Start with "what" and "why"
Question: Like U.S. presidents, military and non-profit leaders often face the equivalent of "midterm elections" in which they and their strategies are subject to an initial market test or performance evaluation. What's the first thing President Obama, or any leader, should do or say when confronted with unambiguously negative results from a mid-course evaluation?
Military leaders are often questioned on the efficacy of their plans because of the ability to assess execution during implementation and the immediate consequences (the adage, "no plan survives contact with enemy"). Under special scrutiny are the costs in resources and lives (friendly, enemy and non-combatant) when pursuing a combat mission or matters of national defense. This occurs at several levels--the conduct of tactical battles, the stringing together of battles for an operational campaign and the military strategy linked to national security policy and goals.
Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama "confronted unambiguously negative results" during U.S. military operations in Iraq (2007) and Afghanistan (2009), respectively. In evidence were the lack of results in providing security for local populations, failure to achieve traditional lasting victories against non-traditional forces, and a persistent challenge to link the military operations to clearly definable policy goals. Both commanders-in-chief sought to examine then revise the strategies in each theater of operations by first consulting with their senior military leaders. Both also recognized that other elements of national power (diplomatic, informational and economic) were necessary and essential components of a holistic strategy that had to encompass more than military action.
When plans and strategies appear to falter, the simplest questions are often the ones that are the most overlooked. "What were we trying to accomplish and why?" At the strategic level, these answers should be tied to our professed national values and the protection our U.S. security interests. The result should be a clear statement of purpose and the development of well-defined goals.
What were the going-in assumptions for the plan, and were they still valid during implementation? Plans are based on internal organizational conditions and an assessment of external actors (allies, foes and those in the middle) and environmental conditions.
Given the first two sets of questions, it is important to ask during execution, "What is happening? What is not happening? And what should we do about it?"
At the tactical level of military operation, seizure of critical terrain or defeat of traditional enemy forces are fairly easy to ascertain and may provide a false sense of accomplishment toward the big picture. Consider the anecdote about the Vietnam War. General Frederick C. Weyand, former commander of Military Assistance Command- Vietnam (MACV), is quoted in an interview saying, "'You know, you never beat us on the battlefield,' I told my North Vietnamese counterpart during negotiations in Hanoi a week before the fall of Saigon. He pondered that remark a moment and then replied, 'That may be so, but it is also irrelevant.'"
What is relevant to our nation is to ask the strategic questions of "what" and "why." That should be starting point for evaluating results.
Col. Charles D. Allen
November 3, 2010; 1:40 PM ET
Category: Accomplishing Goals , Crisis leadership , Making mistakes , Military Leadership Save & Share:
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Posted by: CHAOTICIAN101 | November 3, 2010 3:44 PM
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