• ALx speaker discusses mission command

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  • Katie Peterson | Staff Writer
    The Center for Army Leadership hosted the Army Leader Exchange presentation “Mission Command in the 21st Century” by retired Col. Douglas Macgregor to Command and General Staff College students and staff Feb. 28 in Arnold Conference Room of the Lewis and Clark Center.
    Macgregor is a decorated combat veteran, published author and is currently the executive vice president of the defense and foreign policy consulting firm Burke-Macgregor Group LLC in Reston, Va.
    Before he began, Macgregor posed the question, “Is mission command attainable in today’s Army at all and how do we attain it if that’s, in fact, what we want to do?”
    Originally a concept began by Prussians, Macgregor said the current accepted definition of mission command in the U.S. Army is the “exercise of authority and direction by the commander using mission orders to enable disciplined initiative within the commander’s intent to empower agile and adaptive leaders in the conduct of unified land operations.”
    “That obedience to orders, especially under fire, is an absolute in the minds of most professional soldiers, Marines and others,” he added.
    In broader terms, Macgregor said mission command rests on a certain foundation that must exist in order for it to work that involves certain attributes and conditions.
    First is an organizational culture and an institutional culture that supports risk-taking.
    “It supports initiative,” he said. “It supports offensive action, an offensive mentality that dictates that even in the defense you are interested in ways to attack and destroy the enemy from whatever vantage point you can find that is advantageous.”
    Second is trust.
    “There must be between subordinate and superior at every level absolute, imperishable trust,” Macgregor said. “In addition to that, you must speak a common professional language. Terms have to have the same meaning across the force. There cannot be confusion about what is meant by hasty attack, deliberate attack or anything else. Everyone has to understand with great clarity exactly what is meant when someone tells them to do something.”
    Macgregor said there were four key ingredients for achieving mission command. He said there has to be an intuitive feel for what is happening, a readiness to cope with uncertainty by creating certainty through initiative, a willingness to listen to soldiers of all ranks, and a willingness to “hedge” in case the leader misjudged the situation. This, in turn, translates into the right characteristics for people.
    “Human capital is everything,” he said. “You have to have smart people.”
    The three main attributes needed are character, competence and intelligence, and they intertwine, he said.
    Page 2 of 2 - “Intelligence is great but if you have no character, if you cannot face uncertainty, if you are hopelessly risk averse and you bet on failure at every turn; if you see the enemy everywhere you shouldn’t be at the job. Competence is very important. You can’t let the enemy get through,” he said.
    “Surprise, (especially on the battlefield) is inevitable. The only way to cope with it is to have people who have been encouraged to think, encouraged to improvise, encouraged to innovate, encouraged to do whatever is required to be successful.”
    Though Macgregor said all the above are important if mission command is going to be possible, he said the one most important thing is integrity.
    “Integrity is everything. Integrity is at the top. First you have to demand it, but you also have to demonstrate it. Everyone must tell the truth. Honesty is critical. Don’t stand up and tell soldiers anything that’s not true. If you do, you will eventually be held accountable by your soldiers. They need to know the truth. If you do that you will be successful,” he said. “Without absolute integrity and absolute trust that it supports, nothing good can happen.”
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