A CykoMetrix Spotlight Production

Every week, the Spotlight shines on an amazing professional with a story to tell and lessons to teach. Welcome to the CykoMetrix Spotlight.

The following is an adapted transcript of the exchange between Sylvain Rochon, CMO at CykoMetrix as host, and Donald Vandergriff, Director of Adaptive Leadership Training at Nemertes Research.


Sylvain Rochon: Welcome to Psychometric Spotlight. My name is Sylvain Rochon. I’m the chief marketing officer at CykoMetrix, a leading edge combinatorial psychometric and human data analytics company that brings the employee assessment industry to the cloud with instant assessments, in-depth analysis, trait measurements and team-based reporting features that simplify informed decision-making around recruiting, training and managing today’s modern workplace.

Today for the Spotlight, we have Major Donald Vandergriff. Very exciting. He is from the US Army, retired. He is an award-winning teacher, writer and lecturer who specializes in military leadership education and training. He served 24 years as a marine in the Tennessee Army National Guard, enlisted and US Army Armor officer. After retiring from the US Army, he worked for the Army Capabilities Integration Center forward, with a focus on leader and soldier development.

Donald Vandergriff is the author of 7 books and over 100 articles dealing with leadership. His book, Adopting Mission Command: Developing Leaders for a Superior Command Culture, has been widely praised by a range of experts in military leadership. Vandergriff has acted as a consultant to the Chief of Staff of the army strategic initiative group, as well as the commander of the Army’s Maneuver Center of Excellence, the commander of the US Army Cadet Command and the US Military Academy. This methodology, outcome-based learning, was placed in the 2020 USMC strategic and campaign plans and employed by the US Marine Corps.

Vandergriff’s work on Mission Command, which is agile leadership training, is currently being used by the Ukrainian Army, and its decentralized efforts against the Russian army. So, a fantastic guest today for the Spotlight. It is topical because we’re going to touch on something that is actually used in the current conflict in Ukraine, which is all over the news. Also, it’s something that when we were talking together earlier is being used in all sorts of other contexts. Thank you for joining us in the spotlight, Donald.

Donald: Thank you for having me. I’m honored to be here.

Sylvain: Excellent. Now, let’s get started by just you, explaining what is outcome-based learning?

Donald: Sure. Outcome-based learning, which is a derivative of outcome-based training education that we employed last decade and earlier this decade by a guy named Colonel Casey Haskins in the US Army Asymmetric Warfare Group which was a team of special operators that went out and used advanced forms of learning to help decision making. What they saw was in the war, in insurgent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Army and Marine Corps, but particularly the Army and DOD, was different processes are driven into steps, as they say, I hate the term, out of the box, but they couldn’t do a lot of the out-of-the-box thinking. This is a result of their industrial age mindset where everything is a process and assigned a step and a formula or a recipe.

I came on board in 2005 after using a similar methodology with Georgetown Army ROTC. Fortunately, I was there for 5 years because I had both feet collapsed on me and both feet rebuilt. While I was in a wheelchair and moving around on crutches, they couldn’t do anything, but they had me teach at ROTC. So, I had time to implement and I had incredible students that were from an array of universities, like Georgetown in the Washington, DC area.  What I had been doing in graduate school and post graduate school before I went to teach at Georgetown was studying ways to develop more decisive leaders, and I fell upon the German methodologies in the late 1800s, particularly from 1850 until World War I.

These methodologies even today are very innovative and very advanced. They had nothing to do by the way, with politics and Nazi party or indoctrination. Matter of fact, Helmuth von Moltke, the elder who took over as Chief of Staff of the German Army in 1858, declared that he saw an operations order for an exercise that was phonebook-thick and was very directive and everything done down to the horseshoe. He said the only way we can afford to win future wars because we have no resources, we’re surrounded by everyone, is our human factor, my people factor.

They began developing for 30 years, as there was a debate going on about decentralization, empowering people. Fortunately, Moltke won out because he oversaw the execution of 3 wars, the 64 campaign with Denmark, the 66 with Austria and in the 1870, premier war with France, where within a year, within a month and a half, they defeated and destroyed 2 French Armies and sieged Paris. But this came about even though they did have an advantage with a superior army. A lot of people want to always point to technology as the key and technology has a part of it.

