21-19 - Mastering the Fundamentals

By Center for Army Lessons LearnedMay 17, 2021

(Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

Focus: It is easy to say, but much harder to do in this instantaneous, information-driven age. Often, many experienced leaders find it challenging to focus on what really matters. The minute any leader takes charge of his formation, the ability to focus dissipates for a variety of reasons. Unforeseen higher-echelon actions or reactions, unanticipated problems with Soldiers, and a seemingly endless litany of tasks constitute just a few reasons why focus can be difficult.

Whatever the challenges, the Army’s overall purpose never changes. Sure, we have been better or worse at times for a myriad of reasons, but the mission of the U.S. Army remains to fight and win our nation’s wars. It serves as the fundamental reason we recruit Soldiers the way we do. It is the fundamental reason driving all Army modernization initiatives. It is what drives personnel initiatives.

The Army’s increased emphasis on taking care of Soldiers and combatting corrosive behaviors is an essential task. Without focusing on our Soldiers, we endanger the ability to accomplish the missions our nation expects of its Army. Regardless, some may struggle to understand the link between caring for Soldiers and our ability to organize, equip, train, and prepare for combat. General William E. DePuy said it best when he stated that, “Nice, warm human relationships are satisfying and fun, but they are not the purpose of an Army. Establishing the most marvelous, friendly, warm, sympathetic, and informed relationships is unimportant, except in the context of making the teamwork better. In that context, it is all important.”1

We know our Army cannot accomplish its mission without cohesive small teams. However, focusing solely on cohesive teams or corrosive behavior, independent of a common purpose, achieves limited results. Soldiers and leaders must have a purpose linked to the fundamental reason their team exists. No winning team has ever accomplished anything of significance without first defining a common purpose and subsequently focusing on what mattered to achieve that purpose. Soldiers and leaders must be focused on what fundamentally matters in their formation to help fight and win the nation’s wars.

By focusing formations on mastering a handful of fundamental tasks, leaders begin to transform purpose into capability. We build teams specifically to accomplish these tasks. We maintain equipment to accomplish these tasks. We care for each other so that we can accomplish these tasks. We execute all organizational activities to enable us to accomplish these tasks on the future battlefield.

Regardless of echelon, the Army needs units to be masters in a handful of fundamental tasks. By focusing an organization’s energy on a few, simple, achievable tasks, leaders create a purpose that directly contributes to the Army’s mission. Every effort in the organization begins and ends with that purpose in mind, from our care for Soldiers to our training, maintenance, and leader-development programs.

As a leader at any level, you must take the time to create a common focus for your organization the minute you take charge. This National Training Center publication provides the nexus for a conversation every leader should have at every echelon in his formation. What is our focus? In what areas must we be experts?

Before you start telling your Soldiers to master the fundamentals, take the time to have a conversation with your team. What are those fundamental tasks at echelon? How do you structure every organizational activity around the tasks? How do they collectively contribute to the overarching purpose and reason for your organization’s existence? How does the accomplishment of these tasks nest with the essential task of cohesive small units? Your subordinates will thank you.

Purpose leads to focus, and focus leads to fundamental tasks that drive every aspect of great units. Focus minimizes confusion and maximizes teamwork. True teamwork builds cohesive units that care for one another, because everyone matters. Genuine teamwork builds trust and confidence in ourselves, the organization, and one another. Repetitive practice leads to teams that can truly master the fundamentals. As always, if you or any member of your team requires assistance, do not hesitate to ask.

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