4 Elements of Commander's Intent

Effectively execute your strategies across the whole organization while allowing your team the flexibility to adapt for the specific conditions they are facing.

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Strategies, plans, and critical processes typically get diffused as they filter through the organization, which impacts the speed and quality of execution.

Leaders like retired General Mattis have turned speed into a culture and competitive advantage through the effective use of commander's intent and a foundation of trust that unlocks the creativity and aggressiveness of the whole team


Leadership Tools: 4 Elements of Commander's Intent.


These are tools that can be applied in any organization and are especially critical in rapidly changing environments like what we are experiencing with COVID-19 and the post-COVID recession that will impact all industries, including construction.  

Shane Parrish provides a great description of commander's intent and how it can be used to rapidly replicate strategies throughout an organization in the book: The Great Mental Models, Volume 2: Physics, Chemistry, and Biology 

We've described the basics below, but reading the book, specifically the chapter on biology/replication will provide more context.  


As higher level purpose, principles, strategies, and plans are filtered through the organization, it is critical that they are adapted to effectively achieve the intent without violating boundaries, values, or regulations. All leaders are focused on different parts of the pyramid at different points in their careers and the roles they are filling. At all levels, a leader’s ability to successfully balance the execution of higher-level strategies with the adaptation required (based on the leader’s conditions) determines the organizational effectiveness. There is no such thing as the "Perfect Balance," but there is definitely a sweet spot that consistently delivers optimum results.   

Commander's Intent has four basic elements. The first two are the responsibility of the senior leader and the second two are the responsibility of the subordinate leader.  

  1. Formulate
  2. Communicate
  3. Interpret
  4. Implement



Senior leadership must take into account four basics when formulating, communicating, and ensuring execution.  

  1. Explain the rational. Not just the "what" and "why," but "how" it was developed. This is how other leaders grow and learn to adapt to the intent.  
  2. Establish clear operational limits. What should NEVER happen? Consider that the 8th of the 10 Commandments is "what not to do."  
  3. Develop good feedback loops to ensure progress and that the right adaptations are being made. These feedback loops are great for coaching in the development of other leaders. Feedback works in both directions and should never be taken as criticism. Feedback should always tie to the overall scoreboard.  
  4. Recognize individual differences. Each leader and team member has different strengths and weaknesses. Don't treat everyone the same. Treat them the way they need to be treated to achieve the required outcomes and develop them.  



Subordinate leaders must work to rigorously interpret to deeply understand intent. 

  1. Build your own models to develop situational awareness, including identifying gaps in your knowledge
  2. Ask good questions to fill in the details in your own models and plans, ultimately building a clear 5-dimensional model
  3. Write your plans down to sharpen your thinking.  
  4. Brief your leader on the plan to ensure that you correctly understand their intent and have them certify that you are on the right track before you start execution.  
  5. Use the 5D Facilitation process upstream and downstream to align, decide, and deliver effectively.
  6. Be relentless on how you follow-up with your team's execution, including attention to detail.  

Repeat the process downstream working with your team.  




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