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Posted on Jul 14, 2008 in Tactics101, War College

Tactics 101:028 – Commander’s Guidance

By Rick Baillergeon and John Sutherland

“I now want you to consider the general in relation to his troops. I will begin with a few words about his staff, who are the means by which he controls and directs his army. I will give you two simple rules which every general should observe: first, never to try to do his own staff work; and secondly, never to let his staff get between him and his troops. What a staff appreciates is that it should receive clear and definite instructions, and then be left to work out the details without interference.”
—Field Marshal Viscount Wavell of Cyrenaica


Commander’s Intent – A Review
Last month, we discussed in detail commander’s intent. We stressed what a powerful tool it was for a commander during the execution of a mission. It is a means for him to enable subordinates to exercise initiative when opportunities on the battlefield present themselves. A good commander’s intent doesn’t tell subordinates “how” to accomplish a mission. However, it does enlighten them on the “why” of the mission and it defines what the commander considers to be success for the mission (in other words the end state). Finally, we stated several times that as the name suggests – commander’s intent must be developed by the commander himself.

This Month’s Focus
Another tool the commander has at his disposal is called commander’s guidance. Commander’s guidance is principally a tool utilized early in the planning of a mission. If used properly it assists a commander in focusing his staff on developing a flexible plan he believes will achieve success. It additionally enables a unit to allocate resources and support throughout the battlefield the way the commander desires.

We will approach the subject by answering the following questions: 1) What is commander’s guidance? 2) How does a commander prepare himself to provide quality guidance? 3) When is guidance given? 4) What form should it take? 5) To whom is it given 6) What is the staff’s role in the process? 7) What should guidance contain? 8) What have we seen in the past? 9) Can you provide an example?

What is commander’s guidance?
Basically, it is the direction the commander provides his staff in order to develop courses of action that can then be utilized to formulate a feasible, actionable plan to accomplish their mission. Commander’s guidance is a critical part of a unit’s planning process. It enables staff officers and subordinate commanders to effectively utilize their planning time in developing products and making timely decisions regarding assets and resources. Commander’s guidance can be highly detailed or very broad depending on a range of factors (time available, information available, current situation, training and expertise of the staff, commander’s personality, etc.). As in intent, it must be developed by the commander. After all, it is commander’s guidance!

How does a commander prepare himself to provide quality guidance?
In essence, commander’s guidance is the tool in which the commander articulates his visualization for the upcoming mission. Thus, in order to set the conditions to provide quality guidance; a commander must conduct some quality visualization himself. This visualization process is truly an art. When a commander receives his mission from higher headquarters he must spend some quiet time and do quality thinking. Transforming this visualization into a version he can share with his staff and subordinate commanders is again an art form. Some commanders have great difficulty communicating this vision. While others, cherish this opportunity. Regardless, it comes with experience and a commander must do some experimentation.

When is guidance given?
A commander normally provides his guidance as part of the unit’s mission analysis brief. Once the commander receives the staff’s portion of the brief, the commander has three critical tasks he must effectively accomplish. First, he must approve or disapprove and rewicker the unit’s mission statement. Second, he provides the staff with his initial commander’s intent (see last month’s article). Again, this is his initial intent. As planning progresses and the enemy situation, friendly situation, and the terrain and weather change so will the intent. Finally, the commander will provide his guidance to the staff. This will drive further planning and the allocation of resources and assets.

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