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Communicating Intent and Imparting Presence


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Communicating Intent
and
Imparting Presence

Lieutenant Colonel Lawrence G Shattuck, U.S. Army


Imparting Presence to
Subordinate Commanders

Recent technological advances have made presence a popular concept. The term normally suggests using technology to display and interact with a remote (or constructed) environment. The concept of imparting presence, however, has a different connotation. Multiple environments cannot be brought to commanders—they cannot be everywhere all the time. Instead, what they can do is to impart to their subordinates a sense of themselves. Imparting presence is the process of developing subordinates’ decision-making framework so that they respond the same way the senior commanders would if they were able to view the situation through their eyes. Several factors contribute to the ability of commanders to impart their presence to subordinate commanders.


Commanders should begin to impart their presence from the day they assume command. They need to establish a healthy command climate and explicitly state what they value and why—both in garrison and in tactical situations. Reward structures must reflect this value system.


Start early. Commanders should begin to impart their presence from the day they assume command. They need to establish a healthy command climate and explicitly state what they value and why—both in garrison and in tactical situations. Reward structures must reflect this value system.

Establish acceptable operating limits. In most cases, commanders should tell subordinates what to do, not how to do it. At the same time, however, subordinates usually are not free to accomplish the task in any manner they choose. Certain constraints and restrictions limit the possible ways subordinates can accomplish a task. By establishing the operational boundaries, commanders provide subordinates the freedom to act and the knowledge of what is acceptable and what is not.

Explain your rationale. It is not enough to tell subordinates what to do and why. When situations permit, commanders should explain how they arrived at the decision. Explaining the rationale helps subordinates understand and develop similar patterns of thought. Frequent interaction—formal and informal, professional and social—will provide subordinates additional opportunities to learn how their commanders think.

Get feedback often. Commanders must ensure that subordinates clearly understand their orders. The potential for misunderstanding is great when the commanders and subordinates do not agree—and are not aware that they do not agree—on the meaning of doctrinal terms. When appropriate, commanders should use doctrinal terms and ensure that subordinates agree on their meanings.

Recognize individual differences. Silva wrote, “A superior’s confidence in his subordinates will be high or low as a result of his intimate personal knowledge of each gained through his personal responsibility to train and develop them. The superior knows whom he can trust with more latitude and who needs more detailed instructions.”9 Commanders must recognize individual differences among their subordinates and interact with them accordingly.

How do commanders and their subordinates formulate, communicate, interpret and implement intent effectively on the battlefield? They start by imparting their presence to subordinates. They establish healthy command climates and make themselves and their decision-making framework accessible to subordinates. By all accounts, 21st-century battlefields may be volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous and lethal. Although technology will provide unprecedented ability to communicate and visualize the battlefield, the pace of events will, as in the past, drive subordinates to make decisions without checking with their commanders. Even though the concept of intent has been in our doctrine for many years, empirical evidence suggests that we do not successfully use it to guide tactical decisions. The unit intent training described here will help commanders and subordinates coordinate their responses to tactical situations. But like all effective training, it must be embedded in a larger, systematic program to impart commanders. presence to their subordinates.

It is not enough to tell subordinates what to do and why. When situations permit, commanders should explain how they arrived at the decision. Explaining the rationale helps subordinates understand and develop similar patterns of thought. Frequent interaction. formal and informal, professional and social. will provide subordinates additional opportunities to learn how their commanders think.


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