When the technologies of future fiction became a reality so did a fear of their capabilities. Whether it is fighting against intelligent machines or through an endemic apocalypse, movie studios respond to the fears of a curious audience. Despite the range of science fiction interests, one constant remains clear: the future consists of people. Human capital is key to the successful conduct of multi-domain operations (MDO) in 2035. Army logistics leaders who provide purpose, direction, and motivation to our sustainment formations must understand the complexity of their environment, balance competing requirements from various constituencies, and make timely decisions to move their organizations forward. As the future changes, the Army sustainment enterprise must adapt doctrine to develop the logistics leader competencies and attributes that will ensure mission accomplishment during MDO.
From a national security perspective, war remains fundamentally political, people-centric, and complex. These three aspects, along with violence and coercion, have been essential aspects of conflict since the dawn of recorded history. This nature of warfare will not change. Even with technological advances the role of leaders in the organizing and motivating human capital will remain the same. Conversely, modern security practitioners categorize environmental changes typically associated with technological and societal advances as features of the character of war. The MDO environment will be different in new ways, requiring our logistics leaders to have new sets of knowledge and skills to succeed and win.
Leading organizations that can dominate in MDO, understand domain integration, and acknowledge the impact of revolutionary technologies, such as artificial intelligence, the internet of things, and robotics and autonomous systems, will create new challenges that leaders in the past have not previously addressed. Based on a better understanding of a more globalized, urban operational environment vulnerable to environmental change, the Army sustainment enterprise must build and sustain MDO logistics formations for the future through the selection, training, and education of the human capital that comprises these organizations. MDO will require new skills, competences and attributes that facilitate strategic leadership across a range of hypercompetitive and collaborative environments.
Current Army doctrine states that an ideal Army leader has strong intellect, physical presence, professional competence, and moral character while serving as a role model. While position, rank, or authority does not always designate leaders, when in charge, leaders must be able and willing to act decisively, within the intent and purpose of superior leaders and in the best interest of the organization. Current doctrine states Army leaders recognize that organizations, built on mutual trust and confidence, successfully accomplish missions. Identification of competencies and attributes needed for success in globally connected, urbanized, and environmentally vulnerable environments will be key to the success of MDO formations in 2035 and beyond.
While no longer formally defined in doctrine, attributes are a characteristic or fundamental property of an individual. Attributes are “what leaders are” whereas competencies are “what leaders do.” In the debate on whether leaders are born versus made, tests to facilitate attribute identification can better predict what Soldiers are better suited for early entry into logistics leadership development pipelines at the operational or strategic level. Additionally, competency identification allows for the association of certain skills with positive organizational outcomes within MDO formations. As the Army continues the design of multi-domain task forces, there is value in U.S. Army Combined Arms Support and Training and Doctrine commands formally defining the desired competencies and attributes of strategic leaders so that doctrine authors can adjust the requisite experiences within the institutional, operational, and self-developmental domains of the Army’s Leader Development Strategy to facilitate the growth of the logistics leader bench for MDO.
New technologies and novel applications of existing technologies will have potential to disrupt labor markets and change organizational systems. Multiple technological developments, to include biotechnology and communications sectors, will likely outpace regulation. This may result in international norms that are contrary to U.S. interests and increase the likelihood of hypercompetition. Emerging technology and new applications of existing technology will also allow U.S. adversaries to more readily develop weapon systems that can strike farther, faster, and harder and challenge the U.S. across multiple domains. In MDO, strategic leaders will operate across a range of hypercompetitive to collaborative situations resulting in organizations that have smaller positional power roles and diffused structures. Power will shift to stakeholders, reducing the formal authority of organizational leaders. Based on an increase in population size and globalization trends, leadership within organizations must become stronger versus looking to centralized management and organization.
Hypercompetitive and hyper-collaborative environments will force a shift in the context of how managers employ from an egocentric viewpoint. MDO requires an allocentric leadership approach that emphasizes the diffusion of power within groups or teams. Additionally, ongoing changes in the relationship between technology and people will affect the human dimension of leadership as select operational environments become more dehumanized. There are common leadership and team competencies across these environments that should be promoted within the Army’s institutional, operational, and self-developmental domains.
From an egocentric leader, dehumanized operating environmental perspective, we can anticipate increased reliance on technology to enhance human performance. As the world population continues to increase, seismic changes in demographics, geography, and technology create pressure on organizations to produce results. In this environment, one could envision a world where organizations will outfit workers with suits of armor like Iron Man that augment their ability to conduct manual labor, work in harsh environments, or wage war. In this future environment, technological advance minimizes the separation between humans and machines. Rather than the technology being adapted to the needs of humankind, human behavior will likely shift to adapt to the needs of technology. Competencies for logistics leaders in this future environment include aptitudes for coordination, control, organization, synthesizing, and monitoring. Competencies for logistics formations in this future environment will focus on increasing performance, teaming with technology, promoting efficiency, individualistic consideration, and role specialization.