But my hero, the person I studied the most is Colonel John Boyd, who passed away in 1997. A great book by Robert Coram, the fighter pilot who changed the face of war, is about John Boyd and decision cycles. I started to do things like read about mentors like Dr. Chet Richards, who’s written business books taking Boyd’s work, that’s largely focus on the military, and taking those books and turning them into business books. John Boyd’s premise was, he has some incredible briefings that are available online, and we outline them in our books that talk about, “How did these armies, many times smaller, outperformed the enemy, and sometimes even had the advanced technology.

Now, in the wars of unification where I spent a lot of my time studying the development of leaders… yeah, the Germans had the corrupt cannon in the Franco-Prussian War. Then in the Austral Franco War, they had the needle gun, which was a breech-loading rifle that gave him some advantage. But that was not the main source of their victory. Their main source of their victory was they were becoming the most decentralized Army in Europe, in the 1860s and 70s which was dramatic. They were also beginning to empower. They were the first Army with empowered non-commissioned officers of World War 1, to decide which direction to go when they infiltrated, and could base their decisions and where the rest of the division was going to follow.

That’s very dramatic. So, they were trying to focus on the mind and they developed a system of problem solving, and immersion problem solving, which they called kindergarten tactics. It was actually followed after the switch woman, an invention of kindergarten in the 1870s or 1770s teaching how to let people play with the thing and give it a name. They tried to stay away from strict doctrinal terms because it tended to bind the people to a process, and let people have the latitude to figure out a problem. So, this began their culture of what’s called Optic’s Tactics poorly translated into Mission Command, which NATO and the US military have today, including Canada. Recently, in the last two months, now there’s a war at 77 days, but from the first day, I began getting phone calls from DOD, Department of Defense for the US, from a colonel friend of mine who sent me translated briefings that I had done that were translated into Ukrainian using these methods.

I also got an email from a good journalist friend who said he has seen my books there. I received an email from a Ukrainian Lieutenant Colonel that said, “Hey, we’re using your work. It’s spreading on how to empower people, and how to get decisions made faster.” That’s one of the reasons that they’re beating the Russians because the Russians are a very top-down industrial age organization both culturally and doctrinally. So, outcomes-based learning takes the doctrinal concept of Mission Command from the field. What’s my vision of success? Two levels above you, and let you figure it out. That’s it in simplified terms.

What outcomes-based learning does is something similar. I have the outcomes of say, my course or my school, and then I have the department’s outcomes and then I create the outcomes of my classes or courses to support that. But what I want to avoid is telling you how to do it. The reason we came up with that process, we, being Colonel Casey Haskins, Aces Mitchell Warfare group, a very bright colonel out at Fort Hood Texas named Chet Foster, who is the premier student in this. He was at West Point in 2008 when he reconfigured the entire department of military instruction along with Casey, to use outcome-based training education, which is now OBL.

But what it did was, everyone saw we got these talented, extremely talented, non-commissioned officers, and officers, and the current training system restricts them on how they teach. They cannot take their experiences, and they have to stick to a script. Okay? What occurred was after Vietnam for the US Army, they lost a large number of non-commissioned officers, so a guy named William DePuy who had been a division commander in Vietnam and had been a field grade officer in World War II in Normandy, had bad experiences with volunteers, and saw numerous casualties against the superior Germans.

Even in 1944, in most cases, the Germans were very superior at the tactical level. What ended the Germans because people always say, “Why do you say the Germans lost two wars?” Well, the Germans’ problem was they made enemies faster than they could kill them, okay? They had a horrible strategy. Their strategy was based on winning tactical and operational levels, but those are the levels of war. What DePuy saw was his superior Germans, even though they were greatly outnumbered in the air and on the ground, but basically, were still able to fight pretty well. Well, he could never crack the code, and most American observers, for example, Emory Upton went and watched the Franco-Prussian war and watched Germany. They all put German success on things that were tangible.

