Being Direct with Commander's Intent

Case Study 3 min
Watch a positive example of how a commander communicated his goals while still encouraging creativity and forward thinking.

Commander’s intent is a concise expression of an operation’s purpose, with the expectation for service members involved in an operation to pursue the goal without constant direction from the commander. It gives members of a unit focus, and helps subordinate and support commanders achieve the commander’s desired results, even when the operation does not unfold as planned.

As shown in the YouTube video, Retired Lt. Gen. Steven Kwast, commander of Air Education and Training Command, lays out his initial intent for First Command Airmen.

What makes this a great example of Commander’s Intent?

After an initial welcome, Lt. Gen. Kwast lays out his intent clearly and concisely. “I want to reinvent recruiting.” This intent is broad enough in scope that it should provide some short term and long term goals. He goes on to stress why this is his initial intent by making it clear that the organization needs top talent to fight and win America’s wars. That extra information gives those looking to interpret the intent some additional guidance on who Lt. Gen. Kwast is looking to recruit.

Lt. Gen. Kwast also shares an initial requirement — he wants to take advantage of advanced digital technologies. This is important because it feeds directly into his second intent; establish a faster training pipeline so airmen can “out-think and out-learn” the enemy. Whatever tools are identified or created, Lt. Gen. Kwast expects them to be easily accessible, on-demand and free to use.

It is important to note the use of the word “together," and “networking,” in this intent. While the general doesn’t spell out step by step what he wants, he does make it clear that he expects his people to have a stake and ownership in finding the talent he is looking for and holding each other to a high educational standard.

Finally, the general reveals the foundational guidance that should be at the forefront of PA messaging, story writing, and social media. He wants his airmen to feel respected, protected and connected to the world.

Lt. Gen. Kwast was able to say all of this in just 1:27.

Lessons Learned

In your role as a commander, follow the example by clearly providing enough scope for your team to interpret with short and long-term goals. Lay the groundwork of expectations across your organization to give clarity without micromanaging.

In your role as public affairs or strategic communication specialist, support and advise the commander to keep their message clear and concise. Depending on who their intended audience is, get their message out using the most appropriate means.