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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

•    As part of mission analysis, the executive officer or chief of staff will brief a tentative time-line for planning and execution.  As part of his guidance, the commander should review the time-line and make changes based on his visualization and needs.  

•    The commander should inform his staff on the type of operations order he wants to issue to his subordinates.  There are several factors the commander considers when providing this guidance.  These include time available, capabilities of his staff, current condition of his staff, what works best with his subordinate commanders etc..  With these in mind, the commander may issue an oral order, overlay order, matrix order, complete the blank order, full written order with annexes or a combination of the above.


•    If at all possible, a commander would like to conduct collaborative planning sessions with his subordinate commanders.  Certainly, this is a tremendous benefit for a unit if this planning is executed effectively.  If the time-line supports it, the commander should coordinate collaborative planning sessions in his guidance.  

•    During the commander’s visualization process, he may determine that he must posture units/assets early to set the conditions for mission success later.  If that is the case, the commander will normally prescribe this early movement/maneuver in his guidance.   

•    One of the most important activities during preparation of a mission is for a unit to conduct rehearsals.  During guidance, the commander should notify his staff on the type of rehearsal he wants to conduct with his principle staff and subordinate commanders.  Again, taking into account the factors we discussed in the type of operations order issued the commander has several different rehearsal techniques at his disposal.  These include a radio rehearsal, map rehearsal, sketch map rehearsal, terrain model rehearsal, key leader rehearsal, or a full force rehearsal.

What types of commander’s guidance have you seen in the past?
We have certainly seen our share of various commanders articulate their guidance. You can group commanders into three categories highly reminiscent of Goldilocks and Three Bears – Too Little, Too Much, and Just Right. Let’s discuss the consequences of each.

Too Little!
A few commanders consider commander’s guidance a waste of time. Those also seem to be the same commanders who have their staff officers write their intent. These commanders always seem to answer questions with: “I’ll know when I see it,” or “You know what I want.” Unfortunately, these commanders must possess staffs who are part mind reader and have thick skins when the commander explodes at them when he is not satisfied with their results.

Commanders who provide their staffs with little or no guidance have truly set the conditions for mission failure. Staff officers try to do their best impression of Karnac the Magnificent, but mind reading is a rare gift. Thus, a plan is developed by the staff and when it is presented to the commander the scene is not pretty. The usual outcome is the staff is told to come up with something else and the precious time is wasted. You can easily predict the outcome of this mission!

Too Much!
On the other end of the spectrum is the commander who provides an inordinate amount of guidance. If this is common practice, this commander will soon find a staff that exhibits little initiative and acts as individuals and not a team. A commander can not continually tell the staff how to do their job. The good commander provides the “why” and lets his experts determine the “how.”

Unfortunately, we have seen some commanders who would rival the worst commencement speaker in terms of verboseness and dullness. After 15 minutes in a stuffy, hot TOC (tactical operations center), the heads start nodding off and the droll begins running down. That detailed guidance has become totally ineffective.

Just Right!
It is easy to spot the commander who understands how to provide valuable commander’s guidance. First, the session has a momentum to it. The commander’s sentences have a flow to them and they are presented in a logical fashion. When you look at each staff officer they are listening intently to their commander. Second, there is a two-way interaction between the staff and the commander. When a staff officer does not understand something, they ask the commander. Each staff officer feels they are part of the team and believe their participation in the process is valued by the commander. Finally, you will find the commander provides guidance to each of the principle staff officers. This commander ensures he leaves no one out and again each feels they are an integral part of the team. Obviously, watching this session is truly a pleasure!

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