For example, Emory Upton came back after a great world tour, saw the Germans are premiering. It was because they were bureaucratic because they had great processes, and he missed it completely at the time when he went there in 1870. So, the classes were already being developed and being taught on how to empower people through immersion of problem-solving and allowing them to make mistakes. This was unheard of. So, Americans largely, because of their French connection, and the bureaucracy of Max Weber and other people, they feel that processes are the way, and then you get these processes and make them efficient. Then you create effectiveness.

Moltke’s vision was, “War is constantly changing. War is chaos.” Clausewitz, who worked with Helmuth von Moltke, Claus, who was the administrator at the war Academy, where Moltke attended. There’s no evidence they knew each other, but there was an influence. Clausewitz on war on the creed wrote an incredible book that is cited throughout the world. Every military profession that wants to prove he’s a professional, at one time, quotes Clausewitz. It’s unfortunate because they don’t want to know what he really meant.

Clausewitz’ focus was on the human factor of war and Moltke took this and developed a learning system and a command-and-control system. So, all three of the conflicts that Moltke oversaw ’64, ’66 and 1870, had terms where it had conditions where the initial orders he gave changed as the conditions changed, and people changed the orders on the spot without waiting for permission, and ultimately they won battles. So, in World War 1, the Germans found out what they had done. They had regressed back to a very strict doctrine, the Von Schlieffen plan, who was the Chief of Staff until 1912. But the Schlieffen plan read like the perfect engineering plan. Everything was laid out, how far our troops can march in a day, what do they need to eat, and what they need to accomplish, the supplies… but the problem was the timetable. If it was disrupted, it threw off everything.

The other problem with it was that the commanders of the core armies divisions in bullet brigade had all grown up under Moltke. They felt like they could change the orders when the opportunity presented itself, when the conditions changed. So, the Von Schlieffen plan was a disaster because on one hand, it had been a war game in the decade before to be a very systematic process-oriented plan, to be used in France. The doctrine of leadership was still off this tactic. When commanders such as the 1st Army Commander or the 2nd Army Commander in August-September of 1914, decided to change things it just threw everything in an incredible disarray, but that’s how they’ve been brought up. So, you have a conflict.

I was teaching my workshop out of Fort Hood. Colonel Foster is the Garrison commander of Fort Hood, which is an incredible premier command because he has 6,500 people under him. I mean, what a great guy to do this because he cares for soldiers. He’s really smart and he’s been using OBL since he was a major at West Point in 2008. He’s used it at every level he’s commanded or led. But what we want to do with OBL is like Mission Command. We give you the outcome and we decide as a group, some measures of effectiveness. This is not a checklist, but some key things you may want to hit upon, and then we leave it up to you how you teach it.

That’s a radical deviation from the school of education in the United States, which was largely influenced by the industrial period as well as military training and doctrine, which is laid out in complex detailed lesson plans, with PowerPoint packages. Again, the reason that the US Army and Marine Corps went through this was after Vietnam, and General DePuy saw this. They had very inexperienced non-commissioned officers and officers, and they had to write scripts for them. While this became codified over the years to the ’80s and so forth and ’90s, then we go fight an insurgency asymmetric war in Asia, in Afghanistan, in Iraq, and the Middle East, and things are constantly changing and this systematic process is not the right approach.

So, there’s been efforts to change that, but the problem with changing it in the US military is that the military is dominated by the personnel management system, which has remained stuck in the Industrial Age. It’s very centralized, very top-down driven, and it’s a hierarchical bureaucratic system. So, again, there’s that conflict. I had a star rising colonel, who was a colonel promotable at Fort Hood. We were having some drinks at the pub afterwards, after my day of teaching and he said, “Don, can you have conditions where you have a hierarchical Industrial Age organization like the Army and then Mission Command underneath it?”

I said, “You can have that. It does exist in some cases like Chet Foster, how he runs his Garrison. But it constantly runs into conflicts with the hierarchical bureaucratic Industrial Age. Eventually, that higher organization wins.” So, outcomes-based learning is taking the concepts of Mission Command, which is, “I show you what my vision of success is at the end, which supports the two levels above me, and you figure out how to do it within some parameters. I’ll give you some guidelines.” I just don’t say, “The biggest mistake also done with Mission Command”. I’ve lived this, “Well, you’re the subject matter expert, go do Mission Command.” I’ll go, “Well, what are the limits that you’re giving me and what’s the in-state that you want?”

