Mission command the utility of a military management and leadership

1. Introduction

When organizations are experiencing rapid change and economic pressure, leadership plays an essential role in helping to survive economic and operational hard times.

Mission Command embrace contemporary definitions of leaderships involving effective leaders, good communication skills, managers able to inspire their employees, making possible a vision where other people can identify.

According to Ussem (2001), ‘leadership is at its best when the vision is strategic, the voice persuasive and results tangible. In the study of leadership an exact definition is not essential but guiding concepts are needed. The concepts should be general enough to apply to many situations, but specific enough to have tangible implications for what we do.’

Visionary leadership, managers able to provide trust, empower employees and create a will to

succeed are the key factors in order to survive such a challenging business environment.

Mission command is a leadership methodology originally created for military organisations, Yardley and Kakabase ( 2007) stated Mission command, has the power to transform a traditional employer – employee relationship into a responsibility based system which previously required orders being given, now progresses to just the information being passed down, employees will then be responsible for deciding themselves what actions need to be carried out allowing to them contribute and bring forward their innovative ideas.

This system allows employees to develop an interest in what they do as they feel responsibility for the outcomes.

In this essay I intend to explain how this leadership methodology works, characteristics and benefits followed by the possibility of implementation within commercial organizations

2 What is Mission Command?

Mission Command is the leadership philosophy used by the British Army it has been proven to be effective in difficult and high pressure environments over several years. It is also a management methodology and a system to deal with environmental volatility, by allowing individuals to make quick decisions in uncertain and continuing changing environment. It provides a frame work in which the individual can make decisions and translate them, without delay as the situation progresses.

As a philosophy tries to maximise vision, initiative and diligence.

Mission command principles

A ) The leader promotes understanding of the tasks, the level of importance, a framework of action, as subordinates feel involved at the same time as understanding expectations of their superiors.

B ) Subordinates know what they are expected to achieve by understanding reasons of the task and the outcome needed, they will be in line with their objective.

C ) Individuals will be provide with the assets they need in order to perform their task effectively.

D) Once the task is been understood, subordinates know what to achieve and the resources to do so the manager can take a passive position, providing guidance when it is needed.

E) Employees will have the autonomy to decide how to use the resources and when is this appropriate in order to be successful. This will increase their initiative and commitment towards what is required to do.

Mission command states by performing these elements organisations will experience fluid communication between managers and subordinates, clear goals, knowing what is require from them, the tools and resources to achieve it. Subordinates are able to use their free will to determinate how to perform effectively their tasks, understanding what they have to achieve and also have knowledge of what resources are available. All this will be achieved by having a supportive and informative leader.

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Employees will be empower by taking a very active role, this is an extremely essential characteristic in a continuing changing environment. Managers will then simply supervise, giving assistance only when it needed.

3 – Benefits

Effective communication: encouraging understanding based on comprehension of the task, Individual must understand the purpose, the process and how to perform in order to achieve it.

Clinton O. and Sonny S (2009) explains that, the interaction can enhance an employee’s understanding of the situation, can calm their fears, reduce their stress levels and can let the employee know that they are an integral and valued part of the turnaround process.

In my organisation a good example of effective communication happens when the area manager organise weekly meeting to interchange information, everyone in the team get to know what everyone else is working on, this helps me to understand how is my department functioning. Within this meetings communication can be define as dynamic and reciprocal. The manager depends on feedback from the employees to properly tailor the communication to the situation.

We also have individual meetings to received updates related to our performance.

The manager also provides feedback to us to reinforce the desired of better responses. Helping us to work on the things we need to improve and highlighting the ones we had achieved.

Trust: communication will be clear only when there is a high level of trust, mutual understanding between managers and employees. The leader must build trust in order to practice Mission command.

Yardley (2010),’Trust is built by behaving with integrity, consistency, and by setting and maintaining high standards of behaviour and having to follow through on the difficult decisions where you know you have a choice between the right and the expedient. Its probably one of those truisms that it takes a long, long time to build up trust and you can quite quickly throw it away if you take the wrong action’.

In order to build trust managers have to be aware of their behaviours and attitudes, basically because they need to be the example to follow in terms of showing values, becoming a model and guide for subordinates to imitate.

Empowering: it means giving employees the power to do their job. Allow employees to make decisions without having to ask. Managers have to encourage employees to play a more active role.

Empowerment involves delegation, handing out responsibility to individuals in an organisation to make decisions rather than everyone having to be told what to do by managers in a hierarchical way

In areas like customer service empowerment is very necessary in other to keep the customers satisfied.

