Based on the accumulated assessment of the students you taught during your assignments, what are the common threads and characteristics that distinguish the best prospective commanding officers from the worst? What is different about those who ‘get it’ from those who don’t?
Submarine command courses prepare officers for submarine command through a process of both teaching and assessment. The price of failure can be high, and while success allows assignment to command, it does not guarantee a successful command. The Submarine Command Course is neither a warfare course nor an academic exercise. It tests leadership, professional knowledge, the desire for excellence, aggressiveness, and a hunger for submarine command. The central focus of the Submarine Command Course is to teach future commanding officers to make good command decisions. Generally there are two types of decisions: analytical and intuitive.
To make analytical decisions one weighs options, balancing risk and gain. This type of decision-making is well understood, and is used often by submarine commanding officers. While this is a necessary strength for command, it is neither sufficient, nor a good predictor of tactical or leadership performance.
Intuitive decisions are made after one detects cues and patterns that emerge from complex situations, and then chooses a course of action that likely will be successful. The action chosen is based on experience-the person has seen similar situations and draws on a “library” of responses (mental models). Based on recognizing the situation that faces him, the decider quickly converges on a course of action and runs a mental simulation of the action. If the simulation ends with success, he executes that option. If the simulation is not successful, he quickly makes adjustments to correct the difficulty or tries another model, running through the process again, until he finds a successful course of action to take. It is important to realize intuitive decisions are made quickly compared to analytical decisions, and the decider is not comparing options. If the first projected course of action works, he executes.
Knowledge of intuitive decision-making is not well understood, but has applications in most tactical and seamanship scenarios. As a simple example, a CO may recognize the patterns emerging from a crossing situation. (“That contact has a zero bearing rate and port angle on the bow, and will collide with me if nothing is done.”) He then projects a mental simulation of his action based on
the “mental models” he has developed through his experience. (“I should turn to starboard now.”) If the projection results in a satisfactory result (“I will get off his track by 2,000 yds, and he will pass safely down my port side”), he executes his decision. If the projection does not have a happy ending (“I will run aground”), he chooses another option to consider (“I should slow and let the contact pass ahead.”). Even in this simple example, one can see that there are several correct courses of action. The CO, by virtue of his experience, quickly can converge on a mental model that will work. We have borrowed this model for intuitive decisions from Dr. Gary Klein1, which serves to provide a useful structure in enhancing intuitive decision-making.
Using the situation facing the student in the Submarine Command Course, we can identify some elements of success:
Good COs can process a lot of data, prioritize important cues, and recognize patterns-they have good situational awareness.
Good COs have a rich library of mental models from which to choose, evaluate, and then decide.
Good COs look for “decision-rich” opportunities. They want to be challenged and to make decisions. They are ambitious and enthusiastic.
Good COs are honest about evaluating themselves relative to the situation. They constantly look to improve their position in the scenario. They are natural “assessors” and “learners.”
Good COs have strong command presence-a quiet self-confidence.
Good COs possess endurance and fortitude.
|This is an incomplete list of some qualities of successful commanding
officers. These qualities are inherent in some more than in others.
It is possible, by having a structured understanding of intuitive
decision-making, to detect natural command potential and to foster
it in all junior officers (even those without strong natural abilities).
We believe professional development and training that focus on
building confident decision-makers can grow these qualities where
they are weak, more quickly identify those officers who may not
have what it takes to command, and help the naturally gifted officers
Editor’s Note: All these officers are submarine officers involved in the training of prospective submarine commanding officers and executive officers.
Reprinted from Proceedings with permission; Copyright (c) April 2005 U.S. Naval Institute/www.navalinstitute.org.