They have to do some work, too. A lot of times it’s like people go to the far extreme, which makes a lot of senior officers and senior leaders nervous and rightfully so.  They go, “Go, do your thing.” Well, you owe them your vision of success with some well-written paragraph and watch their limitations, time being one, and resources. That’s not done at all. So, when you come in the technological field, and NGOs and so forth, this is so applicable to that field. Now, I’ve been very blessed. I’m working with Nemertes research, and they have a new website with all my work on it. They’re led by CEO, Johna Till Johnson who’s a brilliant engineer. Matter of fact, we were just at her wedding. So, she just got married. She’s a brilliant leader and thinker. She’s been figuring out ways to merge technology and organizations.

Her areas are also saga warfare, and how to counter ransomware. Like, I told you, I highly recommend you get her on the interview because she’s fascinating. She represents what America is all about. She speaks three languages as well, and like I said she’s a great athlete, kayak. She has her own blog space. I’ve been fortunate because she found me on LinkedIn last year. When I was unemployed, I was laid off from the Marine Corps for being too academically blunt, she gave me some work on the side because she was interested in my work. Now, I started doing a series of classes for her employees with her involved, and all of her employees except for one guy, the CEO, Jared Murphy, who’s another brilliant engineer, are non-military.

Jared was a West Point infantry ranger, so he understood, he had known my work already, but the fascinating thing, the rest of the people she had involved were all, non-military backgrounds. They demanded more of this methodology, and we did it virtually, online. What it is basically, I give you a problem that makes you very uncomfortable. It takes you out of your comfort zone. Like, I’m setting up a workshop with the Washington DC police. The first thing that he had to look at in his lesson plans, the chain of command. The police academy Captain, Sean Coleman, who’s a great guy, he’s been following me for years, he said, “Can you set up some police problems? Police tactical decision games?”

They are called Tactical Decision Games or at West Point, they’re called Tactical Decision Exercises because the academic review board said the word games is too fun. So, they made changes. I’m serious. That’s a true story. Chet loves telling that story. He sent it to me and he said, ” You can’t call them TDGs anymore.” This was in the fall of 2008. He says, “The academic committee says that sounds like it is fun.” So, we changed it to Tactical Decision Exercise. Anyway, I told Sean, and the tech people, we’ve done it already. The reason I start off with military tactical exercises is, and even the so-called military people, are not good at them the way we do them, I’m teaching you the methodology of OBL.

The methodology, and how to use John Boyd’s OODA loop or Observe, Orient, Decide, Act cycle because in my review, the use of the OODA loop since John Boyd released it in the late 90s, or actually in the late 70s, is the fact that everyone sees the void cycling of graphs and everything on PowerPoint, but no one has figured out how to teach it, how to teach to use it. So, I’ve been working hard and with some help from Dr. Chet Richards, who’s one of the acolytes of John. Another interesting interview, a mathematician, PhD in math, retired Air Force colonel and a great friend and mentor himself, and Chet, Colonel Foster and I, the three of us figured out a way taking the OBL methodology to teach people how to use the OODA.

So, you go through a virtual session or a live session, Nemertes offers both. In the virtual session, you get a tactical problem right from the get-go. You’re in the spot of that leader, say a squad ambush, and then you get told there’s an enemy coming from one direction and there’s a second leg, there’s more enemy coming from the direction you didn’t expect. I go, “Okay, you’ve got one minute, what are you going to do? Write it down.” Then they write it down, and then they have to read it to the rest of the audience, their peers, what they decided to do, verbatim how they wrote it down. There’s a learning process to this how the mind works and we’ll get into that.

One of my other mentors, and people I admire is Dr. Robert Bjork, who is the head of psychology at UCLA in Los Angeles. He’s the leading learner of the world, and unfortunately right now, there’s a lot of places that are not abiding by his learning process, and it’s the same resistance in the military to OBL. You just don’t implement OBL. Just like, we talked about the conflict between Mission Command and top-down organizations, you have to change those supporting systems around it. For example, when General Bill Mullen was commander of USMC training education command. A brilliant mind led the way, brought me on board for 2 years. It was one of the best periods of my life.

