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Commander’s Intent


“Don’t tell people how to do things; tell them what to do and let them surprise you with their results.” –George S. Patton Jr.

I am an avid reader of books although nowadays, I’m more of a fan of as it allows me to imbibe the information and lessons while exercising or commuting to my day job.

One of the books that I listened to described a tactic that the U.S. military uses called Commander’s Intent.  When preparing for a military engagement, there is a significant amount of planning, coordination and preparation to ensure the approach goes correctly.  From where to stage the various units and pieces of equipment, to the plan of attack and timing of each portion of the strategy.

Commander's Intent

As you might expect, in war, nothing goes according to plan and so it is common for strategies and tasks to be forgotten in the heat of the battle.  This is where the commander’s intent comes into play. The commander’s intent is the single objective that the whole battle plan is created to support and the one thing that every solider involved in the briefing needs to remember.  That way, when the execution is not happening according to plan, the team is still coordinated around one common objective and they are focused on achieving that objective in any way that they can.

OverwhelmingAnimal rescue can sometimes feel like it’s a battle against overwhelming odds.  While we have dramatically reduced the rates of euthanization among healthy, and treatable companion animals in the U.S., there is still a long way to go for making the world a better place for animals.  In our day-to-day rescue activities, nothing seems to go according to plan, and all of the lessons we learned and procedures we developed over the years sometimes seem to be for naught. People disappoint us, and unplanned events throw a wrench into our well-oiled machine.  Despite telling volunteers what we want them to do on rescue relay transports, they often do not follow instructions or procedures and sometimes chaos seems to ensue.

So take a lesson from General Patton and tweak your approach.  Focus more on what you’re trying to do, and less on specifically how to do it.  Give them your commander’s intent instead of your detailed, 10-page battle plan.  Empower them to use their experience and knowledge to focus on the intent of the mission instead on the compliance with the detailed steps that you wrote up prior to the mission starting.  

Intent is a powerful force that can serve as a guidepost in times of uncertainty.  Providing the intent of the mission will help ensure its success despite the reality of the situation.


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