Developing an Effective Command Philosophy
Lieutenant Colonel Harry C. Garner, U.S. Army, Retired The underlying philosophy of leaders has a signiﬁcant impact on the way they relate to others, attempt to inﬂuence others, judge the actions of others, and make decisions affecting others. Most leadership theories, however, neglect this factor. — Steven J. Mayer, Ph.D., “Leadership Philosophy”
Special thanks go to Mark R. Hurley and J. Scott Peterson for their contributions to this article.
Lieutenant Colonel Harry C. Garner is an assistant professor, Department of Command and Leadership, U.S. Army Command and General Staff School ILE Campus, Fort Belvoir, VA. He holds a masters degree in public administration from James Madison University. He has served in a variety of command and staff positions in the continental United States, Germany, and Bosnia. PHOTO: U.S. Army CPT Evan Davies, right, Apache troop commander, 5th Squadron, 7th Cavalry Regiment, Iraq, talks with a federal police ofﬁcer during a humanitarian aid delivery in Hadar, Iraq, 17 February 2010. (U.S. Army, SPC Landon Stephenson)
N THE FIELD of military leadership, few concepts provoke as much confusion and misinterpretation as a leadership philosophy. The ritual of every incoming military leader providing his organization some type of “philosophy” document even before the completion of his change of command ceremony endures in Army culture as a symbol of organizational ownership. Who can forget those nights before assuming command, when we anxious young captains fumbled through a ﬁle of command philosophies attempting to extract our “philosophy” of leading? In many cases, our efforts were little more than exercises in futility and attempts to fulﬁll some ﬁctitious expectation. Given the recent high-proﬁle reliefs of command and reported cases of toxic leadership within the Army and Navy, I suspect the level of deep thought and self-analysis many senior leaders give to the preparation of their leadership philosophies is comparable to that of young captains. Field Manual (FM) 6-22, Army Leadership, is strangely silent on the concept of a personal leadership philosophy, leaving the reader to wonder what one, in fact, is. Research reveals a variety of articles on the subject, but rarely do any two agree on its purpose, content, or meaning. In most cases, leadership philosophy denotes an organizational philosophy or what the military refers to as “command philosophy.” However, an effective command philosophy is contingent on ﬁrst developing a personal leadership philosophy. The U.S. Army Command and General Staff Colloge requires each student to write a personal philosophy of leadership. The learning objective of this exercise is to encourage our mid-level Army leaders to codify their 75
MILITARY REVIEW September-October 2012
thoughts, beliefs, and values about leadership as they prepare for their next leadership challenge. I routinely receive used copies of company-level command philosophies with their focus on unit vision, goals, and objectives. It is obvious to me that most mid-level Army leaders have little time to think about leadership or reﬂect on those critical life events that shaped their personal values, beliefs, and ethics and how these events impacted their leadership behaviors. I believe the primary reason for this is the failure of the military educational system to clearly deﬁne the vague and ambiguous term commonly referred to as “leadership philosophy.” A well thought out leadership philosophy is a critical foundational tool to use to develop inﬂuential leaders and create positive organizational climates. This article examines the power of a properly written leadership philosophy for mid-career leaders. By reﬂecting on one’s past experience, values, and beliefs, leaders can determine “what they believe” concerning leadership. This discovery and subsequent codiﬁcation of leadership values and beliefs creates a map that
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