Just in 2018 to 2020, General Mullen and I taught, served. Here’s where the big resistance from the bureaucracy is going to be, from the government systems Mafia. I Call it the GEs Mafia, government employees. You have to change all the supporting systems to make this work. How do you inspect it? You can’t use the industrial checklist to make sure that the people are learning about how to change that. You’ve got to change all these committees of lesson plan writers, of curriculum writers. You big committees that write this stuff because we’re empowering teachers to do more in the classroom and their preparation is going to take long.

You want to be more selective in the type of teachers too. You’re going to start calling them instructors, which is an Industrial Age word, derived from Frederick Taylorism in the late 1800. Frederick Taylorism was the great business mind of the late and early 1900s, but Taylorism created processes that at that time worked. It measured efficiency and effectiveness, but they’re very inhuman, and it’s all about the human and people. So, anyway, we do this system and the first time I did it with Johnna’s group, and we’re all good, real close now, they loved it. They said, “Wow! We learned so much.” They wanted more of it. We also did a Rand IT group, R-A-N-D, Rand IT and they loved it.

So, even though I’m very confident in my methodology, I’ll go anywhere, I have had four different sources in the last year that were non-military or non-tactical, non-combat. Love it. One of Chet’s quotes you might have seen on the web page was, “This methodology is applicable in any organization.” The reason was, we did his Garrison command, and his Garrison command was all senior civilian leaders. Now, some of them were of military background and support field. There’s nothing wrong with it. For me, to succeed, it has to have all the different parts working together in harmony.

But his point was, these were senior retired colonels or sergeant majors or chief warrant officers that were now civilian employees that said it was the best leadership session they had for the 2 days when we did in late October because I taught, I immersed them. I make them learn through doing, so they’re not sitting there getting a lecture. I use no PowerPoint except for maps and pictures, but there’s no lecture from the very start. From the time we start, say we start at 08, one second past 8, they start getting immersion problems, and they start getting involved. If it’s about, the focus is on the student. The focus is on peer-to-peer learning.

One of the things every class says, regardless virtual or live is, “We did not know so-and-so taught that way.” Because as we go through the methodology – and I think I sent you an AAR from Fort Hood that talked about that – as we go through the methodology, they go through the facts and assumptions of the problem, As we do the facts, they’ve got a one vote, one person. Vote for what they thought was the most important fact, which is the orientation of the OODA loop part, okay? You may get to spread 7-8 different number ones. Then we go back and they have to explain why the factor of the humanitarian effort, and one of the scenarios I do, was the most important factor. They have to explain that.

We always have, every time, people that go, “I learned something new because I didn’t know so and so thought that way.” It was the same with the tech firms too, so-and-so, had what they thought was the most important fact. Then we go down and another person explains why they thought this fact was their orientation. Then we go over and do a category of assumptions. First, I have to define assumptions because I get 15 different answers for a question. They understand what assumptions are used for, to bridge the gap. As you get more experience, you can use more assumptions to fill your lack of knowledge to solve the problem. While using it, I train them and develop them on how to use assumptions.

They do the same thing. They list all the possible assumptions that they might use in making their decisions. Then they have to do the same thing. They have to vote what was the number one orientation. Same thing, again, Tom might have something different than Anne, and they do, and they have to explain why. At the very end, when we do an after-action review called AAR, they have to come back and go, “What did they get out of this, if they got anything?” I’m very blunt with them. I’m a big guy. I was a powerlifter and rugby player, and I was in the Army and the Marine Corps. I want to do this better.

I’ll tell them the very first minute before we start, I say, “My goal is for you to walk out of here and be a better decision-maker and planner and have a new way of looking at that. That’s my goal. If I failed at that, it’s not your fault. It’s my fault. The other thing I don’t have them do is read a biography on me. It’s not about me. It’s about that, okay? How we always start a meeting out, and, “So, and so did this and this.” They won’t research me. Some of them do before they get there. They know; they’re told who’s coming in as a guest teacher. I like to call myself a guest facilitator. That’s fine, but it’s not about me. It’s about them. All the time I get emails later on after the workshops, both virtual and live that, “Thank you. We learned a lot.” Fort Hood, after I did my exercises over the winter, have used some of the methodology to develop problem-solving in each of the different fields.

