The Commander of the Future
By Dialogo February 19, 2013
Today, the mid and especially long term concept that the armed forces will be involved in to satisfy multiple and varied requirements has become increasingly generalized among different defense analysts.
Thus, several studies about the armed forces’ evolutionary process by civil and military specialists coincide in stating that their future will go in three directions: first, technology advocating for certain specialists; second, the administrative processes that will be more and more complex and interrelated with the community, and third, a deeper social participation in defense matters.
Defense, considering that it is managed as another public policy with a tendency towards openness and with prominence on transparency, has motivated society as a whole to have a greater knowledge of the military. This will definitely be meaningful not only in the armed forces’ way of thinking, but also in their behavior. Lately, this situation has evolved in such a way that current public opinion is more interested in knowing about defense, in contrast with defense being considered a subject delegated only to specialists.
Considering the above statement, this responsibility is presently more complex; therefore, the commanders of the future should have different competencies and know how to adapt to changes in order to confront the upcoming times; they should be highly qualified not only in their technical areas of specialty, but also as managers of financial and human resources.
Changes in the armed forces
In order to simplify this situation, the main changes that have affected the field of defense will be described, considering Karl von Clausewitz’s (1984) theory on the “Trinity of War” as methodology in relation to government, the armed forces (AF) and society.
It is estimated that there may be two areas we can consider in demonstrating the important changes that have occurred in the area of defense. The first one includes legislative changes, while the second one involves the publication, in Chile’s case, of the National Defense Book.
With regard to the legislative changes, several countries in the region have passed new laws, as in the case of the new Chilean Defense’s organizational statute. All these changes require a knowledgeable commander. We also realize that the region is performing a series of studies involving the AF’s participation during emergencies and disasters, for example, which constitutes a new role in the field of international defense.
Other aspects affecting this situation are the publications of defense books. In this context, the first initiatives on these come from Chile (1997, 2002, and 2010), and Argentina (1998). In the case of Ecuador, two defense books were written during a period of four years (2002 and 2006). In Peru, the National Defense Book was published in 2006 after an extended debate over two years. Colombia published its “Policy of Democratic Defense in 2004,” while Venezuela has included its defense policy in the Bolivarian Constitution. Generally, civilian, military, academics, and politicians have taken part in the creation of these publications. Moreover, it is a great challenge for new commanders, as it seeks a common language, which entails learning from others.
Undoubtedly, this background will become the future commander’s great responsibility, for which he will have the duty of knowing, explaining and defending. Teaching about our field, especially in the area of defense and with the goal of being understood, is and will continue to pose a huge challenge.
The First Industrial Revolution transformed warfare drastically, in the Army’s organization, in the strategic arena, and as a result, in defense policy. With the Second Industrial Revolution, there were more important changes; however, the constant influx of scientific-technological advancements since the 50s, which could be described as a “permanent revolution,” faces us with unprecedented challenges for the future.
The concepts about conflict have changed significantly; there are certain terms that may not have the same meaning to different actors, such as irregular warfare, unconventional warfare, low or high intensity conflict, hybrid war, cyber war, etc. These terms, along with others, are the ones we should consider.
Scientific and technological knowledge has evolved to a great extent, increasing the gap between developed countries and those like ours, which are still not prepared to make their own advances in science and defense.
In this time of change, the Armed Forces were led to understand that organization and technology are not independent variables.
A good example in Chile’s case in the last Defense Book, which provided a deep analysis on military force, intentionality and its indicators, and where the different force development plans and the evolution of our country’s military means are clearly stated. It also clearly explained how the Armed Forces’ military personnel have changed with a reduction of about one fifth in the last 19 years.
Finally, and considering that the various weapons systems the Armed Forces possess are modern and complex, we find that its operation and maintenance is – and will continue to be – a challenge. The operation of these new weapon systems also need the mastery of new concepts to manage the diverse specific technologies that these systems have incorporated, so it is necessary for the involved personnel to have an adequate preparation, according to the complexity of each. This obviously requires efficient planning and personnel preparation in the Armed Forces, especially for future commanders.
Our society is going through such radical processes of change that we could say that after a few decades they may become restructured. There is no doubt that this entails changes on value systems, on paradigms, on political and social structures and, as a consequence, on institutions.
This change has received several labels, and plenty of material has been written about it. For example, some of the most widely known include: “The Third Wave,” “The Clash of Civilizations,” “The Revolution of Knowledge,” and “The Revolution of Information,” all with different names which identify a similar process.
It can be determined that knowledge entails a relationship between science and technology, which accelerates change and tests organizations, society and especially the armed forces and, as a result, the future commanders. Considering that we live in a world of continuous, fast change, these changes affect man, their way of thinking and behavior. Therefore, the temptation to consider something new as a progress booster, of seeing novelty as a value and confusing novelty with fashion, is understandable. This temptation can be found not only in society, but also in the armed forces.
In general, some of the main changes observed in society and in young people joining the armed forces are the following: a more individualistic society, an accelerated process of change in values, the process of an aging society, a more demanding and transparent society, a high concern for environmental issues, and young people that grew up during the technological boom and are active users of social networks. As a consequence, it is necessary to maintain an active attitude, not only to project the armed forces within society, but also to detect the phenomenon of evolution in time, which could represent changing factors in institutions.
