How a society fundamentally defines the everyday working relationship between leader and led – between two levels of hierarchy – is imbedded in how that society defends itself. In its military.
If that working relationship does not function well, if it fails, not only is the respective mission in jeopardy, the very lives of the soldiers are at risk. Defining and managing the line between strategy and tactics is in the military context a matter of life and death.
The American military tradition in practice involves a close working relationship between leader and led, between strategy and tactics.
The U.S. Army Field Manual 22-100 states: „Leadership is the process of influencing others to accomplish the mission by providing purpose, direction, and motivation. Purpose gives soldiers a reason why they should do difficult things under dangerous, stressful circumstances. Direction shows what must be done. Through motivation, leaders give soldiers the will to do everything they are capable of doing to accomplish a mission. Effective leaders use both direct and indirect influence to lead.“
Mission Command. The U.S. Army’s Training and Doctrine Command Pamphlet 525-3-0 states: „Mission command is the conduct of military operations through decentralized execution based on mission orders. Successful mission command demands that subordinate leaders at all echelons exercise disciplined initiative, acting aggressively and independently to accomplish the mission within the commander’s intent.“
Army Leadership Doctrine: U.S. Army Field Manual 6-22, Part 3 describes a direct leader as someone who “influences others person-to- person …. instructs, recognizes achievement, and encourages hard work.”
A direct leader carries out the goals of higher-level commanders on a day-to-day and minute-to-minute basis. Because higher-level leaders cannot dictate the specific actions that should be taken in every possible situation, direct leaders must act independently. However, their actions, and those of their subordinates, always support the commander’s intent:
“At the direct level, a platoon leader knows what a battalion commander wants done, not because the lieutenant was briefed personally, but because the lieutenant understands the commander’s intent two levels up. The intent creates a critical link between the organizational and direct leadership levels.”
Section 7-26 distinguishes between long-term, strategic intent – which is a written statement indicating the goals of the operation – and day-to-day intent, which is communicated more informally from the direct leader to his subordinates. “Leaders in command positions use commander’s intent to convey purpose. The commander’s intent is a clear, concise statement of what the force must do and the conditions the force must meet to succeed with respect to the enemy, terrain, and desired end state.”
It states further: “Besides purpose and motivation, (direct) leaders influence also consists of direction. Direction deals with how a goal, task, or mission is to be achieved. Subordinates do not need to receive guidance on the details of execution in all situations. The skilled leader will know when to provide detailed guidance and when to focus only on purpose, motivation, or inspiration.”
Omar M. Bradley, an American four-star general during the Second World War, summarized the relationship between soldier and non-commissioned officer in the following way: “In battle, the American soldier wants to know that the job is going to be done right, with no unnecessary casualties. The non-commissioned officer is supposed to be the best soldier in the platoon and he is supposed to know how to perform all the duties expected of him. The American soldier expects his sergeant to be able to teach him how to do his job. And he expects even more from his officers.”
In addition to teaching and directing their subordinates, direct leaders must constantly supervise the work of their soldiers. FM 6-22 points out that effective supervision requires leaders to get to know their subordinates very well. “Proper supervision is essential to ensuring mission accomplishment to standard. It is an integral part of caring for soldiers. The better they know their unit and subordinates, the more they can strike a balance for finding the details.”
Although constantly „looking over their shoulders” is not something that American direct leaders should do, they are expected to tell subordinates both what is to be accomplished (mission intent) and how it is to be accomplished (instructions). The detailed instructions direct leaders give to subordinates is [not are? The instructions; plural.] a key hallmark of American military leadership.