So, that’s why Chet is going to have me back, to do this again, this coming year. So, in a nutshell, that’s outcome-based learning, and some background history. Like I said, Dr. Bjork has his own website, the Learning Lab at UCLA. It’s fascinating. I love it. Dr. Bjork is an incredible lecturer on this stuff. I first heard him in the summer of August of 2006, when I was out of the army and working for Army Capabilities Integration Center under Mr. Rickey Smith who was a great leader as well. Gave me free reign. Treated me with Mission Command, and so did General Bill Mullen and a good friend of mine, Colonel Dan Whitman, who is, unfortunately, well he’s moving on, but he’s been commanding the Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center out at Bridgeport, Pickle Meadows, California, and he left command last June.

He’s implemented all this out there. He’s a close friend. He was one of my bosses too. So, when he and General Mullins left at the same time in July of 2020, my top cover was gone, and they got rid of me. It was for the opposite reason. My good friend, one of the colonels there said, “Don, it was the opposite. You did too much.” So, that’s my story in a nutshell about OBL and the implication of Mission Command. I’ve really gone in summary. Mission Command is an incredible and powerful command coach. It embodies the best of your people, but you have to do the work to develop them. You have to do the work. You have to invest in your people first, to enhance the technology.

So, what was great about the Ukraine, oh, I agree, there’s nothing great about war. I’ve been under fire, it’s horrible, but what’s significant about the Ukraine war and our own US Army chief of staff, and chairman of the joint chiefs of staff have been on the news saying, “Oh yeah, they’re using Mission Command.” They’re using Mission Command because we have found out that they’re using a lot of the OBL methodology. My books have been spread around over there. Like I said, I’ve got four different independent sources from one another confirming this.

What that points out to me, the lesson learned from guys like you, and who you represent.  Johna is very fascinating. My boss, is taking advanced technology to show them how to fire and take weapons and anti-air weapons, but they’re empowering them to decide when to use them, and how to use them. Unlike the Russians, the reason the Russians are losing many generals over there is because they have to go forward and make decisions that captains would normally make because they are very top down. That’s their culture. That’s been their culture. Culture has a big impact on the use or non-use of Mission Command. Okay? It’s the same with what we talked about earlier, non-government agencies, particularly tech firms. They have a lot of innovators, but had to really harvest and harness that power, with innovation as the key.

You have to develop not a methodology to control, but the methodology to make people more self-disciplined. It’s the same with Mission Command. It’s all about self-discipline, not mass discipline, and as you and I know, there’s a difference. Self-discipline is the ability to know if I’ve done enough or I need to go further and learn more. Whereas mass discipline is the bureaucratic tendency to control everything to prevent mistakes. I want to encourage learning through mistakes and that’s what we show people in the workshops. So, with that, I’ll open it up to your questions and comments. I hope I answered your question a long-winded way.

Sylvain: Well, I think you’ve answered my question, yes. I certainly have other questions, but you’ve answered all the important ones already. What is outcomes-based learning. How is it adaptive. How it’s used also in the corporate world. Like you mentioned, it’s run by IT, and some of your other clients are with Nemertes. Of course, a bunch of background information about where it comes from, how it’s used, and its importance. In particular, also, the examples of how it’s being used in the Ukrainian conflict as well. I guess I have a small question to follow up. Since it’s an adaptive methodology, you’re asking people down the line to make decisions that traditionally, would be made by the upper level, the upper echelons, and how this is effective.

But how does a company, because the company would hire, right? How would a company make sure that they have the right people that are capable of learning this methodology at the lower rank because you’re asking the lower levels, the junior managers, essentially in the company or what not, to take tactical decisions. So, is there a type or is there a way a methodology to actually choosing the people that have the inner discipline to actually implement a flexible mythology like this?

