarial forces would indeed be a good indicator of the skill of a commander and would require significant knowledge and great judgment.
Integrity is usually what most modern writers of leadership content list as the first and most important quality of a commander – and often saying that without it you can’t have the rest. But this view contradicts what many observers of leaders have seen. Today the list is long and distinguished that names the great leaders we’ve had in the US that have rather publically shown a want for integrity. Personally I’ve known leaders – commanders – who’ve displayed good leadership traits in many ways but lacked integrity in others. So I’d say it’s not a requirement to be a leader – but maybe a requirement to be a good leader – the kind the led say they’d follow to hell and back – and more than that a leader they actually do follow to hell. Slim says integrity is required for a commander to lead in the bad times – when nothing is going right and the outlook for the future is dire as well. If I read him correctly and apply my own experience it’s that integrity allows the led to be convinced that what he’s doing is right, worth doing and undergoing great hardship for, and honestly, worth risking his life. Without it the led may believe that the goals set by his commander may not be the right ones – that the led may be risking his life for some selfish personal gain of the commander. In this way, integrity may be the way the commander lends his own strong sense of determination to each member of his command.
Maybe one of the larger things I found interesting about what Slim wrote is that command is earned through success – and not a thing given. This seems different from the way we look at it today. Slim is also known for having had great self-knowledge and humility and not only does it seem to shine through here, it makes for a pretty lucid and revelatory explanation of an often clouded topic.