The Praxis of Mission Command

  • Mission-Command-Systems-Integration-Exercise
In the Chairman’s 3 April 2012 White Paper, General Dempsey links his philosophy of Mission Command with the imperatives for the future security environment.  The concept that leaders exercise disciplined initiative and act aggressively is not new.  What is new is the need to develop the future generation of leaders’ abilities to adapt fluidly in contexts characterized by uncertainty, ambiguity, and risk.

In other words, instead of using technology as a crutch for molding situational awareness, we should adopt a stance where operating with less than perfect information is viewed as opportunity instead of vulnerability. This shift in what leaders rely on to think and make decisions will require them to depart from conventional wisdom and adopt a practice of operating with shared mental models and teams.

In our research about the nature of decision making within complex, adaptive systems, we have observed how top-notch decision makers recognize patterns and employ their individual mental models to make sense of rapidly evolving problems.  These individuals seem to have a “knack” for timing and prioritization that others lack, in fact they have learned to rely on their lived experiences and a system of thought, when the challenges are most perplexing and challenging. In this respect, we believe that the thinking and problem solving skills can be traced to a small set of abilities that are used to refresh their mental models and allows them to navigate military problems sets that are always ill-structured or incomplete.

The underlying advantage of combining Mission Command principles with technological capabilities and human resources is the potential of creating shared mental models that allow subordinates to assume the mindset of the operational commander with less effort or uncertainty.  The resulting mental agility enables performance and encourages initiative.  We believe that preparation through experiential, adult learning is the shortest, most affordable approach for producing the habit of practice described by the Chairman.

Mission Command Systems Thinking

The learning model for mission command cognitive skills requires development, improvement, and feedback across operational competencies.  Among these abilities, future leaders require systems thinking skills, because challenges are non-linear and dynamic within the environment. There is no steady state; rarely is there certainty.  Wholistic, systems thinkers must also possess operational design skills that allow them to more rapidly understand problems. Leaders must be capable of anticipating future trajectories and patterns that must be interpreted.

Finally, no praxis is possible without a commitment to continual learning and self-development.  In this respect, effective performance of mission command at any level will include a component of introspection and self-reflection. We believe that experiential learning and other adult learning activities will create the ideal climate where these competencies will grow.



About the Author:


Cognitive Performance Group, LLC is a woman-owned small business with offices in Orlando, Florida, and Cleveland, Ohio. It was founded by Dr. Karol G. Ross, Jennifer K. Phillips, and William A. Ross. The three CPG Principals developed the concept for a company to support cognitive performance improvement in industry and government. (more...)

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