Leadership & Ethics

Connecting Good Soldiering and Mission Command

By Chris Field December 3, 2019


Good Soldiering is achieved through a values-based, mission command approach empowering leaders and followers to develop optimal Army teams. Good Soldiering’s success is founded on a platform of trust and built on exemplary character as we live the Army values [courage, initiative, respect & teamwork].

Good Soldiering builds on these essential foundations to elevate teaming [time-with-teams, family, colleagues and community] under the Chief of Army’s five command themes of preparedness, people, profession, potential and partnership.[1]

'Good Soldiering' - Army’s cultural optimisation program

Background

The aim of this article is to connect Good Soldiering and mission command with the daily purpose, habits, thinking and actions of our people as they operate in teams as partners, followers and leaders. This article examines how mission command - as a system of thinking, cooperation, collaboration and action - is available for all of us to enhance and enable the Australian Army’s Good Soldiering cultural optimisation program.

Having defined Good Soldiering and mission command, this article then employs the seven principles of mission command – competence, mutual trust. shared understanding, commander’s intent, mission orders, disciplined initiative, and risk acceptance – to connect both concepts.

This article concludes that, through daily-habits, practice, rehearsals, diligence and vigilance, Good Soldiering and mission command are a powerful combination, enabling our people and teams to achieve their personal, professional and cultural potential.

Good Soldiering and Accelerated Warfare

Good Soldiering is Army’s cultural optimisation program focussed on assuring trust in our people as military professionals while ensuring Army is both ready now and future ready in order to master Accelerated Warfare. Good Soldiering promotes an enduring culture of optimal performance: as individuals, as teams and as an Army.[2]

Accelerated Warfare requires our people to be ready now and future ready in an era characterised by volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity.[3] As a central idea in Army’s thinking, Accelerated Warfare describes both our operating environment and how we respond to challenges and opportunities from:

  • Geographic, cultural and political operating systems of cooperation, competition and conflict in seven key domains: human, maritime, land, air, information, cyber and space.
  • Threats from adapting, changing and learning adversaries:
    • spanning individuals, violent extremist organisations to state-like and state-based capabilities,
    • across seven key domains,
    • enabled by networks, connectivity, data, experimentation, training, education and doctrine combined with low-cost, micro, lethal and accessible technology, 
    • creating resilient, interoperable and integrated threat capabilities to sense, analyse and understand environments while enabling, controlling and manoeuvring effects to deny, degrade, deceive and disrupt our own friendly capabilities.
  • Technology including the convergence of:
    • fused, synthesised, assured and protected information,
    • big data, artificial intelligence and machine-learning,
    • simulation and synthetic environments, including augmented and virtual reality,
    • remotely-operated robotics and autonomous systems,
    • long-range precision fires.
  • Joint, interagency, regional, coalition and multi-sector warfighting capabilities[4] that think, equip, organise and prepare for war, integrated across seven domains, through enhancing and enabling our people, teams, networks, training and education, organisational structures and relationships, logistics distribution, capability investment and mobilisation systems.[5]

In an Accelerated Warfare environment, strength of character from our people, our teams and our organisation - embodied in Good Soldiering - is a key element of the moral component of fighting power.[6] Strength of character sustains our trust in each other and safeguards our legitimacy with the Australian people, allies and partners.

Strength of character combines ethical and moral decision-making with vigilance against unacceptable behaviour. It is central to ensuring that our Army remains trusted as a national institution while promoting cohesion in our teams and with our partners. This in turn, enhances our capability as an Army in Motion which constantly and consistently adapts, changes and learns so our people and teams can reach their personal, professional and cultural potential.[7]

Mission Command

Mission command requires tactically and technically competent people and teams operating in an environment of mutual trust and shared understanding. Mission command builds effective teams and nurtures command climates in which leaders encourage people to take risks and exercise disciplined initiative to seize opportunities and counter threats within their commander’s intent.

Through mission orders, commanders focus their people and teams on the purpose of an operation rather than on the details of how to perform assigned tasks. This allows people and teams the greatest possible freedom of action in the context of a particular situation. Finally, when delegating authority, commanders set the necessary conditions for success by allocating resources based on assigned tasks and accepted risk.[8]

Connecting Good Soldiering and Mission Command

Having defined Good Soldiering and mission command, this article now employs the seven principles of mission command – competence, mutual trust. shared understanding, commander’s intent, mission orders, disciplined initiative and risk acceptance – to connect both concepts through our purpose, our habits, our thinking and our daily actions. Together, Good Soldiering and mission command are a powerful combination for our people, and our teams, to achieve their personal, professional and cultural potential.

The seven principles of mission command assist all of us with framing our approach to Good Soldiering. For success, both mission command and Good Soldiering require our constant collective efforts to ensure we are ready now and future ready to master Accelerated Warfare.

