Sunday, February 3, 2008

Mission Orders

Enter the continent of Europe, and undertake operations aimed at the heart of Germany and the destruction of her armed forces.
-- Mission Order to General Eisenhower from the Combined Chiefs of Staff

Too often, leaders get overwhelmed with operational details and miss the proverbial "forest for the trees." We spend so much time immersed in who does what...and how they do it...and neglect what is really important -- namely what it is that we are supposed to do...and why it matters.

Military leaders use Mission Orders. These express to subordinates the commander's intent, providing key tasks and outlining the purpose for the mission. In other words, they express what must be done, and why. Mission orders empower subordinates to do the rest, to determine how they will accomplish the mission to meet the commander's intent.

The directive to General Eisenhower for the invasion of Europe is a classic example of a mission order. He wasn't told to invade at Normandy (or Africa or Italy). He was not told what composition of forces he would need nor how and where to position them. His task was to enter the European continent and to undertake operations. His purpose was the destruction of German forces. It was up to Ike to figure out the rest. Of course he would keep his superiors informed while planning, preparing, and executing his mission, but his orders were clear from the beginning.

Leaders who understand the value of mission orders can spend their limited time enabling the success of subordinates to whom mission orders are assigned. They do this by "checking alignment:"

-- Are assigned tasks aligned with each other? Will the accomplishment of subordinate missions allow the securing of overall goals?

-- Are supporting effort tasks clearly aligned with main effort ones -- and identified as such? Does everyone understand which tasks are most critical and must be accomplished in order to be successful? Are subordinates fully aware of what each other is doing, and how they are proceeding toward mission accomplishment?

-- Are people and organizations aligned against each task, leaving nothing undone?

-- Does the empowerment to accomplish the mission come with the requisite skills and tools, to be successful? Do subordinates have the training, experience, and resources they need to accomplish the mission?

Are you interested in minimizing frustration (yours and your subordinates) in your organization? Stay focused on mission orders. Empower teammates to do what you pay them to do: Figure out how to accomplish the mission...and "git 'er done." Assign mission orders and get out of the way. I am learning that to do so frees me up to do what I am supposed to do -- see the forest, get the right people, promote our brand, build and sustain relationships, and accomplish the mission.

It worked for Ike. That's Leader Business.


Dan Naden said...


I like your comment about 'seeing the forest amongst the trees'. It is so easy to be mired in the operational details or tactics regarding one's mission at work.

It is so true that you must remember and stick to what is really important. Your co-workers and leader will thank you for it.

Dan Naden

Tom Magness said...

Well said, Dan. I've always found that determining what must be done is a full-time job. If we're putting time and energy into determining how to do it as well...something will have to give. And if we're not focusing on the "What?" and the "Why?" -- then who is?

Thanks, my friend!