"Victory or defeat in battle changes the situation to such a degree that no human acumen is able to see beyond the first battle. Therefore no plan of operation extends with any certainty beyond the first contact with the main hostile force… The advantage of the situation will never be fully utilized if subordinate commanders wait for orders, it will be generally more advisable to proceed actively and keep the initiative that to wait to the law of the opponent"
-Helmuth von Moltke the Elder
The Army's philosophy of command is Mission Command; it is the exercise of authority and direction by the commander using mission orders to enable disciplined initiative within the commander's intent to empower agile and adaptive leaders in the conduct of Unified Land Operations.[i] Mission Command was born out of necessity in the 19th Century. The advent of more lethal weapons and the mobilization of large societies, required Prussian corps, division, and brigades to disperse their troops in battle, leaving the senior commanders unable to fully view or control their troops during battle.[ii] As a result, junior leaders were required to use judgment and initiative to act decisively in the absence of detailed orders from commanders. Today, the philosophy of Mission Command is guided by six principles: Build cohesive teams through mutual trust, create shared understanding, provide a clear commander's intent, exercise disciplined initiative, use mission orders, and accept prudent risk. In addition to being a philosophy, Mission Command also refers to the war-fighting function, which encompasses the tasks and systems that enable a commander to practice the art of command. Leading consistently with the philosophy of Mission Command allows units to take advantage of fleeting opportunities to seize, retain, and exploit the initiative in combat.
The past decade of war has reinforced the importance of Mission Command. As small units conduct decentralized operations across wide areas in rapidly changing environments. Operations are complex, involving continuous interactions between friendly forces, enemy organizations, and civilians as well as interaction with other factors that affect the mission such as time, terrain, and local political dynamics. Simply giving subordinates task and purpose is not enough for effective Mission Command. Collaborative planning and feedback throughout the operations process is critical to developing and maintaining a common understanding of the situation and the mission. Leaders must strive to improve their ability to communicate their intent, desired end-state, concept of operation, and understanding of the situation so subordinates are able to take initiative consistent with the mission.
Leaders should start by familiarizing themselves with ADP 6-0. ADP and ADRP 6-0 are the Army's keystone publications for Mission Command. ADP 6-0 is a concise publication that provides readers with an overview of the philosophy, and warfigthing function, while ADRP 6-0 provides more extensive detail. Also, review ADPs 3-0 and 5-0 to better understand how Mission Command nests within Unified Land Operations. Next, select an article or book about Mission Command to mature your own understanding of the philosophy. History provides countless examples of battles won through the independent initiative of subordinate leaders. Finally, reflect on your own experiences and how the principles of Mission Command influenced the outcomes of a mission or training exercise.
[i] ADP 6-0
[ii] John T. Nelsen II, "A Case for Decentralized Battle."