Posted on Jan 7, 2014
Capt Cyberspace Operations
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As a leader, you are inevitably given orders and decisions which you/your people oppose (sometimes strongly) for reasons other than being unlawful/immoral. Now, as a leader, you have to motivate your people to go along with this plan that you (or they) disagree with. I certainly don't like to BS my troops, but being openly cynical can have negative affects on morale. What's everyone's opinion/experience in dealing with situations like these?
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Responses: 5
COL Vincent Stoneking
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Lt Manzi,
This is a really good question, and I'm surprised it hasn't had more traction. Especially with today's "everybody's opinion is just as good as everyone else's" and "why?" generation.

I think you hit the key points - not illegal or immoral, you have to motivate your people....

Until the decision is absolute, there is NOTHING WRONG with going to the superior, behind closed doors, and asking "WTF, over?" (but politely) and arguing until those magic words are said - "the decision is final." (Or, "you're right!" - but that may be rarer than unicorn poop)

At that point, it is a Unity of Command (I may use a few Army-specific terms, hopefully they translate well enough) issue pure and simple. It is our duty to carry out all orders that are not objectively illegal or immoral from those appointed over us. It is our duty to do that to the best of our ability. This means we need to execute as if it WAS our idea, and we think it is a nifty idea.

I'd like to do the above without being a liar, so I focus on a few things:
1. Commander's Intent. Yes, I may have done something different, but the command chose this. OK, why? I need to really understand this. Because I need to be able to frame why this idea makes sense and is logical. Because this needs to become MY intent as explained to my Soldiers.
2. Mission Focus. This is the part where I remind others and MYSELF that this is the Military, and not a democracy.
3. Professionalism/non-fraternization. This is an area where non-fraternization really pays off. If your Airmen see you as "the boss", you can simply come in, explain the plan and issue orders. If they see you as "Chris" and know your opinions, this becomes much harder and invites pushback - especially if they know you disagree.
4. Intentional language. Decide in advance what you want to say. Say that. Know that there will be objections (already assumed in your scenario), plan your themes and messages to address them.

I am also VERY deliberate in my language, because I am aware of the tension between Unity of Command and Integrity. If I disagree, I will say "this is what we are going to do" or "this is my plan." I won't say "this is what we were told to do" or "this is what they want" (Can indicate disagreement). I also won't say things like "this is a great idea!" ('cuz it isn't), but I will say "a lot of thought went into this approach...". Those who know me well might catch the distinctions, but most who know me professionally won't. It also works in my day job.

So far, none of my seniors have noticed the subtext when I state "Sir, I have a Unity of Command question...."
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SFC Stephen Carden
SFC Stephen Carden
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Sir, have you had any IO/MISO/Non-Lethal Effects training? Item 4 above and the last paragraph indicate that you might have. If not, I think you would have been a natural PSYOP or IO guy. Especially since you reference themes and messages.
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COL Vincent Stoneking
COL Vincent Stoneking
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Taught Tactical IO, FA30 Qual. Just joined one of the RC TIOGs after a looong stint on the institutional side of the Army.

But you know I have to kill you now, right? ;-)
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LTC Attorney
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There are other tools as well. As a transportation company commander on a training exercise we were hauling old explosives from a seaport to a depot where they would be disposed of properly. Old, Korean-war era stuff. The BN commander ordered we keep driving even in a thunder storm despite the 40 tons of explosives on the back of each truck and the dangerous mountain road.

I talked to him first behind closed doors as suggested, but he did say that the decision is final.

Well, his decision was final, but so was my risk assessment of "High" that forced him to obtain approval from the first O-6 in the chain of command. That meeting with the colonel lasted all of two minutes and the explosives waited an extra day in port.
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Capt Cyberspace Operations
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LTC Stoneking, it's been a while since I've looked at this question - I appreciate your thorough response. In particular I hadn't really thought too much about the subtleties of the wording.

Thanks to everyone else for the responses as well - I appreciate it!
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COL Strategic Plans Chief
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LTC Stoneking hit the nails on the heads with his comment, so I won't rehash that stuff. That being said, hunt the good. In every order there is merit. It has a purpose of some kind. I learned a long time ago that you don't have to believe that the boss is right...you just have to believe that he believes he is right. Then assume that since he has been around the block 4-20 years longer...he knows what he's doing and why. Understand the "why"...the purpose behind the task and then you can put it in your own words and find the right message for you that meets with your intent. For me, everything boils down to readiness. I can twist anything into the heading of getting ready for war...from dental visits to mandatory training. I may not agree that we should be doing X when I think Y is more important...but if my boss believes it, I put it under a heading of one of my own focus areas and motivate my personnel to make it happen. You're going to get TONS of things to do that don't necessarily fall in line with your personal values. That's why selflessness is one of the greatest virtues in the military. Give up a little of yourself and believe in the organization.
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LTC Uniformed Scientist
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I had a Company Commander who shared his disagreement with the Battalion Commander's Orders/Intent. He did this only with the First Sergeant and Platoon Leaders when one of the PLs suggested that there were better courses of action. He agreed that if he were BN CDR he would likely pick a different COA, however we had our orders and needed to move out smartly. In this case it was a case of professional development and he conceded that we did not have all the information available to the BN CDR so there may have been additional reasons for what appeared on its face to be a bad decision. I have since learned that sometimes this is the case and other times they are just bad decisions. I have also learned that in most cases bad decisions are better than no decisions at all.
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