Profile of the commander of the future
There is no question that the future commander’s preparation will impose a fast-paced rhythm, where time will be the most expensive and scarce resource. This will require self-training, which must be considered essential in the armed forces, favoring individual motivation towards studying, which is an indispensable factor for being able to manage the vast outputs of information to which we have access. Furthermore, they should have the ability to relate to different public institutions that assure a sound managing capacity, as well as having an increasing knowledge of human behavior and motivations, to serve as a good guide, anticipating and integrating the needs of their personnel and institutions with functional defense requirements.
This will demand that future commanders are prepared in two different dimensions:
1 – As an official and leader: to learn how to command, persuade and have an ability to anticipate.
2 – As a manager: to know how to administrate.
Leadership qualities are inherent to a commander, and constitute the basis over which the experience of every military career rests; hence the importance for future commanders to know legislative, social and armed forces’ changes to ensure they make the right decisions during their tenure. A commander who is unaware of these particular characteristics to be developed may lose trust, thus weakening the essential command structure.
The art of leadership is and will be increasingly complex, hence the importance for them to explore the following aspects among others:
• Strive to know themselves as well as the commander’s profession, always in pursuit of excellence. To know their people and develop an interest in their wellbeing.
• Ensure the right training and seek the creation of a great team, always leading with example and knowing how to take responsibility for their actions.
• Be aware of the diverse legislative changes in the area of defense and its repercussions.
• Study the changes in society and its effects on the armed forces and on the art of leadership.
• Be aware of the technology available in the different institutions with the purpose of applying it correctly whenever necessary.
• Always demonstrate strength and temperance in their decisions, knowing how to manage time and resources in consideration of the assigned mission.
• Develop character to impose their will, with integrity in their decisions, including a sense of justice and righteousness.
• Develop team spirit among their subordinates, being a motivational, visible, accessible and receptive leader.
• As a leader and military commander, they must develop a high sense of responsibility with the different ranks and secondary units, setting high standards of communications.
• Develop a high degree of tenacity and resistance to fulfill their mission no matter what.
Finally, vocation; fulfilling their duties and a sense of responsibility will remain fundamental features in the actions of the future officer. These qualities will make their performance as a commander and leader possible in order to continue a fluent development, considering that their decisions should be oportune and appropriate.
The commander as manager
This dimension will be a huge challenge in the training of future commanders. The important legislative, social, and military changes will require the commander to combine elements from military administration with those of public management, which has been increased according to the above mentions, in which transparency and efficiency are key factors in the current military administration.
The future commander must possess certain characteristics that will allow their development as a sound manager during their tenure:
• Know the legislation governing the management of their command, considering that they should be in constant training to learn and put into practice efficient and effective management. However, it must be considered that new concepts always require study time, assimilation and application.
• Define goals to be achieved based on a good analytical capacity, since managing and pleasing all subordinates will result in an inefficient administration.
• Be practical and authentic in defining their goals by using means according to their capabilities.
• Develop personal relations, considering their military command and social environment, and interacting with subordinates using their skills in human relations to interact in the a way that fosters a comfortable atmosphere in the workplace.
• Develop the capacity to listen and trust their subordinates in order to take administrative actions that allows for achievement of their mission.
• One of the responsibilities of the military manager must be training their personnel, and their awareness of the legal framework and goals, as well as the managerial repercussions of their actions; therefore, they must be able to teach and guide their subordinates using effective communication.
Another element for consideration is the participation of the armed forces in peace operations, where in some cases a new commander might have troops from different countries under their orders, where the legal framework is wider and social customs might vary. It will then be the new commander’s obligation to be aware of the organizational differences that might arise in order to duly manage the assigned means.
Venturing into the future is always risky; it is even riskier when the analysis is based on perceptions, impressions of different scholars that intend to move into the future, in which the fear of man today is not having access to knowledge. In the past, university graduates reached their training goal once they became professionals, and very little was devoted to updating that further. Presently, however, anyone holding a university degree is forced to constantly update their skills, not only to become more knowledgeable and master their profession’s technical aspects, but also to be able to access and apply modern technology, making a difference in the complex and competitive world we live in. Undoubtedly, this situation is no stranger to the armed forces, especially to the future commander.
Legislative changes, society’s new perception and the novel development of the armed forces require the new commander to develop as an officer, as a manager, and as a guide, so that he can teach with the goal of being understood. The wealth of a modern society is defined by its diverse points of view, mutual respect among discrepancies, as well as the elaboration of opinions based on verifiable scientific concepts.
All this requires for this professional to have a highly perceptive mindset in order to adapt to changes, as well as to the high speed in which they occur. It is here were the commander’s preparation becomes highly important, sometimes establishing the difference between them.
In conclusion, future commanders must develop to acquire the capabilities that will allow them to get involved with different public institutions and with society. Likewise, their increasing knowledge about human behavior and motivations will be aimed at integrating the personal needs of his men with the fundamental requirements of the armed forces. The characteristics and training for development will be essential for the commander’s management, making the difference between success and failure in every military organization.
*Brigadier General Jorge Robles Mella serves as Chief of the General Staff of the Chilean Armed Forces.