Karl Moore: This is Karl Moore of the Desautels Faculty of Management at McGill University, Talking Management for The Globe and Mail. Today I am delighted to speak to General Dean Milner who was Canada’s top officer in Afghanistan until recently, and is now Number Two at the III Corps, Fort Hood, Texas.
Good afternoon, General.
Dean Milner: Good afternoon, Karl.
KM: General, we see in business that we have silos and we have slabs – we manage down and we manage up, but it’s managing sideways which is often a greater challenge. Do you find that in the military as well?
DM: Absolutely, the three are absolutely significant. I can use an example, when I was in Afghanistan I was under the command of Regional Command South, General James Terry, American Divisional commander from Ten Mountain Division; and it was significant that, first of all, we established a relationship, an understanding of mission and intent, and we actually joined each other on our road to Afghanistan from a training perspective.
So I made sure that we had a good understanding of each other, we developed a relationship, and that I understood exactly what the General wanted. Command downwards to your soldiers is absolutely paramount. Understanding the soldier’s capabilities, and knowledge of the solders. I commanded two different battle groups in Afghanistan, I commanded a battle group from my own brigade in Petawawa and an effort to get out and work with the soldiers, set the example, and develop that respect and situational awareness of what was happening on the ground was very important.
Across, from a horizontal perspective, both from a staff working with the regional command south and also working with my fellow brigade commanders – I put a big effort into that because sometimes that is the challenging part because you are not always working with them on a constant basis. They work in different areas and I developed a strong team relationship with them – understanding their capabilities, offering them support, knowing what they were doing, how they were working with the Afghans, and so it’s critical as a leader to be conscious of all three and understand the dynamics of all three and work them within the context of your command.
KM: General, how do you inspire your troops? How do you get the troops ready for battle?
DM: Well it is absolutely significant, especially in a war fighting counter-insurgency environment, that you are able to lead mission command, give orders, and fully understand that those orders are going to be carried out in difficult situations. The bottom line is that I am a big believer in connecting with the soldiers and understand[ing]the soldiers’ capabilities, setting the example by being out there on patrol, being as fit as they are, and being able to endure the same things.
By doing that you develop a trust, develop a strong relationship, respect and loyalty so that when you are in a difficult situation that you are able to give orders, you are able to command and lead them, no matter what the difficult situation is. It’s absolutely critical. I inspire them by being with them, by being out on the ground, understanding their capabilities, which enables me to be decisive and give them orders that I can get the full potential out of them.