This article was a submission in the Cove Competition 2022.
The purpose of this article is to reflect upon iterative, interdependent and mutually reinforcing relationships between commanders, operations officers and mission command. Through training, practice, daily habits, rehearsals and assurance commanders and operations officers, combined with mission command, are an essential partnership enabling our people and teams to achieve their personal, professional and cultural potential.
This article employs the seven principles of mission command – competence, mutual trust. shared understanding, commander’s intent, mission orders, disciplined initiative and risk acceptance – to connect relationships between commanders and operations officers.
This article defines commander, operations officer and mission command. It then examines how mission command, as a system of thinking, cooperation, collaboration and action, is available to commanders and operations officers to enhance and enable Australian Defence Force (ADF) capabilities in war, peace and in our communities.
Command is the authority that a commander in the military service lawfully exercises over subordinates by virtue of rank or assignment. Command provides legal authority to an individual to direct, coordinate or control military forces.
A commander’s key duty is decision-making. The ability to make correct decisions in a timely manner is, therefore, a key measure of a successful commander.
In addition, command encompasses the authority, responsibility and accountability for deploying and assigning forces to achieve missions. Authority involves the right to enforce obedience and discipline when necessary. Although a commander can delegate certain authorities, they retain overall responsibility for command. This responsibility includes ensuring that the health, welfare, morale and discipline of assigned personnel are effectively maintained.
A leader serving as the commander’s principal advisor for tactics and training. Responsible for the effective conduct of military planning, actions and activities. Ensures people and organisations achieve required integration, coordination and preparedness requirements.
Mission command requires tactically, ethically and technically competent leaders, people and teams operating in an environment of mutual trust and shared understanding. Mission command builds effective teams and nurtures command climates where leaders encourage people to take risks and exercise disciplined initiative to seize opportunities and counter threats within the 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, coordinated by operations officers, based on assigned tasks and accepted risk.
Seven principles of Mission Command: relationships between commanders, operations officers & mission command
As a foundation of 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.
Effective commander and operations officer relationships emphasise competence through commitment to our profession. This commitment requires commanders, in partnership with operations officers, to instil confidence in our people and teams through professional mastery and shared excellence.
Commanders and operations officers also demonstrate competence through their unified strength of character at home, in the community, the barracks, the field, and on operations. The good character of these leaders and their teams is demonstrated by adherence to the five Defence values of service, courage, respect, integrity, and excellence.
2. Mutual Trust
Mutual trust is shared confidence between commanders, operations officers, people and teams based on reliability and competence in performing assigned tasks. There are no shortcuts to gaining people’s trust. Over time – minutes, hours, days, weeks, months and years – trust is built, by all of us, on values, commitment, caring for people, consistent leadership, two-way communication, personal example and common shared experiences.
People are more willing to exercise initiative when they believe their commander, operations officer and team, trusts them by accepting and supporting the consequences of their decisions. Commanders and operation officers are most effective when their relationship is enabled by trust, which allows for their unified connection to their people, teams and mission.
3. Shared Understanding
Shared understanding is enabled by two interdependent variables, collective knowledge and connected actions, by our commanders, operations officers, people and teams:
- Collective knowledge encompasses common-problem perception and common-professional language, including doctrine, learning, operating procedures, operating systems, training and education.
- Connected actions include our contest of ideas, diverse opinions, personal example, dialogue, coaching, mentoring and collaboration.
For commanders and operations officers, collective knowledge and connected actions are perishable, especially when they and their teams are pressured in volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous environments. Therefore, when not in pressured environments, commanders and operations officers enable collective knowledge and connected actions through consistently training, learning, educating and testing key organisational capacities and capabilities.
4. Commander's Intent
Commander’s intent, enabled through detailed and disciplined operations officer’s staff work, is a concise expression of the purpose, limitations, conditions and end state of a mission and task. Commander’s intent, personally prepared and delivered by a commander, provides focus to our people and teams for achievement of desired results without further orders; even when the operation does not unfold as planned.
A clear and succinct commander’s intent, understood and remembered throughout the organisation, is key to maintaining unity of effort. Effective articulation of intent enables operations officers, people and teams to continuously improve themselves, not only on the battlefield but in all areas, all the time.
5. Mission Orders
Mission orders emphasise required 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 unifying guides enabling our people and teams to plan their own responsibilities through understanding the situation, commander’s intent, mission and essential tasks while assessing risk.
In partnership, commanders and operations officers unify as a team to realise mission orders. This enables our people, in achieving their personal, professional and cultural potential, to harness and employ all available resources. Through mission orders, commanders and operations officers enable the ADF to quickly form teams, whenever, wherever and with whomever are required to achieve our missions and tasks.
6. Disciplined Initiative
Commanders and operations officers are required to nurture people’s collective initiative through leading and designing innovative training and education, creating a culture of high performance.
Disciplined initiative, enabled through command nurturing, 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,
- terrain or infrastructure changes,
- equipment or logistics availability, and / or
- seizing, retaining, and exploiting an opportunity offering a greater chance of success than the original plan.
When the situation changes, employing disciplined initiative, commanders and operations officers take action to adjust to the new situation and achieve the designated mission and task. Importantly, at the first opportunity, they inform their people and teams about the new situation.
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. Commanders and operations officers analyse missions and tasks, 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 activity. Reasonably estimating and intentionally accepting risk is not gambling. Gambling is a decision in which the commander, and their operations officer, risks the force without a reasonable level of information about the outcome.
Commanders and operations officers understand and use risk to their advantage. In developing courses of action, commanders and operations officers consider risk to the force and risk to the mission against the perceived benefit. They apply judgment regarding the importance of an objective, time available, force readiness, and anticipated cost. In applying judgement, commanders and operations officers assess:
- Who holds, or owns, the risk?
- For how long is the risk held?
This article reflects upon iterative, interdependent and mutually reinforcing relationships between commanders, operations officers and mission command. Mission command, as a system of thinking, cooperation, collaboration and action, is available for commanders and operations officers to enhance and enable ADF mission success.
The seven principles of mission command – competence, mutual trust, shared understanding, commander’s intent, mission orders, disciplined initiative and risk acceptance – are crucial in connecting relationships between commanders and operations officers.
Through purpose, practice, daily habits, rehearsals and assurance, commanders and operations officers, combined with mission command, are an essential combination enabling our people and teams to achieve in war, peace, and in our communities, their personal, professional and cultural potential.