In my previous job as a sales assistant if a customer needed a refund will first have to speak with a sales assistant who will ask for a supervisor authorization, sometimes if the refund was a big amount it has to be approved by the store manager who was hardly available.

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In this situation problem solving is a manager responsibility producing delays and also the cost increased by using in some cases employee, then supervisor and finally manager time to resolve the situation. As result customer is not happy with the service, loyalty will be affected so as the company profit.

Advantages of empowerment, employees can take the initiative in solving customers’ problems so that they will continue to do business with the company. Managers have more time as they don’t need to supervise closely.

Decentralisation: will implicate establishing a less centralized, task oriented approach to operational leadership and decision making. In other words managers need to take initiative promoting freedom of speed and action, giving clear direction that explains the ‘why’ and the ‘what’ but letting employees to decide ‘how’.

Henry J. Coleman. (1996). In this respect, by focusing on goals rather than controls, a manager can align people behind organizational purposes and then allow individual initiative without sacrificing coordination

Timely & Effective Decision Making: applying mission command individuals will experience the ability to adapt to a constantly changing environment. This is vital for any organisation suffering rapid change and economic pressure.

(Graham Longley-Brown 2004) When the unexpected occurs, those who follow outdated missions or wait for new orders will lose; those who react fastest will win. Personnel need to be trained to strive always to achieve the Intent whilst having an understanding of the Scheme of Manoeuvre and looking to the Main Effort to see what they should be concentrating on at a given time.


Delegate responsibility

Mission command propose decentralisation as part of the leadership style, this characteristic refers to the ability to delegate.

The difficulty with this matter is based on the fact not every individual is ready to take responsibilities.

Like Mc Gregor states with his theory X, some employees do not want to accept responsibilities. They prefer to be directed; to avoid responsibility; they choose security above all else.

For those individuals within theory X, positions where they have to take decisions without supervision will make them feel uncomfortable. In this case they will experience a feeling of stress and discontent when performing the task.

Mission command needs individuals able to work without close supervision, under this circumstances managers will find impossible to delegate.

Another problem related to delegate can be found with some managers who often feel the need to retain control simply because they are uncomfortable with delegating power, by doing that they feel as if control is being lost and that unnecessary risk is being introduced to the job. This type of managers might be very good in terms of creating budget, reducing costs but does not necessary mean they are good as leaders.

Mission command needs managers able to encourage others to develop the confidence to make decisions and act on their own initiative, to do so leaders need to build strong relationships, provide training and appropriate experience to the delegated task.

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(Mike Schraeder and Rodger Morrison) The leader and the organisation must understand and exercise effective delegation. The research identified that effective delegation was bounded by a number of attributes such as how well the leader knew the individual, the perceived understanding of the objective, levels of training, experience, risk tolerance and the levels of trust


This concept is fundamental to mission command. Without high levels of trust empowerment and decentralised decision-making could not be established or maintained

In order to achieve a common operational doctrine and shared values, organisation must have a high level of trust.

Yardley 2010, Without trust, people trusting you and you trusting others, you build in mistrust, you build in complacency, you build in a lack of understanding.

Trust must be earn, it can only be built while individuals work together therefore high rates of turnovers will affect this matter.

Empowering subordinates.

Empowerment is a transition from this passive position to a more active situation of control.

Mission command promotes employee empowerment; this is a strategy and philosophy that enables employees to make decisions about their jobs, giving the opportunity to decide how they will perform a task.

Organisation with processes such as working with line production,( this is a fabrication design for the creation of large amounts of standardized products where consistency and uniformity are essential) operations are too routine and need to be standardize will not find necessary empowerment useful as they had a system based in simple and repetitive task design to maximise production.


To facilitate the implementation of Mission Command it is necessary to create trust within individuals. Without it individuals will not experience fluid communication.

A combat is a life threatening scene, under this experience trust between soldiers and commanders will not be difficult to achieve.

Organisation experience a different context, further research has to be done in order to discuss the characteristics of trust in commercial organisations.

The diversity of roles individuals can play in society, has to be taking into account, their interest and reason to work can differ from an individual to another. Understanding the benefits of combining these roles will bring positive outcomes for organisations.

Mission command leadership style, requires managers ready to provide guidance towards employees if autonomy is expected.

In reality not every manager is a good leader, additionally not every job requires individuals able to discern methodologies, in this cases organisations will not find suitable to empower employees as they might require people to carry operational activities, a good example can be mass production, organisations will define the best ways to use all the resources.

To conclude further investigation has to be done in other to find a solution to issues such as the difficulty to build trust, how to promote leaders able to provide guidance and the multiplicity of roles individuals’ plays in today’s society.

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