FORT PICKETT, Va. — Brig. Gen. Walter L. Mercer, the Assistant Adjutant General – Army for the Virginia National Guard, led a professional development discussion with officer candidates from Class 57 of the Virginia National Guard’s Officer Candidate School March 28, 2015, at the 183rd Regiment, Regional Training Institute, Fort Pickett, Va.
The discussion featured an overview of leadership in the modern military, Army values, mission command, and ethics.
“Leaders have a lot of smart Soldiers all around them, it’s great when you can let Soldiers’ imagination and creativity come up with solutions,” Mercer said. “It’s still the leader making the decision, but if Soldiers have buy in, then that is leadership.”
Mercer facilitated the discussion, which was intended to provide officer candidates an opportunity to talk about leadership implemented at the tactical and strategic level.
“This discussion gave me a lot of hope in the officer corps,” said Officer Candidate Gustavo Sequeira, Class 57, Officer Candidate School. “To know that this information is being put out at every level of the Virginia Guard is going to make it a stronger organization.”
The discussion began with a brief introduction by Mercer then about being a commander and continued with an overview about mission command.
“Commanders are held to a higher standard,” Mercer explained. “You’ve got to own that when you are a commander; you can’t control what your Soldiers do all the time, but in the end you are responsible for whatever they do.”
Mission command is the exercise of authority and direction by a 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.
“Mission command is something that the German army, during World War II, made into an art,” Mercer explained. “They experienced unbelievable victories, because they had a process of mission command, and it worked. It’s something that they perfected and that we’ve recently adopted and had great success with.”
More than just a process, Mercer explained how good commanders use the principles of mission command to lead.
“Good commanders care about their people and their organization—it’s all about respect and compassion,” said Mercer. “If you can do that, Soldiers will do anything for you, even when you’re not looking and that’s the key.”
During the discussion, Mercer incorporated scenes from the movie “Gettysburg” which were designed to highlight a good example of a leader using mission command.
“You can envision in a lot of different military scenarios, how the principles of mission command will allow you to make quick decisive decisions,” explained Mercer. “If you can give clear intent and end-state, adjust on the fly, you will get things done and accomplish the mission.”
Mercer added other aspects of leadership that he viewed as important.
“Good leaders are humble, it doesn’t mean that you aren’t confident, but humility goes a long way to build trust,” Mercer said. “If you are not humble, are you going to listen to a young Soldier? No, no you’re not and you are going to miss out on their input, their experience and their opinions.”
Mercer stressed the importance of caring for Soldiers and needing to continually look for ways to build trust.
“You know that you have to have a sense of trust and cohesion before you get anything done,” Mercer said. “You can lead with rank and authority, or you can lead with leadership.”
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