Donald: That’s a great question, and I’m glad you asked that, seriously, because of my argument with the personnel system. Johna and I had a great discussion a couple weeks ago about how she had known this one person who was a brilliant engineer. He was smart, and was really a good technician, but this one company promoted him to manager so he can make more money. He was horrible as a manager and a lead. Now, here is the difference. Leadership is dealing with the unknown and managers take current systems and implement and enforce them. So, we’ve got to understand, words mean a lot. So, you want to have a company; you want to have an organization.

This is where the US military, most militaries in the world screw it up. You have some brilliant people that like where they’re at, and they’re good. You can encourage them to innovate, but that’s within their lane or their stovepipe. But you have people that are willing to take risks and understand, and do the necessary homework, and work to take those risks. Not a gamble, but a risk – there’s a difference – and are willing to evolve the company. I tell my audiences, it’s like biology, the organizations that survive today are the ones that evolved over time.

Now, that’s a long-term issue with biology, but the point is, the organizations that do not evolve, die. Okay? Organizations with humans are much the same way, but the scope of time is a lot smaller, of course. So, you have to have an HR System, a personnel manpower system. In the Marine Corps, it’s called the manpower system, in the Army, it’s called the US human resources command. We call it the personnel system, but that’s the foundation of the culture. The reason that’s a foundation of culture is people see what makes other people successful, making more power, more responsibility. Like, you and I talked about before this started, there’s a lot of great people in the military.

I’ve worked with the Canadian Forces. I love a lot of the friends I’ve made there. I still stay in contact with them after working in Afghanistan with them. But we have a system where you may have an incredible tank officer or tank and seal. They want to stay at a certain rank, but in order to stay in, they have to get promoted. Now, with promotion comes more responsibility, and more money, of course, but that’s the only way the system works. What you need to have is the ability to identify and I write this in one of my other books, Path to Victory, America’s Army in the Revolution in Human Affairs, second edition 2013. You want to have the point where you had that technician who’s incredible. He wants to stay there, and he can get pay raises through bonuses in his experience. As long as you have a way to measure that he’s being productive.

Then you have the manager. Okay, my manager is the person that the leaders already put some systems in place, and they’re going to evolve. This manager is a person who’s going to supply logistics: a mess officer, a food service officer. Those are good examples, okay? Sergeant Major Daniels, one of the sergeant majors that work with the Special Forces Qualification course, the ground phase, the tactical phase, drops in for coffee one morning because I always got there when they did, when I was working with the instructors at the Q course in 2011- 2012. They wanted to implement OBL, OBT&E at that time, and Daniels has a great point, He says, “I agree with the stuff, Don. This is what we’re all about, but where is it not applicable?” Well, there’s a place for the managers and systems.

So, when I go out to do an ambush for example, the way I set up the Claymore mine cannot be adaptive. It’s got to be followed by a step. The way I lay out the tricorder, the aiming point on the machine gun, has to be done in certain steps. Okay? But the way that the ambush may be laid and executed is up to the leader on the ground. What they were basically doing when I got there was, they were teaching people by the book how to do these ambushes, and not giving them any freedom. You want to see them mess up and how they do recover from that. That’s what’s important.

It is something that the Marine Corps is struggling with right now. They want to learn from mistakes, but you have a culture of zero defects where mistakes are not tolerated. Well, a mistake where you get someone killed should be understood, if it was in the act of doing the right thing, but not tolerated. But when you’re in training, and you tried something new, and it didn’t work out, you need to learn it and learn from it. We’re not very good at that. Society as a whole in the US, I can’t speak for the Canadian Society, but for the US society, we become that way, as well.

Sylvain: We’re very mistake averse in general, or mistakes are frowned upon even in training. It’s like you don’t make any mistakes, but that’s how we learn from the school system, right? Mistakes, bad grades, maybe these are all negatives, and they’re discouraged, which impedes learning. I’ve been an educator like yourself for over 20 years in different systems. I have complained about it. Being an entrepreneur in the entrepreneurial world mistakes are actually applauded because that’s when you learn the most. Then you avoid those mistakes on the next try, right? So, it’s a very different attitude.