Seven principles of Mission Command and Good Soldiering

1. Competence

Tactically and technically competent people and teams are the foundation of effective mission command. Competence performing assigned tasks, to an agreed standard, is achieved via repetitive, realistic, and challenging training, combined with life-long learning through employment, education and professional development. Competence gained through common experiences develops teamwork, trust, and shared understanding that people and teams need in order to realise mission command and unity of effort.[9]

Good Soldiering emphasises competence through our commitment to our profession. This commitment requires us to instil confidence in our people and teams through our professional mastery and shared excellence.

Good Soldiering also values competence demonstrated through our unwavering strength of character – individually and collectively – at home, in the community, in the barracks, in the field and on operations. The good character of our people and our teams is demonstrated by our adherence to the four Army values of courage, initiative, respect and teamwork.[10]

2. Mutual Trust

Mutual trust is the result of shared confidence between our people and our teams based on reliability and competence in performing their assigned tasks. There are no shortcuts to gaining people’s trust. Over time – hours, days, weeks, months and years – trust is built, by all of us, on values, caring for people, consistent leadership, commitment, two-way communication, personal example and common shared experiences. People are more willing to exercise initiative when they believe their commander and team trusts them by accepting and supporting the consequences of their decisions.[11]

Good Soldiering is focussed on enabling and nurturing trust in our Army as a military profession, ensuring we are ready now and future ready to master Accelerated Warfare. Good Soldiering articulates that, as Australia’s Army, we live Army’s values. We are anchored by trust and our connection to community and country. Preservation of that trust, through exemplary conduct, is essential.[12]

3. Shared Understanding

Shared understanding of an operating environment, task, purpose and approaches to solving problems forms the basis of unity of effort enabling peoples’ disciplined initiative. Effective decentralised task execution is not possible without first achieving a shared understanding.[13]

Shared understanding is enabled by two interdependent variables: collective knowledge and connected actions.

  • Collective knowledge encompasses common problem perception and common professional language, including doctrine, operating procedures, operating systems, training and education.[14]
  • Connected actions include our contest of ideas, diverse opinions, personal example, dialogue, coaching, mentoring and collaboration.

Both collective knowledge and connected actions are perishable, especially when people and teams are pressured in volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous environments. Therefore, when not in pressured environments, people and teams must consistently train, learn and educate to test and sustain our skills in sharing and nurturing our application of collective knowledge and connected actions.

Good Soldiering, under the rubric of preparedness, brings people together to share information and integrate capabilities from community, joint, interagency, regional, coalition and multi-sector partners. We strengthen our relationships through shared vision and purpose. We understand, respect and embrace differences in our people and our teams.

4. Commander’s intent

The commander’s intent is a clear and concise expression of the task, purpose, limitations, conditions and end-state of an operation. Commander’s intent, personally prepared and delivered, provides focus to our people and teams for achievement of the commander’s desired results without further orders, even when the operation does not unfold as planned.

Commander’s intent, nested and reinforced at each level of command, provides the basis for unified actions throughout the force. A succinct and clear commander’s intent that people and teams can remember and understand, even without an order, is key to maintaining unity of effort.[15]

Good Soldiering emphasises commander’s intent and unity of effort as essential foundations for Army’s cultural optimisation based on the Chief of Army’s five command themes of: preparedness, people, profession, potential and partnership. These five command themes enable our people to take action to continuously improve ourselves, our teams, our Army and our partners, not only on the battlefield but in all areas, all the time.[16]

5. Mission Orders

An order is a communication—verbal, written, or signalled—that conveys instructions from commanders to their people and their teams. Orders provide guidance, assign tasks, allocate resources and delegate authority. Most orders contain five elements: situation; mission; execution; administration & logistics; and command and signals.[17]

Mission orders emphasise achievable results, not how results are achieved. They are neither so detailed that they stifle initiative nor so general that they provide insufficient direction. Mission orders are succinct and unify efforts, enabling our people and teams to plan their own tasks through understanding the situation, commander’s mission, intent and essential tasks while assessing risk.

Employing mission orders, commanders remain solely responsible and accountable for exercising delegated authority through people and teams. In turn, disciplined initiative and coordination allow our people and teams to plan, prepare, and execute their operations to accomplish their own mission.[18]

Disciplined initiative, while executing mission orders, creates a culture of high performance. Good Soldiering encourages mission orders through teamwork, enabling our people to harness and employ available resources to achieve their mission. Based on the application of mission orders, the Chief of Army’s five command themes - preparedness, people, profession, potential and partnership - enable our Army to quickly form teams, whenever, wherever and with whomever is required to achieve our tasks.[19]

6. Discipled Initiative

Disciplined initiative is when people and teams work to follow their orders and adhere to the plan until they realise their orders and the plan are no longer suitable for the situation in which they find themselves. The situation may change through:

  • enemy or friendly action
  • weather
  • terrain or infrastructure changes
  • equipment or logistics availability, or
  • seizing, retaining, and exploiting an opportunity offering a greater chance of success than the original plan.[20]

When the situation changes, our people and teams take action to adjust to the new situation and achieve their commander’s intent through employing disciplined initiative. Importantly, they report to their commander about the new situation at the first opportunity.

