Don Vandergriff, Discusses: Misinterpretation and Confusion: What is Mission Command?

The purpose of this blog is to bring you information from various sources that are relevant to the law enforcement officer on the street and leaders in the law enforcement profession. Don Vandergriff my good friend and mentor has a great piece on “mission command” a command and influence method that is very much needed in the military as Don discusses in his piece “Misinterpretation and Confusion: What is Mission Command and Can the U.S. Army Make it Work?” Mission command would greatly benefit law enforcement as well.

Mission Command is based greatly on strength of character and mutual trust as well as high levels of professionalism and enhances our effectiveness on the street allowing for insight, imagination, and initiative that leads to adaptability; under conditions of uncertainty and complexity all so persistent in conflict. The essence of this approach is to ensure that the Army leads through Auftragstaktik, a German word that implies that once everyone understands the commanders’ intent (two levels up), then people are free to and indeed duty-bound to use their creativity and initiative to accomplish their missions within the intent, adapting to changing circumstances. How powerful a tool would a “command climate" like this be in law enforcement?

Emerging at the same time at an accelerated pace are command and control networks, which already have placed up-to-date tactical information in the hands of squad leaders, while several layers of higher command maintain over watch. At any level the urge will always remain for the senior officer to micro-manage his subordinate, particularly given the legacies of the Army’s culture. Is not that same urge to control based on past traditions and legacies prevalent in law enforcement as well? Do we not discuss this problem of micro management at all levels of our profession as well, and its effect on law enforcement operations effectiveness?

Don Vandergriff asks the question: Can the Army integrate the latest 21st century information technologies adhering to the philosophy of Mission Command while its personnel system and force structure remain in the 20th century? Is not law enforcement stuck in the same century made up with mostly top down centralized systems of command despite talk of the better and more effective decentralized structure?

Don does his research and gives us an analysis of the how the German army instituted the doctrine of Auftragstaktik through their professional military education, as well as through widespread practice in their culture during peace and war, provides insights for the U.S. Army as it takes on this incredibly complex problem. The Germans aligned their leader development with Auftragstaktik; thus, future applications of technology to their system only enhanced Auftragstaktik. The review of history will find that the U.S. Army cannot successfully integrate the latest command and control technology with the philosophy of Mission Command without seriously examining changes to its force structure, education and personnel system. This same problem persists in law enforcement as we try to connect with high technology in an effort to gather real time information only to have it stifled all too often at the street level, as street cops either are told to wait or hesitate due to uncertainty as to whether or not they should take action in a sound way due to poor command climates riddled with distrust.

A solution to how to implement Mission Command—Outcomes-Based Training and Education (OBT&E)—is already occurring. OBT&E is being implemented at several Centers of Excellence across the Army. As Army G3 Lieutenant General Daniel P. Bolger stated in August 2011, “OBT&E best supports Mission Command.” Implementing OBT&E now will allow the Army to take the time it needs to reform its personnel system and force structure to better support Mission Command while developing the next generation of Soldiers and leaders to operate in Mission Command.

It is impossible to calculate all the factors in advance; some things one must leave to chance. He who is worried about everything will achieve nothing; however, he who is worried about nothing deludes himself.

Is Mission Command yet another buzzword to be spread liberally on PowerPoint® presentations? Who really knows what it is going to take to change Army institutions to fully implement the true meaning of Mission Command?

We must understand what causes us to comply, even today, with the Anglo-American method of central, hierarchical planning and tight control cycles (“red tape”) that cause mistrust, while maintaining a centralized personnel system that causes undue competition between officers and noncommissioned officers, when trust is needed. This, of course, also influenced the manner in which strategic planning developed in U.S. corporations and the Allied armies over a hundred years ago in the Industrial Age, but still lays the foundation for our culture today. This kind of planning can be applied in a stable environment. But war is turbulent and this form of bureaucratic, strategic long-term planning is inadequate to counter the often fast and unpredictable changes in the environment. Sounds awful familiar, to law enforcement ears as well, doesn't it?

Continue reading Don Vandergriff’s outstanding article here: Law enforcement will greatly benefit from the ideas in this paper.
Stay Oriented!

Fred