TO BE OR NOT TO BE A COMMANDER

BRIGADE COMMAND IN MODERN OPERATING ENVIRONTMENT

1. Each level of military command has unique developmental challenges and opportunities. However, the transition from Battalion to Brigade command is one of the hardest command transitions in the Army, as it involves the transition from direct to indirect leadership and also involves the maximum time spent out of circulation. The Battalion Commander intimately knows all his subordinate commanders and is in direct touch with troops. Ipso facto, the CO passes on his or her vision directly and informally to his command. Conversely, Brigade Commanders do not have the same opportunities to interact with troops and must rely on subordinate commanders to communicate their intent and vision to the last man or colloquially to the tip of the bayonet within the formation. Thus, the leadership competencies required for successful Brigade command may differ from those required for successful Battalion command.

2. Brigade command also represents a point where the commander becomes responsible for facilitating employment of many of the enablers (e.g., fires, engineering support, and communication) that are necessary in theater. These enablers are part of a Division, and the Division Commander would allocate those resources to specific Brigades. This change means that Brigade Commanders are now equipped with support functions that had not previously been inherent to a Battalion CO. The evolving Brigade Commander responsibilities, along with the changing nature of warfare, have created a need to re-examine leadership competencies at the Brigade Commander level.

3. The increase in responsibilities at the Brigade level has prompted discussions about the type of leadership necessary at this command level. One view posits that officers who command Brigades need operational but not strategic leadership skills, because they are not involved in the high level strategic leadership activities that take place at the Army and Corps leadership levels. However, there is a counter argument particularly in light of the demands placed on Brigade Commanders by the operational paradigm that strategic leadership begins at the Brigadier level. This may be especially true if strategic leadership is conceptualized not as a particular leadership level (i.e., the Army’s traditional distinction among the tactical, operational and strategic leadership levels), but as a way of thinking that involves engaging and enacting internal and external spheres of influence in a complex and ambiguous environment. Regardless of the debate concerning whether Brigade Commanders are strategic leaders, the new Brigade command responsibilities and the changing nature of warfare have created a need to examine leadership competencies at the Brigade Commander level.

4. Colonels become Brigade Commanders because they want to BE one; a cromulent agenda indeed. They are driven to reach the position for the things they want ‘TO DO’ or what they want to ‘BE’; whereas the propulsion to reach that coveted flag rank should be fueled by the sense that they want to become Brigade Commanders ‘FOR’ a reason. This freakish or may be even premature epiphany dawned upon me as I rummaged through the internet via GOOGLE and the question came to me why was I using GOOGLE and why was it the numero uno search engine. The answer came from their mission statement; “Our mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”[1] This was what GOOGLE was ‘FOR’ not what it wanted ‘TO DO’ or wanted to ‘BE’. It neither had any information of its own, nor did it generate any information. If an analogy was to be drawn with what was the Brigade Commander’s ‘FOR’; then the mission statement may be encapsulated as; “facilitate the organization to unravel the COMPLEX challenges in a modern Cooperation-Competition-Crisis-Conflict paradigm of military operating environment with optimum employment of assets and by causing minimum turbulence.”

5. The semantics of English language here again emerges to the fore, wherein we decipher the difference between COMPLEX and COMPLICATED, Brigade Commanders should not get involved in solving complicated issues, they require effort, time and energy but can be resolved and expeditiously disposed through a process or an algorithm and that should be the domain of the staff with necessary and timely injunctions by the Commander. However the complex conundrums is where the Commander’s schwerpunkt must be; in a modern military operating environment, the intangibles and unknowns are far too many and to work through these ambiguities and resolve them for the organization would be the acme of his skills. In an Industrial age conflict the unknowns were very limited and the fog and friction of battle very tactical in nature, however in an information age paradigm answers to even basic questions mentioned below elude the commander:-

(a) Where is the adversary?

(b) What is he fighting for and what are we fighting for?

© Where is the battle space and what are his vectors?

(d) When will he fight and with what?

(e) What does the adversary look like or how is he to be identified?

6. To answer the above mentioned questions and many more of their ilk, certain competencies may be required in a Brigade Commander. Such competency modeling typically involves creating a detailed list of all the knowledge, skills, abilities and other attributes that are needed to perform a given task. A traditional competency modeling structure is too static and bureaucratic to be useful, especially for tasks involving strategic leadership. Additionally, it is difficult to fully capture every relevant competency when creating a competency model and the derivative lists often becomes exhaustive and utopian. If a specific competency model is used to focus our PME efforts, then there is a risk that those become the competencies that one is legislated to possess, and that might lead people to conclude that those are the only competencies required. This could lead to a static competency model that does not adequately and accurately reflect current leadership challenges in a VUCA environment. One solution to mitigate the farrago with a static, detailed competency listing is to create meta-competencies, which are broader reflections of more specific competencies. Additionally, meta-competencies can be thought of as capabilities that affect a person’s ability to learn new, more specific competencies. For example, learning how to read enables one to potentially learn an endless amount of additional information, after all Fred Truman had rightly said; “not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers.”[2] Meta-competencies allow training and development efforts to be more fluid and adaptable, as they can direct development without being overly prescriptive. As the environment evolves, a development strategy predicated on broad and enduring meta-competencies can be altered without the need to expend effort creating a new competency taxonomy.

