Communicating What Constitutes Success, is Essential

In Conversation with a Fellow Ranger, I was reminded of the importance of communicating what success looks like. The Army calls this "Commander's Intent". It works to ensure every member of the team understands what constitutes success. This ensures a high degree of autonomy while keeping everyone working in the same direction. It was present in every mission I have ever led or participated in during my service.

When and How to Use it:

First-Line Leaders:

If you are close the execution of the work. You are a critical worker bee or a first line leader. It is essential to understand your manager's vision for success. This helps you make better decisions on the work and with your time.

Managing Managers:

If you manage managers, it is essential that you communicate your own Commander's Intent. This maximizes your team's ability to work autonomously, and empowers their ability to think creatively. Remember, purpose trumps task. Most of the time we issue tasks as leaders, this leaves out the most important portion, that is the why or the purpose. If one of your managers is executing the mission, they may find that they can achieve the same purpose more efficiently with a different task. If you just give a task, you are accepting the additional work to continue to oversee and micro-manage the task to regularly confirm it is the right thing to do.

What Consists of a Great Commander's Intent:

It is Nested:

Your Commander's Intent should be nested (like a Russian doll) in the Commander's Intent of your boss. This ensures that you are working within the structure of their vision for success.


It contains a short and clear purpose statement, this should be the purpose of the task you imagined. It should answer the question, "Why are we doing the project or initiative we are taking". It should possess enough meaning to empower subordinate managers with enough information to aid in their decision making and task management.

Key Tasks:

Simply, what tasks are necessary to accomplish the mission. This ensures that there is unity of effort on the team, or among subordinate managers who might share responsibility for different portions of a key task.

End State:

This should answer the question, "What will result from this project or initiative." This should be broken down into categories. The Army looks at the End State of tactical operations in terms of friendly, enemy, terrain, and civilian. In the business world, this translates to the customer, the organization (Internally, as an organization how will we be better after this project.), and the broader community (This could be businesses you work with, partner organizations/non-profits, corporate image, or literally the surrounding community).


Being clear in your Commander's Intent (if you manage managers), and understand. the Commander's Intent of your boss. When you do this it will enable you to make better decisions, and to attack your project or initiative with fewer questions and in a way that maximized the efficiency of each member of your team.

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