How to Write YOUR Commander's Intent for the Mission of Transition

The sun will set on every military journey. What is YOUR intent on how you approach the next day?

The sun will set on every military journey. What is YOUR intent on how you approach the next day?

What's the most important element of any mission you receive from a higher headquarters? You know this. I'm not asking a trick question. You've analyzed written orders or verbal mission statements throughout your military career. Some were dangerous. Some were routine. For the more complex operations, you pulled together the staff and invoked a deliberate process to develop a plan. As a junior staff officer, you rifled through the written order to find your annex and the coordinating instructions that aligned with your specific staff function. As your experience and level of responsibility grew, you honed your focus to the single most important part of any order - the Commander's Intent.

The Commander's Intent facilitates disciplined initiative and decentralized execution for complex operations under evolving conditions. Stated another way - Intent provides focus when everything else goes to hell. The more dangerous the mission or uncertain the environment, the more important it is to understand and communicate intent. The final set of orders you receive from the military are the ones that separate you from the service. That complex mission is made more difficult because most of the supporting programs are focused on transition part. For you and your family, you have the more ambitious objective of achieving a successful reintegration back into society. So, in the tradition of everything you did while wearing the uniform: What is YOUR Commander's Intent for life beyond the military?

You've probably been so busy networking and updating your resume that you probably haven't even considered that question. Here's a hint: You won't find the Commander's Intent in your separation or retirement orders. That statement is entirely up to you. If you don't identify your intent before you separate from the service, I promise you'll feel it when your actions don't align with that core intent. Let's take a moment to consider the Purpose, Method, and End State - a recognizable template for the Commander's Intent - for your successful civilian reintegration in life beyond the military.

End State: Begin with the End in Mind

For military operations, we typically frame the End State from the perspective of friendly forces, enemy forces, and the environment. The End State describes how the world looks when you win. When you receive separation or retirement orders, remember that your mission isn't just to leave the military. Let's face it, that will happen regardless of how active you are throughout the transition process. Your mission is about how you set the conditions for the second half of your life. Your End State is the ideal state of being, or stated more plainly, who you want to be when you grow up.

Your End State defines your state of being for happiness and fulfillment after military service.

In order to define your End State, apply the same visualization you did as a leader in the military. Put yourself at the end point. Imagine that you are reflecting back on everything you achieved both professionally and personally. What five words would you want to describe your ideal state of being? What would you want the people who matter the most in your life to say about you and your impact? What would you want someone who you never met take away from your example as a leader?

Method: The Key Tasks to Achieve what you WANT

Key tasks are tied to the center of gravity for the operation. In order to achieve the End State, you must accomplish the Key Tasks. They describe the important aspects of "the HOW" for the mission, and the same follows for the method of HOW you transition from the military. We typically frame transition from the perspective of what we DO, but the more difficult question to answer is how we want to BE.

Set a higher standard for Key Tasks based on what you WANT instead of settling for things you NEED.

An integrative framework to identify your Key Tasks in life beyond the military examines more than simply finding a new place of employment. Here are six factors with thoughtful questions to consider for a more integrative process of transition:

  • Optimizing Whole Health - Lifelong resilience across the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual domains is a state of being. Describe your desired state of wellness across each of these four domains.

  • Socialization - How will you connect with people outside the insulated culture of military service?

  • Cultural Assimilation - How will you address the personal and professional blindspots that come from decades of conditioning to military norms of behavior?

  • Professional Preparedness - How do you position yourself for the level of achievement and stature you want when you retire . . . again?

  • Economic Stability - How do you grow your wealth through the transition process and beyond to achieve your desired quality of life?

  • Family Adjustment - How will your family relationships grow stronger through transition and civilian reintegration?

Remember that your Commander's Intent is aspirational. Consequently, your Key Tasks are from the perspective of what you WANT instead of what you NEED. You've worked too hard and sacrificed too much to settle for a fear-based standard of pass/fail. Your Method isn't about finding a new job, it is about discovering your ideal life.

Purpose: Discover the WHY

The Purpose answers the question WHY. The rule of thumb was that if you couldn't sum up the reason for the mission in a few words, then you simply don't know or understand the reason why you were doing what you were doing in the first place. The same applies to your unique Purpose which provides the meaning for your End State and shapes those activities you feel are most important in your Method.

Purpose statements are authentic and action-oriented.

A few years ago, Harvard Business Review published a useful article that includes some techniques on how to craft a purpose statement. Your Purpose, the WHY, is emotive, all-encompassing, and yet simple at the same time. In its truest form, it is the primary action that defines your state of being and the impact of that action on others. It is authentic and informed by your values. Regardless of how your Purpose sounds to anyone else, you'll know you nailed it when it will feel right to you. Your Purpose provides the intrinsic drive to help accelerate toward your End State.

Familiar Process. Different Approach.

Most stakeholders in the transition space are concerned about some aspect of job placement. Employment is an important part of the transition process for a number of reasons, but in the context of this analogy I would argue that a particular job is nothing more than a course of action. The attributes of that job - type of position, location, and salary - are potential evaluation criteria for said course of action. Regardless of how attractive any course of action sounds in the plans office, operations that aren't grounded in a clear statement of intent fall apart once the first elements cross the line of departure. That's why you anchor the process in the Commander's Intent. Why would you presume to achieve a different outcome for a mission as difficult and complex as the one you embark upon when you leave the military?

Unlike your experience as a leader in the military, nobody is going to ask you to explain the Purpose, Method, and End State for the mission of civilian reintegration. Don't make the mistake of becoming distracted by the colleague who makes promises about getting you hired in their company or the recruiter who talks about the perfect opportunity based on your resume. Remember the most important part of any mission. Focus on YOUR Commander's Intent. If you find yourself wallowing in a particular job ask yourself how that particular course of action aligns to your intent. If you don't know YOUR Commander's Intent, then perhaps it is time you created one.

It may take you some time to formulate this statement of intent because it is informed by the first half of your life and covers the second half of your life. Forgive the pun, but that is a 'tall order.' For the mission of separation, you won't have any subordinates. You don't have a staff to perform mission analysis. You won't produce a binder-sized order. There is no crowded room where the staff and subordinate commanders are held hostage in an endless briefing. The novelty, uncertainty, and complexity of this mission only underscores the significance of your statement of intent. Given the stakes, this is perhaps the most important Commander's Intent you will ever write. So, what is YOUR Commander's Intent for life beyond the military?