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                  high training standards. Conversely, my second company commander had a fairly robust written philosophy and initially stressed its importance. However, he quickly began to operate outside of his own philosophy based on his personal behavior, attitude and treatment of others. We all knew that his philosophy wasn’t worth the paper that it was written on. So where is the balance? Is there a balance? And does their need to be one between philosophies and approaches?
I am inclined to think that there is a balance between the two. Every commander should recognize how a philosophy is to be used, interpreted and operationalized. But he / she should also remain mindful that a philosophy can be a guide but modifying, tailoring and adjusting approaches to command will pay bigger dividends. As an example, the last time I formally published
a “command philosophy” was as a battalion commander. It outlined three things in a one-slide format; Training, Discipline and Cohesion. As a brigade commander, I used the same framework to outline my “command philosophy”, but in actuality, it outlined how I wanted leaders to operate within the brigade and the three most important things for leaders to understand; Adapt, Care and Train (see graphic).
In both instances, I was far removed from
the “traditional” command philosophy format
and generally accepted standard. The standard philosophy approach no longer resonated with me and in units that I’d led previously, the commander (in most cases) operated differently than his 2, 3
or 4-page philosophy. Most could barely recall all of the tenets, priorities and approaches outlined in such documents.
At the most basic level, a command philosophy includes “attitudes or theories” that we have learned through observation of others and experience. A philosophy is a good framework but as mentioned, every organization has its own culture, personality and way of being. No two organizations will act or adapt the same to a given commander or his / her philosophy.
Similarly, to command is to lead. Our Army doctrinal definition of leadership is one of the best (if not the best) definitions there is; “...influence others by providing purpose, direction and motivation...” To lead or command is to influence. No philosophy, no matter how well intentioned, will enable a leader to command or lead effectively. Conversely, approaches or “ways to dealing with something (or someone)” can go along way in enabling leaders to effectively deal with challenges, opportunities, problems, etc. Leaders that pride themselves on being flexible and adaptive will learn that approaches must change as fast as the situation dictates. Philosophies are generally overarching and less flexible.
In his book, The Infinite Game, author Simon Sinek posits that in a finite game, the rules, the players and outcomes are knowns. You play by
the rules, with the right amount of players and outscore an opponent, you win. Conversely, in an infinite game, the rules, players and outcomes are ever changing...there is no “win” in an infinite game, there is only “ahead or behind.” Command is similar to the infinite game.
The rules (standards, policies, doctrine) and players (Soldiers, Army Civilians and Families)
are solid knowns (similar to a finite game) but the outcome of command can never be chalked up as a win or loss. An organization’s culture, climate, mission, type of organization, etc., are all critical variables that must be closely observed, monitored and assessed by a commander. With this multitude of variables, the only outcome at the end of a command tenure will be ahead or behind. In this sense, a standard text book command philosophy simply won’t do in command. To leverage a sports analogy, we often hear “keys to the game” for a certain team to win (control the clock, contain player X or use an up tempo offense). Similar to a philosophy, “keys to the game” won’t work in an infinite game.
Jackson Journal 9
Command Philosophies

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