by Bill Hogan
Commander's Intent is the description and definition of what a successful mission will look like. Military planning begins with the Mission Statement that describes the “who, what, when, where, and why” (the 5 W's) of how a mission will be executed. Commander's Intent describes how the Commander (read: CEO) envisions the battlefield at the conclusion of the mission. It shows what success looks like. Commander's Intent fully recognizes the chaos, lack of a complete information picture, changes in enemy situation, and other relevant factors that may make a plan either completely or partially obsolete when it is executed. The role of Commander's Intent is to empower subordinates and guide their initiative and improvisation as they adapt the plan to the changed battlefield environment. Commander's Intent empowers initiative, improvisation, and adaptation by providing guidance of what a successful conclusion looks like. Commander's Intent is vital in chaotic, demanding, and dynamic environments.
The above is an excerpt from a Harvard Business Review article by Chad Storlie and was a concept taught to a Team of NetApp Leaders several years ago during in Integrated Leadership Program taught by the Thayer Leadership Group at West Point. VUCA Training was also part of the curriculum and it was here where Colonel Eric Kail made a lasting impression with on the leadership of those NetApp leaders fortunate to have been there.
VUCA – Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexities and Ambiguity. Let's summarize these terms with more context:
Volatility – Rapid and drastic change characterized by violent shifts in environment. Strategic Environments are in a constant state of dynamic instability.
Uncertainty - Threats are inherent, yet unpredictable. Understanding environments is difficult to grasp without immersion. Previous solutions to seemingly reoccurring problems are dubious.
Complexities - Issues are not separate and compartmentalized & understanding them collectively and separately is not as helpful as viewing them as interactions. Permanent Solutions are unlikely and neutralizing one issue or Threat will often give way to the emergence of another.
Ambiguity- The environment can be interpreted from multiple perspectives with various conclusions that may suggest a variety of equally attractive solutions.
The time spent brought to light that divergent thinking and openness to new ideas was essential for effective leadership. Leaders need a certain foundation in skills before you can be adaptive. We assign new meaning to our experiences by applying new knowledge about ourselves.
Mentors help us identify our blind spots and mentorship we should be open to both give and receive, but not force.
Lasting impressions in what makes a leader were bestowed upon us, like:
- "Don’t just provide me Data and make me do all the work."
- We learned character was much more than simply what we do when others are not watching.
- Courage means acting bravely in the face of danger and/or difficulty.
- Being moral as your view of self-integrity adhering to moral and ethical principles in word and deed.
- Selflessness as placing the needs of others & the mission above their own.
- Empathy as Understanding the emotional makeup & position of others.
- Tolerance as in the Willingness to consider the emotional stance of others.
- Humility as seeing others as equal.
- Collaboration as leading in the best interest of the organization at levels equal to or above their own.
- Peer Support as Sharing Ideas and information; Pride in Peer success as essential.
- Big Picture in understanding what is important to the entire organization.
- Reflective capacity as the ability to assign personal meaning to experiences based on new knowledge of self.
I had dinner with Tom Mendoza the night he first met Eric while addressing the top Cadets at West Point. I hosted Eric with a small group of pursuit leaders soon after. Eric then spent time with my direct leadership team. We collaborated upon the Integrated Program at West Point and introduced him to Eric Mann. The leadership track continued for a couple of years from there and broader one to one mentoring ensued. I was very fortunate to have Eric there with when honored as Chief Brehon of the Great Irish Fair of the City of New York and the following year when honored for my efforts for the Diocese of Brooklyn Children Scholarship efforts. In both cases I spoke of Eric's impact on our country, our leaders and me personally. He received a standing ovation at a packed Waldorf.
At his retirement ceremony, it was a moving tribute to a great man. But even though Eric had led many in battle and is a true American Hero, true to his teachings he would have had none of the glory that usually comes with his successes. He netted out his definition of success as "(Success) is measured in the eyes of your soldiers, the heart of your wife and the lives of your children."
Eric lost a 15 month battle with spinal cancer recently and the world, country, NetApp and me personally are the lesser for it. His heroic wife, beautiful daughter and aspiring army officer son asked all not to feel sorry for them however. They asked all us of us to be happy for all they (and we) were able to share with him while he was with us. He was heroic to the end and his heroism lives on through the eyes of his troops, the future of his children and the heart of his wife.
If you met Eric, you were lucky and I ask you to reflect upon his teachings and pay it forward in being the best leader you can be and doing your part in developing others leaders along h way. If you didn't know Eric but have been moved, inspired or intrigued by this in any way, I ask you read up a little on what Colonel Kail and do your part in making yourself the best you can be as well by doing well for the others we serve. Eric always put in perspective for me that the consequences of the challenges I faced vs. his and inspired me to lead strong.
Suggested Readings of Col. Eric Kail: