Academic journal article Military Review

Adaptive Leadership in the Military Decision Making Process

Academic journal article Military Review

Adaptive Leadership in the Military Decision Making Process

Article excerpt


Army leaders in this century need to be pentathletes, multi-skilled leaders who can thrive in uncertain and complex operating environments ... innovative and adaptive leaders who are expert in the art and science of the profession of arms. The Army needs leaders who are decisive, innovative, adaptive, culturally astute, effective communicators, and dedicated to life-long learning.

--Francis J. Harvey, Secretary of the Army, speech for U. S. Army Command and General Staff College graduation (1)

TODAY'S ARMY LEADERS have accepted adaptive leadership as a practice and a methodology, integrating it into the way we train leaders to meet the challenges of the contemporary operating environment. Adaptive leadership is an accepted leadership practice that facilitates leading in a difficult and changing environment, as we encounter threats that change and evolve their tactics, techniques, and procedures on a weekly to monthly basis. Much has evolved in this practice in the last eight years, including leadership and operational doctrine and new training venues to train tomorrow's leaders. This article examines current U.S. Army doctrine on adaptive leadership, reviews current adaptive leadership theory and practice, and recommends ways to incorporate adaptive leadership practices into the military decision making process (MDMP).

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey recently commented on new leadership and operational doctrine, stating, "The recent release of FM 5-0, The Operations Process, represents a major shift in how we develop adaptive leaders through its introduction of the Design process. The goal here is to develop leaders who do not think linearly, but who instead seek to understand the complexity of problems before seeking to solve them. Design gives leaders the cognitive tool to understand complex problems as part of the Visualize, Understand, Decide, Direct responsibilities of the commander." (2)

General Dempsey added, "We're trying to decide how to build in new skill sets for our leaders to meet the hybrid threats that exist in these uncertain times. The pace of change adds to the increasing complexity.... We're seeking creative thinking skills and trying to replicate those complexities in our training scenarios. We want to build on the ability to adapt. The 2015 learners will be able to easily create and adapt virtual training environments to meet their individual or collective training needs." (3) Our current doctrine addresses what adaptive leadership is and provides some tools for being adaptive, but fails to address how to implement it in the MDMP process. This is important because the MDMP is the genesis of operations. In order to develop and execute adaptive plans and operations, and lead adaptively, today's leaders must understand where and how in the MDMP they can integrate, apply, and master adaptive leadership to meet adaptive threats and changing situations.

Adapting to the "Hybrid" Threat Environment

The U.S. Army Combined Arms Center Threats Division defines the hybrid threat as a diverse, dynamic combination of regular forces, irregular forces, and criminal elements unified to achieve mutually benefitting effects. (4) The term "hybrid" is used to capture the essence of the complexity of war, the multiplicity of actors involved, and the blurring between traditional categories of conflict. Hybrid threats are innovative, adaptive, globally connected, networked, and embedded in local populations. They can possess a wide range of old, adapted, and advanced technologies--possibly including weapons of mass destruction. U.S. forces must prepare for a range of conflicts. New threat doctrine includes an operational Design component called adaptive operations or actions to preserve the threat's power and apply it in adaptive ways against overmatching opponents. (5) The hybrid threat's immediate goal is survival, but its long-term goal is the expansion of its influence. …

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