Thanks so much, Don, for your expertise, and your explanations about all this. This is very enlightening, especially for me. A lot of your explanations are from a military perspective, which is, at least, for me, a rare treat. But there’s a lot of magic, a lot of knowledge, a lot of experience that comes from the military and from history. My interest I guess is, “Well, how does that apply? How can we use that in business and other arenas? Because things are advanced and evolved in those arenas, too. Thank you so much for participating in this. We could do this again because I feel like there’s so much more we could explore on this topic.

Donald: Thank you for having me on, and if your audience is interested, they can go to the www.nemertes.com website and look for adaptability. We’ve changed it from agile to adaptability leadership, training and fill out the comment. We’re already getting hit by a lot of people that want to do this. We do both live and virtual. So, like I said, we’ve never had a negative report on it. With that, thank you. I hope we do this again. I’ve really enjoyed it.

Sylvain: Very good and those links from Nemertes are going to be found in the description of the video and inside the blogs. So, you guys, can go and take a look at that, and contact the company and get educated on outcome-based learning. Thanks a bunch.

About Donald Vandergriff – www.nemertes.com

Major Donald Vandergriff (U.S. Army retired) is an award-winning teacher, writer, and lecturer who specializes in military leadership education and training. He served 24 years as a Marine, Tennessee Army National Guard enlisted, and U.S. Army Armor officer. After retiring from the U.S. Army, he worked for their Army Capabilities Integration Center (ARCIC) Forward with a focus on leader and soldier development. He has also been a consultant and guest speaker at NATO, the U.S. Military Academy, and several law enforcement agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) and the Baltimore Police Department.

Vandergriff is the author or editor of seven books and over 100 articles dealing with leadership. His book, Adopting Mission Command: Developing Leaders for a Superior Command Culture has been widely praised by a range of experts in military leadership. One of Vandergriff’s areas of specialization is the Prussian army, which has historically produced a superior command culture, and the book includes a call to arms to convert military organizations to a Prussian-style Auftragstaktik culture. Vandergriff has twice been recognized as Teacher of the Year for the Army ROTC at the National and Regional levels. Thanks to his methodology and direction, the Army ROTC program at Georgetown University grew in rank from 241 to become the top ranked program in the nation in only three years. In 2015, Vandergriff designed, wrote, and executed the Program of Instruction (POI) for the Adaptive Soldier and Leader Training and Education (ASLTE) programs at Fort Benning, Georgia and Fort Campbell, Kentucky.

Vandergriff has acted as a consultant to the Chief of Staff of the Army’s Strategic Initiative Group (SIG) as well as to the Commander of the Army’s Maneuver Center of Excellence, the Commander of the U.S. Army Cadet Command, and the U.S. Military Academy. His methodology, Outcomes Based Learning (OBL), was placed in the 2020 USMC Strategy and Campaign Plans and employed by the U.S. Marine Corps. Vandergriff’s work on mission command (Agile Leadership Training) is currently being used by the Ukrainian Army in its decentralized efforts against the Russian Army.

Vandergriff is a change agent who throughout his career has never been satisfied with the status quo. His methodology is partly the basis for current U.S. Army personnel management reforms as they relate to developing better leaders. Former Secretary of the Army Thomas White told a reporters’ round table that Vandergriff’s book Path to Victory should serve as the blueprint for the future Army. Vandergriff’s work is currently impacting the U.S. Army talent management reforms.


Military Order of Saint Maurice Award for impacting U.S. Army infantry learnings over the last 20 years, Association of the U.S. Infantry, 2021; Honorary PhD from The Royal Society for Arts, Manufactures, and Commerce, London, U.K., 2013; Brigade Instructor of the Year Award, 2004; Colonel Leo A. Codd ROTC Instructor of the Year Award, 2003; Military Order of Saint George Award, Armor/Cavalry Association, 1995; Master’s in Land Warfare with an emphasis in German Military History – American Military University; Bachelor’s in Education – University of Tennessee.

About CykoMetrix – www.CykoMetrix.com

CykoMetrix is a leading edge combinatorial psychometric and human data analytics company that brings the employee assessment industry to the cloud, with instant assessments, in-depth analysis, trait measurements, and team-based reporting features that simplify informed decision-making around recruiting, training, and managing today’s modern workplace.

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