Small Wars Journal

Creating a Leader Development Program: The Ends, Ways, and Means

Mon, 11/18/2013 - 5:39pm

Creating a Leader Development Program: The Ends, Ways, and Means

Joe Byerly

In a previous post, I discussed leader development conceptually which is great, however it’s all useless if we can’t figure out a way to apply it at the unit level.  Hopefully this week’s post will provide leaders with the necessary tools to do so.

Similar to developing a coherent national strategy, there are sequential steps we should take in crafting our unit leader development programs.   The concept of ends, ways, and means provides one logical framework.

Step one: Identify the desired ends.  What are the outcomes I want to achieve? What is my desired end-state for the officers or NCOs I’m responsible for?

Example Ends for a Battalion Commander’s Program:

The goal of my leader development program is to develop lieutenants who:

1.)  Understand and are comfortable operating within the principles of Mission Command

2.)  Are prepared for company command

3.)  Possess the tools to be life-long learners

Step two: Identify ways to achieve the ends.   How can I work with the unit to achieve my end state?  What are my lines of operation going to be?

Example Ways for a Battalion Commander’s Program: I will focus the development of my lieutenants by assigning them various roles and responsibilities, training them, and educating them.

Step three: List the means required to enable and execute the ways.

  • What types of assignments will my lieutenants need, and what tasks should they accomplish to be effective future company commanders?  For example, in addition to being a platoon leader and executive officer, staff assignments may not only prepare them to understand the role staffs play as a company commander, but also shape their understanding of mission command.
  • What experiences through training will they need to understand mission command, and effectively command a company in the future? For example, as we enter an era of fiscal austerity, the importance of commanders maintaining property accountability systems will play an important role in the effectiveness of organizations. Lieutenants should leave the unit with a thorough understanding of Command Supply Discipline.    
  • What do they need to know in order to be prepared for company command and to be a life-long learner? For example, in addition to Army doctrine, lieutenants should understand the role military history plays in our profession.  This topic could be one of the topics discussed at a quarterly LPD.

After I sketched out a program on a white board (example) in my office, I came to a few conclusions:

  • Time is finite, so we must prioritize the means by which we want to develop our subordinates. We might also have to get creative in constructing meaningful experiences due to budget constraints.  While there are about 1,000 great ideas out there, we may only be able to execute a few of them well within the scope of our time in command.
  • There may not be enough key assignments for everyone, so we need to identify those who have the most potential and use those experiences for their development.
  • Preparation and reflection must be the bookends of every experience we offer our subordinates.  In Taking the Guidon, Allen and Burgess posit that “If leaders have thought through the upcoming experience, understand how it ties into the purpose of the unit and their own personal development, and know the doctrine that drives it, they will be in a position to learn a great deal.”   By reflecting on experience, leaders are able to squeeze every ounce of learning out of that experience, akin to squeezing out a sponge full of water.  Commanders should provide opportunities for reflection throughout assignments.
  • Finally, and most importantly, a good leader development program must be well-thought out AND WRITTEN DOWN prior to taking command.

To summarize this entire series on leader development in three sentences: (1) As leaders, we cannot adopt a Leeroy Jenkins approach to leader development. (2) We only have a small window in the careers of our subordinate leaders to develop them for future assignments (3) Using a good framework (ex. ends, ways, and means) to create a program ensures that we provide our subordinates with the right assignments, experiences, and education before that window closes.

For more on this topic, check out:

The Army Leader Development Strategy

The Maneuver Leader Development Strategy


Outlaw 09

Wed, 11/20/2013 - 12:58pm

In reply to by Sparapet

Sparapet---nice to see unit level comments coming in on Joe's comments which by the way for someone who has been preaching mission command to units for the last few years are refreshing to see in written form.

The core problem with mission command in the last few years is a distinct lack of "how to" when there is not enough "white space"---there has been a virtual form of silence from those that are tasked to preach mission command ie MCoE, MCP in Graf and the MC MTTs out of Leavenworth---it seems that everyone is fine with science of control piece but have problems on the art of command piece and no one seems to want to air those problems.

So actually it was refreshing to see the articles posted by Joe---was just struck by the sound of silence on the response side---which I chalk up to the current culture where unit level officers are shy about posting anything or challenging the powers to be on mission command.

You are right though---SWJ tends to be a higher level on the article side--something we often forget about.


Wed, 11/20/2013 - 11:39am

In reply to by Outlaw 09


I for one have already started borrowing some concepts that Joe Byerly has been writing about in my reserve unit, and I happen to agree with his general approach (being a CAV guys myself, I might be biased :)! )

Your broader point though is interesting and I want to pull the thread a bit further. Here on SWJ the articles that tend to generate the most buzz are usually about policy, grand theory (e.g. Design) or force structure, with some love for culture/understanding. In other words, we have conversations more suited for the Pentagon rather than a BCT or even Battalion staff. This points rather strongly to a general bias of seeing the Pentagon as the true Source of All Things (even if unintentionally).

What Joe and other unit-level (read MAJ and below) writers usually publish here is really more about the forum-for-sharing-ideas-on-how that I think SWJ had intended to be. But this implies a practictioner-level familiarity with the topics. Combine this with the general rule that military doctrine and policy theories are more often hypotheses rather than tested and accepted Theories, and you get 60+ comments on East Asia policy and land force downsizing, and 0 comments on leader development approaches.

I sit in the Pentagon as a civilian, so those discussions are fun and engaging. But when I put on my uniform and plan my next Battalion exercise in the 3-shop I am looking to Joe et al for insights, not China policy. A look at the USMC Small Wars Manual 1940 also demonstrates that it is the "how" that is the real challenge in the small wars, stab ops or whatever, not the "why". Indeed, I am tempted to parrot the good 'ol "ours is not to wonder why, ours is but to do or die" line, because that is where us uniformed types learning from each other has any real impact.

Outlaw 09

Tue, 11/19/2013 - 10:48am

Have been impressed by the series of presentations that the author has written---well thought through and understands the environment as well as how to fit mission command training into that time limited environment.

Would have thought though more comments from officers would have come in---especially from those who are tasked with teaching the gospel of mission command according to doctrine ie say MCP Grafenwoehr, the MCoE, the MC MTTs out of Leavenworth.