by Robert Shawlinski, James Perdue, and SGM Clayton dos Santos
In recent years, the United States (U.S.) Army has been studying weapons and technologies in order to prevail in Large Scale Combat Operations (LSCO). New capabilities that may impede the U.S Army in operating across multiple domains are one of the biggest challenges nowadays. Therefore, it is imperative the Army goes through a doctrinal evolution to adapt and overcome those challenges. Thus, the U.S. Army operational concept has changed from Unified Land Operations (ULO) to Multidomain Operations (MDO). This new operational concept brought the importance of synchronizing and converging the U.S. Army capabilities through the five domains (Sea, land, air, space, and cyberspace). Nowadays, MDO means the employment of the Army’s capabilities across all domains, in order to create and exploit positions of relative advantage, prevailing in combat, achieving tactical, operational, and strategic objectives, and continuously consolidating gains. (Department of the Army [DA], 2022b).
Notably, although in a multidomain environment weapons and technological equipment underpin a relevant advantage for any armed forces, the most important asset the U.S. Army possesses is its leaders and Soldiers. For this reason, according to the DA (2022b), “Leadership is the most decisive element of combat power” (p. 8-9). The employment of military capabilities across multiple domains requires endurance, convergence, and agility to rapidly take advantage of the opportunities. This scenario is possible only with leaders tactically and technically proficient, and competent to make timely and effective decisions on the battlefield.
With this in mind, it is crucial to understand, visualize, and describe some of the roles of leaders in this concept. In accordance with the Army regulations, leaders have several competencies that support commanders and staff, such as communication, training management, and leadership. These competencies are also essential roles of leaders in MDO. Thus, it is relevant to present some of the leaders’ roles in multidomain operations and how they affect the success of military operations in a multidomain environment.
Leaders’ Roles in Multidomain Operations
In multidomain operations, the U.S. Army must be prepared to face different threat methods that aim to undermine the force capacity of maneuvering, keeping synchronization across all domains in order to achieve depth in operations. To prevail in this scenario, it is imperative to have leaders able to integrate the Army with the other domains, in order to achieve strategic objectives, prevail in LSCO, consolidate gains, and end the conflict on favorable terms. This way, the rapid changes in the operational environment require leaders capable of developing effective and realistic training, providing effective communication, and exercising and supporting leadership throughout the chain of command. Among their competencies, leaders are “responsible for developing subordinate leaders and units that are capable of adapting to the environment and the dynamic nature of operations” (DA, 2022b, p. 8-10). In this context, it is possible to say that fostering training management and assertive communication is relevant to developing leaders, those who will be able to empower subordinate leaders, and based on the commander’s intent lead the Force in any operational environment.
One of the best ways leaders have to enforce standards, set an example, provide feedback, and support the leader development process is by training Soldiers. It is a key leadership competency that supports the Army in achieving success in a multidomain environment. During training, leaders have the primary opportunity to develop the Soldier and teams. According to DA (2022a), developing Soldiers and teams is “a continuous process of enabling a group of people to reach their goals and improve their effectiveness through various exercises, activities, and techniques” (p. 1-4). In MDO, the amount of time dedicated to developing realistic and complex training will be crucial to establish battle rhythm and building cohesive teams.
By creating opportunities during training in which Soldiers take action on their own, and learning from mistakes, build a strong bond with their peers, fostering a unique opportunity in building cohesive teams. Leaders are pivotal in this process, letting Soldiers take action, and teaching them the importance of identifying what risks are acceptable in different and complex scenarios. It is about exercising a type of coaching, helping subordinates to make proper judgments, without losing the discipline initiative in combat (DA, 2022b). Leaders must assess this process of professional growth, take advantage of the opportunities to improve, set the conditions of encouraging initiative, and take prudent risks. This way, leaders will learn faster, enhance disciplined initiative, and exercise critical and creative thinking when they face challenges in MDO. The approach for training requires effective communication in order to foster dialogue and collaboration, build trust, and share the commander’s intent. Notwithstanding, when leveraging the learning process, it is feasible to identify the strong relationship between training and communication.
The ability to communicate is mandatory for the success of military missions in MDO. According to DA (2022b), leaders’ communication presents a remarkable role in MDO, “effective leaders take positive steps that encourage, rather than impede, communication among and with subordinates and staff members. They make themselves available for dialogue, and they are open to new information” (p. 8-12). Leaders, in this scenario, have to be able to listen actively in order to really understand the Soldier’s needs. Due to the potential chaotic scenario in an MDO environment, the tactics and actions will be new in some cases. It is about novel practices, which may provide complex dilemmas and situations. Therefore, leaders must understand the importance of their roles and keep developing active listening, be open to feedback, and receive new information, contributing to the Army’s success in MDO.
