FRANKFORT, Ky. –
Guest Commentary by Lt. Col. Steve Mattingly, 138th Field Artillery Commander
Successfully leading a part-time force requires authentic leaders that know their $#!T. The military profession is more accustomed to authoritarian leadership however the evolving nature of our American culture coupled with civilian competition for our volunteer force requires a paradigm shift for an authentic leader. The end goal of Army leadership hasn’t changed; inspire, influence, provide purpose, direction and motivation to accomplish a mission or improve your organization. The manner in which leaders lead is more critical now than ever.
ADP 6-22 introduces the leadership concept of BE, KNOW, DO in its foundational doctrine of what historically has worked best for the Army.
The major distinction between attributes and competencies is that attributes are personal characteristics and competencies are skills that can be trained over time. The key takeaway from this is that how you lead is a skill that can be refined but who you are at your core will influence your ultimate success.
Leadership in the military is often boiled down to art of command and science of control. ADP 6-0 defines the art of command as creative and skillful exercise of authority through leadership. The science of command utilizes Soldiers and Warfighting functions to accomplish missions in accordance with intent. The degree of control that leaders exhibit to achieve their intent is in my opinion the secret recipe and a key component of what I consider ‘authentic leadership.’
Military members are accustomed to authoritarian leadership, it is at the core of what separates the military from the rest of society. Guard members by their very nature exist in both worlds simultaneously which merits discussion on how leaders can influence members that spend more time outside of this authoritarian world. Make no mistake I’m not suggesting authoritarian leadership has no place in the Army, only that as the ADP 6-0 states, the degree of control varies with the situation. Bill George outlined his thoughts on the still forming style of in his 2003 book Authentic Leadership.
George’s authentic leader contains many elements of our traditional Army leadership model but introduces connectedness through relationships and compassion that considers individual circumstance and well-being. Authentic leadership is an opportunity for Guard leaders to truly live up to the “People First” mantra. It should be assumed that a force which primarily exists outside of the military cannot be led in a purely authoritarian environment. Leaders that take a genuine interest in Soldiers and their background gain the ability to empathize and show compassion.
The recent COVID vaccination directive has quickly shown where authentic leadership can benefit the Guard. The traditional authoritarian approach to vaccination is a simple ‘the Army said do it, so do it or else’. The 138th attacked the vaccination mandate using the authentic approach. Leaders at all levels made time to hear concerns of Soldiers because we had 8 months to execute the guidance. The Command Sergeant Major and I found that by the time Soldiers made it to our level they felt that their concerns had been heard and walked away not disenfranchised with the organization. This doesn’t mean that they agreed or in all cases even complied with the directive but they understood and appreciated that their leaders were willing to invest the time to connect and show compassion. Ultimately the return on investment is a trust gained that strengthens mission command and aides in retention of our force.
Mission command like Clausewitz is more often quoted than read and understood. Mission command is guided by principles of trust, shared understanding, clear intent, disciplined initiative, mission orders and accepting prudent risk. When Commanders clearly convey intent through mission orders it creates a shared understanding across the formation that allows leaders at all levels the opportunity to use disciplined initiative when unanticipated problems arise. The key component of this mission command philosophy is trust. Connected, compassionate, Authentic Leaders build the trust that enables mission command to thrive across your formation.
Risk is the final principle of mission command and perhaps the toughest skill to master. ADP 6-22 uses the word risk 71 times throughout the publication on leadership and ADP 6-0 says accepting risk is fundamental to mission command. Prudent risk should not be confused with gambling. Gambling stakes success on a single event without considering hazards; risk is exposing Soldiers to injury or loss that is weighted against achieving mission intent. Opportunity comes with risk, leaders often avoid risk because of concern that potential failure or negative results could impact their career.
An aversion to risk often manifests itself in a form that all Soldiers recognize immediately and often referred to as either bull$#!t or chicken$#!t. Successful leaders need to know their $#!T. Norman Dixon’s On the Psychology of Military Incompetence identifies bull$#!t as procedures, rules and practices used to reduce anxiety and mitigate ambiguity. Like authoritarianism, a certain amount of bull___ is needed to run the Army, but we don’t need to do dumb things just because it has always been that way. A classic example is when a senior leader directs a formation to be standing tall at 0900 hours. Leaders down the line subsequently move the time up so their people are there on time ultimately resulting in a Private arriving more than two hours early so they are ready for the 0900 hours hit time. These practices erode trust and ultimately hinder our ability to apply command and control in the future. Cut the bull$#!t, give clear guidance and hold people to account when they miss the mark.
Leading a part-time force requires authentic leaders that know their $#!t. Authoritarianism and bull$#!t will always have a place in leading our force. Leading Soldiers that spend 28 days a month as a civilian requires a more compassionate and connected approach in order to build the trust vital to mission command and retain our force to hold readiness.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Kentucky National Guard, US Army, Department of Defense or the US Government.
Devine, D. J. (2021). The Trouble with Mission Command Army Culture and Leader Assumptions. Military Review, 36–42.