Critically evaluate the elements of mission command


The aim of this essay is to critically evaluate the elements of mission command and its applicability to non-military organizations. Furthermore, it discusses the role of the leader and it provides an analysis of different leadership styles that could be adopted to achieve competitive advantage in a business context.

The changing nature of organizations and the development of human resources have placed growing importance on leadership. As suggested by Shackleton (1995)leadership is that process of inspiring individuals towards the attainment of a desired reslt.

This is not longer associated with close control and command of the workforce. Today, good leadership involves an effective process of delegation, support and empowerment. Therefore, the role of the leader is to encourage development of skills, the creation of a learning environment and a vision in which individuals can identify.

These elements are also the central tenets of mission command which is a leadership philosophy adopted by the British Army that has proved flexibility and adaptability in the most difficult situations over many years. The fundamental basis of mission command is a decentralization approach, timely decision making, trust and mutual understanding which encourage subordinates to exercise their own initiative and freedom of action. In a centralized organizations senior managers retain major responsibilities and power. Coversely, a desentralised organization spread responsibilities for decision making across all units and lower level managers, in other words senior managers would set the conditions for employees to exercise their own initiative and take decisions while providing them with a great sense of involvement and commitment.

Detailed command and planning is more suited to situations of stability where commanders use this approach to give directions and exercise control, this is no always possible in complex and dynamic environment. Under a centralized structure, individuals refer to the headquarters when they encounter situations for which they did not receive full instructions. This may lead to delays in the decision process and slower action. Fast-food businesses like Burger King, and McDonalds use a predominantly centralised structure to ensure that control is maintained over their many outlets. In contrast, Hotel chains are particularly keen on using decentralised structures so that hotel managers are empowered to make own decisions to handle customer problems or complaints.

Another example of decentralised organization is Tesco the leding supermarket chain. In each branch managers can take decisions concerning their store such as staff promotion and staffing. while being responsible to a regional manager.

In this article, the authors describe the elements and principles of mission command by contrasting the practices of two military forces, the Prussian Army and the French Army. As described by Bungay (2005) the Prussian army was characterized by a highly centralized decision making process which means that each battle was planned in great detail and subordinates strictly followed instructions. In contrast the French Army adopted a decentralized structure and decision making process which encouraged individuals to act independently and to use their own initiative. The French Army’s approach resulted being more successful in time of uncertainty and they inflicted defeats on a range of enemies

Leaders today have to make decisions in extremely complex and dynamic environments. The elements of mission command present the organizations with a chance to do so more efficiently. For instance it enables the unity of efforts, drives focus and empowers individuals to use their own initiative. In other words, it promotes coordination and cooperation among all employees towards a recognized objective and vision.

Moreover, mission command replaces detailed planning with delegation of decisions to subordinates. Simply put, commanders only provide general instructions that outline objectives and leave tactical details to subordinates which decide how best to achieve these. (Department of the Army, 2003).This does not mean that commanders do not supervise subordinates’ execution ,but that they only intervene to coordinate, to direct changes and to exploit success.

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Mission command is a special yet risk taking method of operation as it empowers individuals within organizations to think about their relevance and question the suitability of the orders given to them. One important aspect of empowerment is delegation of decision making authority to the lowest level of organizations By delegating, Senior managers have time to concentrate on the most important decisions as the other decisions can be undertaken by other people down the organisation structure. When done properly delegating increases staff motivation, self.esteem and sense of ownership. Many organization have claimed significant success from employees empowermennt trough delegation, examples include Xerox, Fedex and Starbucks, my current workplace,

In Starbucks, the act of empowering consist in giving individuals the power to act and to make decisions but within prescribed limits. Store managers determine the scope of the delegating authority, partner’s commitment and willingness to accept responsibility for a task. However, Assigning duties to partners does not relieve of the responsibility for these duties, infact managers still remain accountable for the actions of others and retain the ultimate responsibility and authority. A strong leader ensure that those delegates have adequate coaching and training to complete the task. In the context of mission command commanders consider information a valuable resource and share it through all chain of command.

In Starbucks managers are in charge of managing a budget. Within this responsibility, they delegate authority to shift managers to place orders and stock taking . By taking more responsibility, supervisors increase their understand of the business consequently they feel more involved and motivated. Within this context, supervisors use their authority to allocate some tasks to staff members. This sharing of responsibility has proved to increase the level of commitment and trust. Furthermore, In starbucks the hr department adopt a decentralized approach, managers have the responsibility for recruitment and selection of staff, disciplinaries and investigations. I n this process Hr managers would offer advises and guidance. involving managers in some of the hr activities lead to higher motivation and free up hr managers which can focus on more strategic activities.

As suggested by Roy and Dugal (1998) effective coordination and successful empowerment is only possible through clear communication and mutual trust.On one hand, those delegating authority have to trust the experience and judgement of those receiving it, on the other hand those receiving it have to trust that they will be resourced and given the autonomy they need. 

