To lead is exhausting

One thing I remember well from experience is that to lead is exhausting. It's even more exhausting than to be among the most alert, most active folks who just follow.

You have to do most things everyone else has to do, but you need more and constant awareness of your people, you need more awareness of your surroundings (terrain, neighbours, opponents, you get less and shorter breaks, you have to think ahead for a much longer time span, all the minor fuckups including false alarms come to your attention and on top of that you still have superiors to deal with.The more stupid and inept your men are, the worse it is unless you lower your expectations and dumb most things down.

A long, long time ago as an adolescent I watched a movie and saw anofficer riding a horse with ordinary soldiers marching in lockstep behind. I thought something along the lines of "what a douche".
I was so wrong. That officer needed that horse.

One of the better parts of the book "Infantry attacks" was the description of how exhausting the job of a lieutenant was even far away from opposition. The horse was an utter necessity for moving between superiors and the own men.

I myself never had a terribly long exercise without stubbornly taking some sleep, but every once in a while I read reports about how officers often become ineffective after four days of exertions for want of sleep discipline.

I mentioned this before, and if I remember correctly my stance was always to enforce that sleep discipline.

Maybe I was wrong and it's sometimes impossible or even insufficient to enforce sleep discipline. Maybe something is fundamentally wrong with the division of labour, with how burdened leaders - especially the better ones - are. You may burn out even if you get enough sleep, and cognitive processes may be badly impaired by exertion without anyone noticing (especially in a hierarchical organisation where you're "not encouraged" to loudly question the wisdom of orders).

I've come more and more to the point of view that leadership at unit and small unit level should be divided into the external perspective and the internal perspective: One leader deals with the own men and the other (senior) one deals with everything around them. A most thorough application of this (much more radical than the ordinary CO + senior NCO pairing) may have promise, might be worth some tests.

An alternative way to address the problem would be to let 2nd i command guys do the heavy lifting in the easier times, and prepare him especially for this. A 1st in command could then take over for most stressful phases while still fresh.

The way we do things is heavily path-dependent and not necessarily optimal. It's similar to the quasi-evolutionary approach of leaning artificial intelligence: AI can learn to do a task, but usually repeated learning processes are very much unlike each other and often end up at different end results - and not necessarily the optimal result. That's because the outcome is path-dependent.



  1. In the Canadian Artillery, a Battery is lead by the Battery Commander. However, he is rarely anywhere near the guns, spending his time near the Combat Team commander. He is very focused on what the battery needs to do and how it integrates with the rest of the Combat Team.

    The senior officer near the guns is the BK (Battery Captain, the 2IC of the battery). He concentrates on *how* the battery does what needs to be done (i.e. inward focused). This means mostly logistics (and there is lot of logistics in keeping a battery functioning.

    The gun position itself is run by the Gun Position Officer (The BK almost never gets involved in things like what specific direction the guns are pointing at any particular moment in time).

    The system is quite functional.

  2. In my opinion this is an question of the (military) culture, and from there of the the resulting preparation / training and the resultant attitude of the leaders that came from that.

    I wittnesed this several times for myself, especially with young, low rank and very ambitious officers. They overstrained themselves heavily because they thought it to be necessary to lead their men, to promote their career and to achieve better results from their units. Also micromanagement is a big problem here and the command-systems today which more and more become real-time-systems enhance this even more. So today a young officer did more and more work for the same results. Look for example on an written order past and now: today it is swollen and overburdend to near uselessness. Much work is invested in this kind of crap, which could be used for over things, for example for recovery.

    Instead even the most ordinary tasks today are jaded with leadership. But to much C4 in every little aspect does not only exhaust the leaders, it also slows the units down. And because of this reason today units in the military are not faster or even slower than units in earlier times which had not all this fancy C4 / digital / network load of crap which today dominates the work of the leadership.

    1. I didn't really have that micromanagement issue. To me it seemed as if the constant attentiveness.

      IIRC some researchers found that at about 50 decisions made per day you enter a zone of stress. Add 10-16 hours of attentiveness per day tot hat and it's 'not comfortable'.

    2. But thats exactly what i meant. Micromanagement means more and more decisions and therefore more / constant attentiveness.

  3. In the British Army command and responsibility is shared between the commander and 2IC.

    In an infantry section (8 men) the section’s 2IC is responsible for the logistics (making sure equipment is maintained and serviceable; blokes are fed, watered and rested; discipline (esp hygiene) is maintained) in camp and in the field (he’s constantly busy making keeping track of ammo states and manages casualties).

    This enables the Sect Comd to fight the battle, to do the tactical work comfident that a good 2IC will ensure the boys are ready to go with the right kit at the right time as per his orders.

    At the platoon level it is exactly the same: the Pl Comd is responsible for operations (G3) and the Pl Sgt responsible for logistics (G4: discipline, equipment support, casualties, supply). The Sect Comds report to the Pl Comd and the 2IC’s report to the Pl Sgt.

    In the same way, the Pl Comds report to the Company Commander and the Pl Sgts report to the CSM and CQMS.

    It’s an excellent method of dividing responsibility enabling one leadership chain to fight the battle and one to enable.

    1. Such arrangements are common, but they don't really lessen the burden. Such division of labour rather increases the output.