BJ Armstrong has, among other writings, a nice little piece on Admiral William Sims over at USNI Blog, which includes this wonderful snippet:
Sims had the ability, essential to a naval officer, of making decisions and making them quickly if necessary. He expected the same of those under him. There are several versions of a story which illustrates this characteristic. The captain of a destroyer on his way from Newport to Charleston sent this dispatch to Sims, whose flagship was anchored in Chesapeake Bay. “My starboard engine is disabled, shall I continue to Charleston under one engine or put in to Lynnhaven Roads and effect repairs?” Promptly came the answer from Sims, “Yes.” The puzzled skipper sent another dispatch saying he did not understand and repeated his original query. This time, equally promptly came the reply, “No.” I once intercepted a message from Sims to one of his destroyer captains tersely instructing the officer, “Don’t ask questions, act.”
One of the most difficult things to instill in a leader is decisiveness. Much is written about the need for leaders to inspire teams, and establish goals and build consensus and whatnot. And those are indeed facets of leadership. But one key task a leader must execute is to simply make a decision.
Make. A. Damn. Decision.
That’s not to say that decisions should be made rashly. As in so much else, the Army has a process to support decision making, named, rather unimaginatively The Military Decision Making Process.
- Receipt of Mission
- Mission Analysis
- Course of action (COA) Development
- COA Analysis (aka Wargaming)
- COA Comparison
- COA Approval
- Orders Production
That seems simple enough. You receive a mission from your higher headquarters, figure out what it is exactly you are to accomplish, and kick around different possible ways to accomplish the mission. Decide which plan to go with, then put the word out to everyone how to go about it.
Ah… if only…
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One of the possible traps of MDMP may be familiar to many outside the military- paralysis by analysis. It’s very easy for staffs and commanders to focus on the Process part of MDMP and forget the whole point is the Decision part.
Another problem is, some people are simply afraid to commit themselves to a course of action. Every decision has consequences, sometimes good, sometimes bad. Indeed, usually there are both good and bad consequences to making a decision. There is always a desire to gain one more piece of information, examine one more possible course of action. And so, they fail to decide. Which is a decision all its own.
“By the spring of 2014, the ISIS captors, we’re told, felt so confident in their situation that there was very little visible security around the hostages. And by May, eight Western hostages were held together in one location,” Herridge said.
There may well have been issues that argued against attempting a rescue of Ms. Mueller and the other hostages. Hostage rescue attempts are very high risk under the best of circumstances. But, at least in hindsight, the risks certainly are less than the near certainty of execution at the hands of Islamic fiends. One finds it difficult, especially in light of the dithering shown by Obama in authorizing the raid on the Bin Laden compound, to believe that Obama made a rational decision to not attempt a rescue, but instead simply made the default decision to do nothing.