According to Bungay, the Prussian and the French army’s approach can be compared to mc Gregor’s theory x and theory. He suggests that the Prussian army adopted a theory x approach where managers assumes that employees dislike work, avoid responsibility and constantly need direction. This approach relies on close supervision, coercion and tight control to gain employe’s compliance. In contrast the French army reflect theory y, people are self-motivated, they seek responsibility and show initiative. Based on these assumptions and given the proper conditions, mangers that adopt theory y are more likely to develop a climate of trust with employees, encourage communication and create a learning environment in which people can develop and se their abilities.

according to Drath and Palus (1994), under mission command leaders are not longer seen as individuals in charge of subordinates but as members of a community of practice in which people share the same values and work towards the same goal. This is reflected with the French army structure which is made up of equals who share same beliefs and mission, everyone with an important part to play in the decision making process and with an offeicer being one of them.. This discussion recognize the importance of a relationship between leders and followers, in other words the leader is not longer seen as a solo leader who stands out from the rest but as a team leader who has the capacity to follow others.

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Hence, The concept of mission command is very close to the notion of servant leadership which suggests that leaders, who choose to serve their organization first, could serve as an example and encourage followers to collaborate in supporting the organization (Conger & Kanungo, 1987). according to greanleaf The role of leaders is to serve their followers and to make sure that other people priorities needs are being served. Similarly to mission command, servant leadership encourages trust, collaboration, listening to people and the use of empowerment.

These elements can be seen with the French army, how everyone had a part in the decision making process and how soldiers were empowered through freedom of action and the use of own initiative. Today, Servant leadership fit naturally into starbucks culture, mission statement and giding principles. Howard shoults believes that leading people from the heart is fundamental to create satisfied employees which leades to customers satisfaction and to customer loyalty. Management team with HR department is continusly involved in developing staff through training, coaching, performance reviews and appraisals.

Mission command and Employees empowerment lead to the development of self managed teams. These are generally composed of group of people that manage themselves through delegated authority to make decisions on various projects,such as managing a budget or recruit new staff. In such a scensario,The role of the leader will take the role of a coach, facilitator and advisers. One important attribute of a self manged leader is a servant attitude, driven by the desire to assist the grouop to accomplish its responsibility by bringing out their unique abilities and best qualities while providing the environment and the resources that will enable them to contribute to team goals. Organizations that have implemented self-managed teams include General Motors, M&M, PepsiCo, Mars.

This essay shows that , the various elements of mission command can be seen in different organizations, however during my experience in leading and managing people I learned that even though the structure of an organization help to determine which leadership style to adopt, in different situations there is need to adopt a flexible approach and combine different leadership styles. In my opinion the Prussian army failed because of lack of flexibility and the inability to flex their style during the different situations they were facing.

As Fiedler suggests different situations may require different leadership styles. For instance, in a higly repetitive environment with repetitive tasks would be best to adopt a directive leadership style, however in amore dynamic environemt a more lexible style is required therefore a participative style may result in best performance.

.According to Blanchard the choice of the appropriate leadership style depends on

developmental level of the subordinate(s). In other words, leaders must first determine the maturity level of the followers in relation to the specific task that must be accomplished. For example with an employee that is stil a trainee the leader need to provide clear instructions and specific direction. As the level of followers’ maturity increases, the leader would use coaching to help them build confidence and motivation. delegating leadership style is most appropriate when followers are ready to accomplish a articular task and are both competent and motivated to take full responsibility.

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he rate of organizational change has not declined in the past years and with the current pace of economy, it not likely to decline in the near future also. This leaves the organizations with only one option; to adapt and embrace change as efficiently as possible.

The authors argue that organizations can only survive if they foster a culture of innovation and controlled risk taking, in order to make such a transformation there is need of a new breed of leaders who will be able to help organizations to develop a new vision.

According to Bass (1998), Transformational leaders are those who encourage innovation and open discussion of issues and ideas, and challenges are seen as opportunities rather than threats.

In the present contemporary arena of business, organizations must increasingly be involved in developing effective leaders that are able to motivate employees and get the best out of them and along side provide a better healthier and more competitive work environment. The impact and outcomes of these organization decisions may be considered as variables of the style of leadership Although there is no universal rule to follow when leaders are managing, however there are many factors that leaders should consider in order to be effective (Litwin & Stringer, 2001).

On one hand, I agree with the authors, the lelements of mission command can deliver beneficial effects to commercial organizations as helps team identify a clear purpose, allows faster decisions, implement faster changes through empowered teams and endure competitive advantage. On the other hand I believe that different situations require a combination of various leadership styles, for example there are times when a directive style is more suitable than a participative style. From experience I learned that trusting and empowering staff is a powerful tool to achieve success, however I believe that a directive, controlling style is necessary in situations of emergency and crises

An example of successful application of mission command is Pfizer, a leading pharmaceutical company, After a period of significant growth, Pfizer executives realized that there was sometimes a real disconnect between the goals and activities of the technical staff working on the many research projects. This was based on The perception that the organization would not provide enough support and resources which resulted in few people trusting the company.

The solution was found in mission command which stressed the need for clarity ans simplicity about the mission, a review of the way they communicated together with a detailed planning and the process to break down decisions into sub-missions.

The second priority was the need for empowerment which emerged after having estabilished and

reach a strategic agreement on the objectives. As suggested by David Roblin’ the real benefit was the freedom it granted team members to follow their own ideas about how to achieve their own objectives as long as this supported the project’s main mission. The teams involved both responded very positively,

and have reported far higher internal alignment and

engagement with their projects.

One of the teams achieved a filing deadline, which at the

beginning of the year was regarded as a forlorn hope with no

more than a 10% chance of success. Another has taken a full

three months out of its timeline.

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