Of late, there seems to be a tendency to believe that we ought to “manage” troops instead of commanding them. I know the SADF of old almost fell into the trap of “Management” as opposed to “Command”. I have my own very pretty management certificate to prove the point.
There is however differences between a marketing plan and a design for battle.
“Unity of Command” is a golden albeit a forsaken principle of war. The word “command” is used and has been for years – not “Unity of Management”. The military has senior commanders and not senior managers – or at least it ought to have senior commanders.
In my view, commanders issue orders and managers issue instructions. Although some may view this as hair-splitting, the principles of management are somewhat different from the principles of command. The circumstances under which orders vs instructions are issued are also vastly different. When orders are not followed, disciplinary action – usually severe - takes place. When instructions are not followed, managers reprimand the guilty parties. That in itself is a difference.
In the field, a commander will issue an order: “Place the machinegun there and engage targets!” A manager will issue an instruction: “Please move the machine gun to that position and then open fire”. There are differences in how these actions are requested and enforced and they differ from one another.
Orders are obeyed as a result of discipline. This discipline is taught on parade grounds across the world. Soldiers are taught to immediately react to an order without question – unless it is of course an order that is not legitimate – such as killing an unarmed civilian or executing a POW for no reason. I have yet to see a manager tell a worker to “give me 30 push-ups” if the worker has not complied with an instruction – or confine him to his office for a lengthy period.
Situations like this cannot be “managed”
Some may consider the strict discipline of an army as being too harsh and vicious. Wars are harsh and vicious and there is not time for niceties when it comes to doing battle. Men who do not instinctively obey orders are a danger not only to themselves but to everyone with them. Disobeying a simple order can mean the difference between victory or defeat. To get soldiers to carry out their orders requires commanders and not managers.
The military is not a business entity dressed in uniform and armed with assault rifles and other weapons. It is an organisation that is tasked to carry out missions as required by the Grand Strategy and the Military Strategy. These missions ultimately require the army to win battles, not manage them. In the process of winning the battles, soldiers are required to do things they would not normally do – such as killing people. It is especially here that soldiers need to instinctively follow orders and react – if not, they are dead.
Some academics, management consultants and other non-combatants are keen to enforce their ideas of management on the armed forces. Whereas there are times that some management skills can be exercised in the military, for example in headquarters or administrative offices, we cannot “manage” an army as they wish us to. We cannot “manage” a firefight or a mechanised infantry assault on an enemy target.
If commanders continue to fall into the trap of wanting to “managing” as opposed to “commanding”, they risk an identity crisis – a crisis a wily enemy will rapidly exploit.
The time has come to stop trying to follow ideas that are aimed at making war more politically correct and politically palatable. That will never happen as wars are vicious and destructive. Ask any soldier – they will tell you so. By trying to make war and conflict more businesslike is only going to degrade the efficiency of the armed forces.
It is time for the real commanders to step forward and those who want to manage, to rather leave and find a job elsewhere.