Enabling disciplined initiative requires a command climate of mutual trust, shared understanding and learning. In training - before committing to combat - commanders practice and learn to accept risk and underwrite the good-faith mistakes of their people.

In turn, people practice and rehearse employing commander’s intent to define the limits within which they may exercise initiative. People learn to trust that they have the authority and responsibility to act. Intent provides our people the confidence to apply their judgment in ambiguous situations because they know the mission’s purpose and desired end-state.[21]

Army’s Good Soldiering and Our Contract with Australia all require us to ‘lead by example and strive to take the initiative’. As an Army in Motion, with the resources we have available, we are required to use our collective initiative to lead, design innovative training and nurture capabilities to create a culture of high performance. Our initiative is required to create the conditions needed for us to master and succeed in an Accelerated Warfare environment.[22]

7. Risk Acceptance

Risk is the exposure of someone or something valued to danger, harm, or loss. Because risk is part of every operation, it cannot be avoided.[23] Commanders analyse risk in collaboration with people and teams to determine what level of risk is acceptable and whether to tolerate, treat or transfer risk, or terminate the mission.

In developing courses of action, commanders consider risk to the force and risk to the mission against perceived benefits. They apply judgment regarding the importance of an objective, the time available, and any anticipated costs.[24] In applying judgement, commanders assess:

  • Who holds, or owns, the risk?
  • For how long is the risk held?

Reasonably estimating and intentionally accepting risk is not gambling. Gambling is making a decision in which the commander risks the force without a reasonable level of information about the outcome. [25]

Mission command requires commanders, people and teams to manage accepted risk, exercise initiative and act decisively, even when the outcome is uncertain.[26]

Good Soldiering requires Army’s leaders to understand and use risk to their advantage. It requires leaders to give their people productive and focused work. Importantly, Army’s leaders create environments where we trial new things, learn quickly from failure and share lessons with others. Good Soldiering sees success as workplace and workforce collective efforts inspired by collaboration and cooperation. [27]

Conclusion

Mission command - as a system of thinking, cooperation, collaboration and action - is available for all of us to enhance and enable the Australian Army’s Good Soldiering cultural optimisation program.

This article connects Good Soldiering with the seven principles of mission command. It aims to ensure that both concepts inspire our daily purpose, habits, thinking and actions as we operate in teams as partners, followers and leaders.

Through daily practice, rehearsals, diligence and vigilance, Good Soldiering and mission command are a powerful combination, enabling our people and teams to achieve their personal, professional and cultural potential.

 

End Notes

[1] Australian Army, Good Soldiering - Army’s cultural optimisation program, Canberra, 2019

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Multi-Sector: includes community, business, industry, academic organisations and iconic national and international institutions.

[5] Australian Army, Accelerated Warfare Futures Statement for an Army in Motion, Canberra, 2018

[6] Martin van Creveld, Fighting Power: German and U.S. Army Performance, 1939-1945, Praeger; Reprint edition, 2007, pp. 3 & 170. Van Creveld asserts that ‘within the limits set by its size, an army’s worth as a military instrument equals the quality and quantity of its equipment multiplied by its Fighting Power’.[6] He defines Fighting Power as: ‘resting on mental, intellectual, and organisational foundations…manifesting, in one combination or another, as discipline and cohesion, morale and initiative, courage and toughness, the willingness to fight and the readiness, if necessary, to die…Fighting Power, in brief, is defined as the sum total of mental qualities that make armies fight’.

[7] Op Cit., Good Soldiering

[8] Headquarters Department of the United States Army, Mission Command: Command and Control of Army Forces, Army Doctrine Publication, ADP 6-0, Washington, D.C., 31 July 2019, p. VIII

[9] Ibid., p. 1-7

[10] Op Cit., Good Soldiering

[11] Op Cit., Mission Command: Command and Control of Army Forces, pp. 1-7–1-8

[12] Op Cit., Good Soldiering

[13] Op Cit., Mission Command: Command and Control of Army Forces, pp. 1-8–1-9

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid., pp. 1-9–1-10

[16] Op Cit., Good Soldiering

[17] Op Cit., Mission Command: Command and Control of Army Forces, pp. 1-10–1-11

[18] Ibid.

[19] Op Cit., Good Soldiering

[20] Op Cit., Mission Command: Command and Control of Army Forces, pp. 1-11–1-12

[21] Ibid.

[22] Op Cit., Good Soldiering

[23] Op Cit., Mission Command: Command and Control of Army Forces, pp. 1-13

[24] Ibid.

[25] Ibid., pp. 1-14

[26] Ibid.

[27] Op Cit., Good Soldiering


Portrait

Biography

Chris Field

Chris Field serves in the Australian Army and is the Commander Forces Command. He previously served as Vice Director of Operations, United States Central Command.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Australian Army, the Department of Defence or the Australian Government.



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