Conversely, egocentric leadership in an environment more dependent on human interaction than empowering technology will encounter different challenges. In this environment, futurists anticipate the society will use technology humanely for improving quality of life. Based on evolutionary leaps in knowledge acquisition, organizations will look to network structures as a mechanism for problem solving. Network structures will balance the poles of specialization and generalization through the building of teams or partnerships to develop overarching competencies that extend beyond an organization’s sole capacities. Organizations will have subordinate departments equipped with plug and play capacities that enable it to achieve results in multiple domains. The larger network of organizations and technology connect each unit to larger networks which allow for operation in concert with external partners to achieve results through bending technology to the will of society. Logistics leader competencies for this future environment include aptitudes for innovation, entrepreneurship, synthesis, and promoting specialization. Logistics formation competencies for this future environment will focus coupling innovators with altruistic goals, human development, organizational transformation, and multidisciplinary collaboration.
In an allocentric environment that emphasizes the human dimension, global complexity will likely match evolving organizational norms to shift as needed to support the performance of complex, multidisciplinary tasks. In this environment, organizations are temporary and can come together on request – akin to gig economies and cloud-based technologies. In addition to temporary work agreements, organizations will disperse teams across domains and some team members will not be human as robotics and artificial intelligence continue to evolve. Like observing flocks of birds in migration patterns that shift forms but remain visible as a single entity, leaders in this environment blend several unique and complex parts into an overarching whole. Competencies for logistics leaders in this future environment include innovation, entrepreneurship, creative vision, provision of mentorship, and team-building. Competencies for logistics formations in this future environment will focus on empowerment, self-leadership, and transparency.
Shifting to potential environments where organizations use allocentric leadership to address challenges of dehumanized organizations, leaders will shape human capital to the structure of automation instead of modeling automation from human characteristics. A perfect storm of decreasing full-time labor forces and economic collapse will accelerate the embrace of technology into aspects of daily life like work, commerce, and recreation. Most notably, organizations will integrate humans into the digital commons with technology having the capability for sensing and responding to human thoughts and movements. In this environment, leaders will leverage technology to have direct control over employees and create hive-like organizations that act and think in a collective manner. Rather than society defining organizations by the size of their workforce or geographic space, it will define organizations by the size of their networks and operational efficiency. Logistics leader competencies in this future environment include taking the initiative, understanding competition, emphasizing production, and a tendency for micromanagement. Logistics formation competencies for this future environment will focus on responding to competition, hierarchical bureaucracy, and groupthink.
At the strategic level, logistics leaders must be creative in addressing the resource constraints of a hypercompetitive operational environment. Being creative involves strategic leaders immersing themselves into the problem, looking broadly for connections - whether in the past, laterally among peer organizations, or brainstorming, letting ideas incubate, and having the courage to select one or more to pilot. Promoting creativity requires leaders to overcome upbringing, schooling, and the narrowness of their career fields and/or functional logistics branch experiences.
Within their respective organizations, logistics leaders should look to remove constraints, use creative thinking strategies such as carving out dedicated time and thinking out loud, practice picking out anomalies, look for distant parallels, apply standard problem-solving skills, and promote diversity in order to expand the range of experience within leaders. This requires an egocentric leadership approach oriented towards self-management. Some experiences to seek within the organization to improve this competency include: managing dissatisfied external or internal customers; taking on tough or undoable projects; launching a new product, service or process; relaunching an existing product or service; or helping someone external to the immediate organization solve a business problem.
Moving away from the egocentric leader models of the early 20th century, modern theorists emphasize the importance of interconnectedness, broadening spheres of concerns, building systemic capacity, and leaders seeing their communities and organizations in which they function as living, dynamic systems. While these themes have informed the work of scholars in leadership development for several decades, their influence in shaping the approaches for leader education, development, and preparation for future operating environments continues to evolve.
In conclusion, the range of possible leadership challenges during the conduct of MDO has three implications for logistics leaders. First, future logistics leaders must be flexible to deal with multiple environments. This will involve expansion of their skill sets to be successful in an operational environment with an increasingly joint character. Second, an increasing emphasis on joint operations requires coordination with all services and an understanding of occupational specialties from diverse perspectives. Company grade officers and non-commissioned officers may need earlier exposure to joint concepts to acquire the necessary experience and exposure to fully function in the joint environment. Finally, research efforts can explore alternative models for developing senior leaders, recognizing there may be value in a staffing model which provides short-term, highly experienced company or field grade officers without the commitment of a long-term career in either the active or reserve component.
As environmental trends influence the future of leader selection, education, and training, leader development will reach across multiple domains to incorporate a mix of physical, virtual, and hybrid methods for experience, knowledge acquisition, and reflection. Personnel charged with the education of logistics leaders for MDO must teach future orientation as to where organizations will need leadership, when key stakeholders will call on the competencies and attributes of these leaders, and in what situations logistics leaders will align organizational vision, culture, and resources to win in an increasingly complex and more connected world.
Editor’s Note: This article was based on a submission by the author during an Army War College course.
Col. Eric A. McCoy is director of the subsistence supply chain for Defense Logistics Agency Troop Support. He also serves as a Senior Leadership fellow for The Center for Junior Officers.
This article was published in the January-March 2021 issue of Army Sustainment.