Three letters that just about guaranteed that either you had to “…wait till your dad got home!!” or you needed to “…start pushing private!!!” The innocent and much maligned little word why has caused more than one parent or squad leader to feel like their head is going to explode and with good (…well, maybe good) reason. Asking why when told to do something is akin to back talking. If you were raised in a home like I was raised in, then you understand the value of not back talking. All throughout our formative childhood years, we were taught to do as we’re told and not ask questions. In school we were told “…pay attention and do what your teacher tells you to do”. All along the way we’re told not to question those appointed into authority positions, because well…obviously they know better right? Well as most of us can now look back and see, that wasn’t always the case.
In the Army we were told once again to do as we’re told by those appointed over us because well…obviously they know better right? See a pattern? Just because someone is put into a position of authority does not mean they all of the sudden know everything they need to know and will be an outstanding leader. Therein lies the door to “Why?”
Why just isn’t a question asked for any old reason. Why is a request. It’s a request for information and for an understanding of that information. It can also be an indictment of the status quo and that is where Special Operations Forces fit in. In The Regiment, or Group or the Teams “Why” is the beginning of the road that takes you to your objective and back again. Why is what really sets us apart from regular front line Soldiers and Sailors. That need or thirst for information with which to form our plans, while not directly antithetical to mainstream military, is usually reduced to “…make sure you know the commanders intent”. That’s fine when you have the ability to reach out and call for clarification, but when you are operating way out past normal Lines Of Communication a little more is needed to go on.
The “Why” is not a simple answer. The “Why” is an exchange of information, ideas and experience. It becomes a little voice that provides you guidance with which to make more informed on-the-spot decisions. Part of the Army NCO Creed reads “…I will exercise initiative by taking appropriate action in the absence of orders.” Even back to WWII, Field Marshall Erwin Rommel was quoted as saying “In the absence of orders, find something and kill it!” Quite simple and to the point, but underneath could be a Pandora’s Box ready to burst open.
It’s been said that the brain is like a muscle and like a muscle is able to perform actions without a lot of thought input depending on the amount of “exercise” When faced with a problem set the easiest solution is to use what has been used in the past to reach the desired outcome. The left turn happens when there is no historical data, or prior “exercise” to fall back on and a decision needs to be made and made now. Knowing the commanders or your bosses intent is good, but knowing how to reach his intent while staying ethically, morally and legally right is the issue.
For the military we handle that by teaching leadership as early as possible. It becomes part of how you do and think about things from early on and it is constantly reinforced throughout your career. You are always being groomed to take the lead because in combat you never know when the person in charge will be wounded or killed. In the civilian community I see that training taking place either when the person is selected for a position or after they have been in the position. Competition in the civilian workplace sometimes prevents the type of information exchange that we have in the military. Everybody on the team needs to know what everybody else on the team knows in case they have to step in and pick up the slack for whatever reason.
Information should be shared and not held as power especially from those who are helping you. Information though is not always enough. The process and history of where that information comes from is sometimes more important than the information itself. Why reinvent the wheel if you don’t have to? In the Special Operations community the why becomes even more important when the decisions made can have an impact that far outweighs the physical footprint. Knowing the region history, the groups involved and how they coexist with each other are all pieces that you use to put together the operating picture.
Ask “Why” sometimes, or better yet, answer a “Why” and see how the information and ideas start to flow!!!
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