Another relevant aspect to consider is that communication encompasses shared understanding among leaders and subordinates. When commanders state goals for action, leaders must understand the operational environment and the commander’s intent in order to convey the information properly. Because in LSCO most likely the U.S. Army will be working with different nations, potentially in different regions of the world, it is vital to consider the cultural factors when communicating. In MDO, these cross-cultural communication skills will play a decisive factor in the success of military operations (DA, 2022a). By understanding that, leaders can build trust outside the lines of authority, and build teamwork and cohesion to generate the synergy necessary across all domains. This way, it is possible to realize that communication also has an instrumental role in exercising leadership.
It is unquestionable the importance of leadership to the success of military operations. As one of the U.S. Army elements of combat power, leaders of all levels must have a strong commitment to the mission, be able to provide clear purpose and intention for the operations and support relationships and a culture of learning (DA, 2022a). Leaders in an MDO environment are key enablers in maintaining standards and discipline during daily situations and in accomplishing missions. Furthermore, their roles encompass making sure all Soldiers understand and take discipline initiative in accordance with the commanders’ intent, working as role models and standard bears for training, and educating Soldiers (DA, 2022a).
Besides the responsibility of training and communicating effectively the commander’s intent, leaders are those who need to understand the staff process, use critical and creative thinking to overcome multiple dilemmas and make effective decisions. From experience and skills, leaders naturally should possess the confidence to take action. Nonetheless, they always need to consider all variables and risks involved in the operation, in order to properly implement operational and tactical solutions. In MDO these considerations will be even more important, demanding leaders wisely delegate their authority to subordinates leaders apply their knowledge, skills, and experience to accomplish the mission (DA, 2022b).
The importance of leadership in MDO is also about leaders demonstrating effective initiative, creating opportunities to explore subordinates’ strengths, and exercising discipline initiative by making timely decisions. Facilitating this leadership process development, senior leaders are supporting subordinate leaders to get self-awareness through self-critique, and exercising self-control over their own actions and decisions. This way, leaders will be fostering leadership experience, and developing cohesive teams, which can be considered key leadership competencies in MDO.
In essence, the challenges the U.S. Army will face in MDO are complex and require leaders who can communicate effectively and train Soldiers efficiently. Therefore, it is fundamental to have leaders who incorporate leadership skills and possess the knowledge and experience to set the example and share information throughout the chain of command. From this perspective, one important leaders’ skill is effective communication. The message has to be understood by young Soldiers as well as by Generals. Leaders must also develop training management that incorporates best practices, tactical problems, and complex scenarios in order to prevail in a multidomain environment. Moreover, because war is a human endeavor, leaders will be always the key enablers in military operations. Although all technologies, equipment, and weapons are crucial in an MDO environment, they will not prevail on the battlefield without the U.S. Army’s most important asset, its leaders and Soldiers. By forging Soldiers and leaders who are capable of being employed in any operational environment, leaders consolidate their roles in supporting the U.S. Army mission of deploying, fighting, and winning the Nation’s wars.
Department of the Army. (2022a). Developing leaders (FM 6-22).
Department of the Army. (2022b). Operations (FM 3-0).
Mr. Robert S. Shawlinski is currently an Assistant Professor and a Master Instructor at the United States Sergeants Major Academy for the past 12 years and currently teaching in the Department of Army Operations. He holds an M.Ed. in Education from Trident University in California. Deployed to Desert Storm and Operation Iraq Freedom.
Sgt. Maj Clayton is currently an instructor for the Department of Army Operations at the Sergeants Major Course, Fort Bliss, Texas. His previous assignments were as Operations SGM of the 6th Intelligence Battalion and as Command Sergeant Major of the Battle Staff Course, at the Brazilian Army Advanced NCO School. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Human Resources from São Paulo University and a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration from Santa Catarina University. He also holds a master’s degree in Leadership and Management, from Santa Catarina University and a Master Business Administration in Leadership and Coaching from Anhanguera University.
Mr. James Perdue is currently an instructor for the Department of Army Operations at the Sergeants Major Course. As a Special Forces Sergeant Major (Ret.), he served 27 years in multiple assignments, including the participation in the Battle of Mogadishu. He holds a Master’s degree in Human Resources, a Master’s degree in Organizational Leadership, and a Master’s degree in Public Administration. His awards and decorations include the Silver Star, Legion of Merit, Defense Meritorious Service Medal, and Meritorious Service Medal. He earned the Combat Infantry Badge, Military Freefall Jumpmaster Badge, Master Parachute Badge, Combat Diver Badge, and the Order of Saint Maurice.
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