A Facet of Higher Command
From the time we get commission in the Army, we become commanders in various capacities. This is what we join the Army for and what we learn and yearn for. This is what we forever dream of. This is what the army career is about -- the great magnet towards which we all aspire to be drawn. The desire and ability to command can provide our individual magnetism and charisma. From day one of our service to retirement, we get diverse tastes of command, in type and level, in quality and quantity. I have been a Grass Party Commander (Kharian Cantt 1961), commanded three different companies, one Infantry battalion, three Infantry Brigades, two Divisions and to Corps Commander (11 Corps, Peshawar â€“ 1991-94), so I should know!
As commanders, we are taught and drilled to locate and identify a problem, then get down to it and overcome it. This, as time goes on, becomes our second nature. However, this is generally true of the dynamic ones, the ones who continue to rise. It is these officers about whom, and to whom I wish to write.
Command is a lonely assignment. The higher we go, the more indirect and isolated, and therefore lonely does a commander get. Now this distancing from your command is very difficult to understand, absorb and adjust to. At every stage of elevation, more command intermediaries enter. This entails greater time lag and slower responses, and a more diluted directional action. Since at heart, all commanders are Platoon and Company commanders, at higher levels one tends to feel left out of battle (LOB!). This feeling holds good for war and peace, in exercises and training, in administration and social life. The commander may think of himself as a great buddy and a charming social chatter (box). But the fact is, in his presence, all those, whose ACRs (Annual Confidential Reports) he has to write or endorse, remain un-natural and tense. So, if he is sensible, and remembers his own days earlier, he will tend to keep his own company (and should too). However this feeling of LOB should not drown the higher commander in apathy or self-pity. A higher commander is not supposed to poke his nose, or finger or stick (or whatever) in every happening. Other factors notwithstanding, it is not his age to do so anyway!!
At the level of a general officer, one is expected and needs to, planâ€”and plan well ahead and in detail, and have plans disseminated and understood throughout his command. Thereafter, the logistics required for the success of the plan are to be ensured and provided, where after the lower commanders are to be left alone for the execution of the plans. Only occasional reorientation of events, if necessary, should require the presence and interference of the commander.
Now that is the difficult part: To sit back and watch the unfolding of events with someone else in immediate control. When someone else controls the rudder, the boat may not go exactly the way you want. But worry not over the boat, keep a watch over the general direction of the fleet. Let the lower commander use his head, even if he rocks his boat and strays a bit. You keep your eye on the fleet. Over interference denies commanders initiative, and therefore reduces commitment, and hence efficiency. The last two factors may decide between success and failure. So leave the junior commanders alone and do not over-interfere.
Ah! But that is the difficult part. It is the most difficult thing when you have the authority as well as responsibility, to not to interfere. There is a reason. The reason is lack of self-confidence. If I am confident that I can handle any goof-ups by lower commanders, I will let them use their own heads. But, if I am not confident that I can handle any bungling by my subordinate commanders, I will not let them use their initiative. As a result, the junior commanders will be neutralized, which should be OK with the enemy. This is because, if I begin to control the rudders of boats, it will reduce my attention and contributions towards the course of the fleet. So every commander must know where to draw the line, beyond which he must not interfere.
To prove and explain my point, I will narrate one operational incident. In the FCNA, during one operation of about a company size operation, the Corps commander, the commander FCNA, the Brigade commander and the CO were found at the company HQ at Ali Brangza. During the covering fire, the Corps commander orders eight tow missiles to be fired at enemy position. Eight direct, beautiful hits were scored onto the Indian posts. Good work by the Tow gunners. Then there was a ninth direct hit. The Corps commander flashed round, â€œI ordered eight rounds. Who fired the ninth without my permission?â€ Narrating this to me, the Corps commander proudly told me later, that the ninth was a beautiful shoot by the mortars: First round, bang on the target.
Be that as it may, the Commander FCNA, the Brigade commander and the CO sat there like neutralized but tense peons, while the Corps commander literally not only called but even counted the shots in a company sized operation!! The operation, despite acts of great individual heroism by the troops, failed to achieve its objective.
Nelson showed a flash of understanding of this facet when he declared his historic sentence â€œEngland expects every man to do his jobâ€. Then only will every man be able to do his own at his own level. Then will every person put in his level best and excel himself. Then will the boat and the fleet remain in control and on course. Then will success be more certain.
In my most enjoyable command of FCNA for almost two and a half years under very trying conditions, I had the unmitigated pleasure of seeing my officers and men, from Brigadier, to subaltern to sepoy perform acts of unheard of courage, bravery and resilience. During this time, we reduced our quantum of troops to half in Siachen. Yet, officers and men were extremely aggressive. They put the Indians squarely on the defensive. They defeated the Indians roundly in the Chumik operation, forcing the enemy to beg for cessation of hostilities, captured a large chunk of Indian territory. There are incidents galore where officers and men went far beyond the call of duty or expectations -- all on their own initiative.
Confidence and belief in the competence of the subordinates will make the job of the higher commander so much easier. Every man should do his job, and not that of the one lower. Then the General will find time, resources and concentration to do a Generalâ€™s job at the Generalâ€™s level.
I came back from FCNA, confident that our junior leaders and commanders can, and will deliver in times of need. They are our best Weapon System, our best Force Multipliers. They need to be trusted and left alone. THEY WILL DELIVER.