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What is Mission Command?

Written by on 18 October 2010

Mission Command is the primary source of implementing decisions, for the British Military. It advocates decentralisation and empowers individuals to take the initiative and react to emerging situations.

What does the military have to say about Mission Command?

Mission Command is defined and explained in the Army Doctrine Publication, Volume 2 under Command as:

“The Army's philosophy of command is described in BMD (British Military Doctrine) and has three enduring tenets: timely decision-making, the importance of understanding a superior commander's intention, and, by applying this to one's own actions, a clear responsibility to fulfil that intention. The underlying requirement is the fundamental responsibility to act (or, in certain circumstances, to decide not to act) within the framework of the commander's intentions. Together, this requires a style of command, which promotes decentralised command, freedom and speed of action, and initiative.”

Breaking down Mission Command

The military emphasises three important principals of Mission Command. These three enduring tenants are critically important and must be understood in order to make sure Mission Command fulfils it’s potential.

The importance of timely decision making

Often, individuals are obsessed with making perfect decisions. Many businesses try hard to gather every scrap of information that may influence the outcome of a decision. Gathering information in order to give a clear picture of what is happening is termed “situational awareness” by the military. This picture is never static; information is dynamic, contradictory and often confusing. The decision maker must come to a point where they must decide when they have enough information upon which they can make a decision. This critical decision point is context specific. If time is short, it is important to make a decision that can be implemented and take effect before the opportunity is lost.

Understanding superior commanders intention

It is important to understand the wider intention of a decision. What is the point? What is trying to be achieved? This is more important than the plan of how it is to be achieved. Understanding intention is critically important because often, the detail of the plan requires modification or radical rethinking as the context of the environment evolves beyond the initial planning assumptions.


The cement in the Mission Command ideology is the acceptance of responsibility by the individual. Leadership builds strong team cohesion, supports devolved decision-making and the acceptance of risk. It also supports initiative and individuals accepting the challenge will look to act within the framework of the Commanders intention (their wider vision of what is to be achieved).

Utilising Mission Command to deliver effective performance

Combining the key tenants of Mission Command (timely decision making, Commanders intention and responsibility acceptance) provides the platform for harnessing the full potential of your organisation.

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Comments (1)

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Kuntai Ole Tingisha wrote at 18:27pm on 2 April 2011

A very insightful document particularly to the military commanders, both Seniors and Juniors alike.

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