Mission command requires sharp commander's intent

By Gen. Gustave "Gus" PernaNovember 4, 2019

Gen. Gus Perna
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One of the most important skills a leader can learn is the art of executing mission command. Army Doctrine Publication 6-0, Mission Command, defines mission command as "the exercise of authority and direction by the commander using mission orders to enable disciplined initiative within the commander's intent to empower agile and adaptive leaders in the conduct of unified land operations." More simply, I define mission command as leadership through commander's intent.


To get mission command right, leaders must first understand the difference between mission command and command and control. Commanders who lead through command and control make every decision for their organization. They are reluctant to take risks and let others lead because they fear the possibility of failing. The commander is the single point of success or failure in the organization.

Conversely, mission command relies on the art of leadership. It requires trust and confidence in others to achieve the collective objective. Leaders who use mission command empower others to figure out the ways and means to get to the end state. Within prescribed parameters and guidance, commanders underwrite risk in allowing others to make decisions and execute without micromanagement.


Knowing how to give and communicate commander's intent is absolutely critical to mission command. It requires vision, established priorities, and the ability to convey those in order to achieve an output.

Mission command is not accomplished through email; it requires face-to-face interaction through battle rhythm events and regular assessments to ensure intent is understood and met. Commanders are responsible for understanding the environment and tailoring communication to achieve results based on guidance and intent.

I encourage commanders to use their command sergeants major and senior enlisted advisers as scouts to commander's intent. They should be the first to get the commander's intent so they can help to spread it throughout the organization. Because command sergeants major maintain a pulse on the formation, they can assess whether or not intent is understood and if priorities and intent are being executed across the organization.

Leaders should think about the end state and output of everything they do. Every action in command should have commander's intent behind it with an identified task, purpose, critical factors, and vision of the end state. I challenge commanders and leaders at all levels to consider the end state and output first. You cannot give intent without knowing where you want to end up.

While some situations require directive leadership through command and control, leaders should strive to master the art of leadership through mission command. Ultimately, leading through mission command not only sets conditions for a positive work environment but also allows others to grow and develop and drives the organization in a collective direction.


Gen. Gustave "Gus" Perna is the commander of the Army Materiel Command at Redstone Arsenal, Alabama.


This article was published in the January-March 2019 issue of Army Sustainment.

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