7. One example of a meta-competency framework relevant to Brigade command is the framework presented in the U.S. Army Leadership Field Manual (U.S. Department of the Army, 2006). Specifically, the manual (FM 6–22) outlines a meta-competency framework that focuses on three core leader competencies (leads, develops, achieves). Leading involves elements of leading others, extending influence beyond the chain of command, leading by example, and communicating. Develops involves creating a positive environment, preparing self and developing others. Finally, achieves involves getting results. This framework is successful because it encompasses meta competencies that facilitate learning new competencies. For example, if a leader excels at developing others who are empowered and take initiative, that leader has the opportunity to learn new information and new ways of thinking from the empowered According to Bill Gates “As we look ahead into the next century, leaders will be those who empower others.”[3] That means being focused on creating an environment that balances autonomy with support, pressure with balance and which pays attention to people’s fundamental human need to matter. Having talked about the US model I am on the verge of committing blasphemy as indigenization of doctrine and concept is a must but then there is nothing wrong in not re-inventing the wheel. Just to add a local hue to the concept; another meta-competency that a Brigade Commander must possess in our part of the world is the ability to develop a positive command climate; the competencies that are encapsulated in this meta competency are the ability to create an ethical climate, the ability to create a culture of open communication, and the ability to regulate and monitor one’s emotions (not being a narcissist and listening to people not for replying but for understanding their version)0. The model is broad and on the surface may appear to overlook many important elements of leadership (i.e., building teams and creating a vision), it can be elaborated to include specific competencies that are important for various types of leaders. Therefore, the model is broad and flexible, yet can be elaborated to provide specific guidance for training and assessment.

8. Several other meta-competency leadership frameworks are likely relevant to Brigade command competencies. For example, another meta-competences related to career development are adaptability and identity. In this model, adaptability referred to preparing for future environments and included the following sub-competencies: flexibility, exploration, openness to people and ideas, conversation skills in unexplored territory and comfort with turbulent change.[4] Identity referred to an understanding of the self and how that is related to change and included the following sub-competencies: self-assessment, seeking and responding to feedback, exploring and acting on personal values, engaging in and modeling personal development, rewarding subordinates for personal development, actively seeking relationships with people who are different, and being willing to modify self-perceptions as needed.

9. In conclusion, there is no doubt much to do as preparatory leg work before embarking on this challenge ahead; mentoring emerges as an important ingredient to command preparation. We don’t have the mentorship of the Brigade Commanders; I have had an advantage by virtue of my present appointment wherein I have witnessed from close quarters how commanders utilize different communication styles to communicate their intent and harness the energies of the subordinates in a pressure free command climate. The ability to develop a positive command climate, the ability to build a team, critical thinking skills, and the ability to influence inside and outside the formation are important competencies for Brigade command. Other critical Brigade command competencies include the ability to create an ethical climate, the ability to make effective decisions, the ability to model our core values and the Yodha Ethos, the ability to manage risk, the ability to synthesize necessary information, and the ability to formulate Commander’s intent. A tall order indeed but then as the No2 SB result declassification languishes in the web of red tape and it may be worth the while for the aspiring flag rankers to be to at least think about what the future may portend if not prepare for it. You never know the gestation time of this declassification and further progression as it moves along at a snail’s pace may give the aspirants more time than expected. Everyone lives in eternal hope, after all ‘umeed par duniya kayam hai’.

[1] https://about.google/ accessed on 11 Apr 2021.

[2]https://www.leadershipfirst.net/post/not-all-readers-are-leaders-but-all-leaders-are-readers#:~:text=Harry%20S.,me%20become%20a%20better%20leader accessed on 11 Apr 2021

[3] https://real-leaders.com/bill-gates-tomorrows-leaders-will-be-those-that-empower-others/#:~:text=According%20to%20Bill%20Gates%2C%20%E2%80%9CAs,engine%20%E2%80%94%20the%20people%20you%20employ accessed on 11 Apr 2021.

[4] Stauffer SD, Abessolo M, Zecca G, Rossier J. Translation and Validation of the Protean and Boundary less Career Attitudes Scales: Relationships to Proactive Personality, Career Adaptability, and Career Satisfaction. Journal of Career Assessment. 2019;27(2):337–357. doi:10.1177/1069072717748962

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Scholar warrior and an autodidact

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Scholar warrior and an autodidact

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