Common Mission Planning Mistakes by Military Leaders

When it comes to mission planning, many military leaders make mistakes that could, and should be avoided.  In the paragraphs below, I would like to share some of the most common mistakes that military leaders make when planning missions.  I’ll also provide some tips on what to do about it, so you can avoid making these mistakes yourself.

1) Not Getting Input from Subordinate Officers & the NCO Channels

Without a doubt, I believe that the biggest mistake military leaders make when doing mission planning is not getting input from their subordinate officers, NCOs and Soldiers.  The officer might have a great idea (they think so anyway), but if they don’t get any input from the people who actually have to perform the mission, they are really missing the boat.

The NCOs and subordinates have great knowledge about the capabilities and strengths of the Soldiers.  They might also have some critical information that could negatively affect your plan.  Always run your plan by your subordinate leaders before you finalize it.  And if you can get them involved with your mission planning, even better!

Just remember, a great idea is NOT a great idea if the people you want to do it can’t make it happen!

2) Not Following the 1/3 – 2/3 Rule

Another common mistake that military leaders make when it comes to mission planning is not following the 1/3 – 2/3 rule.  In other words, they take to long to develop their plan and don’t give their subordinates enough time to do their mission analysis and Troop Leading Procedures.  This creates a “chain effect” for all subordinate levels that can have major consequences.  Just remember that an 80% solution done on time is better than a 100% solution that is past due.

When you wait to the last minute to tell your subordinates about the mission, you don’t give them enough time to prepare.  They have to jump through their you know what to make things happen, and the mission usually gets botched.  I’m sure you don’t like getting missions at the last minute, especially when your boss knew about it well ahead of time.  Don’t do the same thing to your subordinates.  Whenever possible, give them as much time as you can to prepare for an upcoming mission.

Even if you don’t have all of the information, at least give a Warning Order to let them know a mission order is coming soon.

3) Not Doing a Site Recon

As simple as this sounds, not doing a site recon can be a huge mistake.  You should do a site recon so you can anticipate the unexpected.  Without a clear “eyes on” the objective, there will be many “unknown factors” that could negatively affect the mission.  This might include a washed out road, enemy positions, unknown obstacles and much more.  If you can’t personally get eyes on the objective, have one of your subordinates do it for you. Yes, a map recon is better than nothing at all.  But an eyes on recon is the best course of action.

4) Micro-Managing

Another common mistake that military leaders make when doing their mission planning is micro-managing.  When they create a plan, they go into way too much detail and tell the person exactly how things need to be done. Personally, I think it’s much better to give them the concept of operations and let them use their own ingenuity to come up with their own plan.  Your subordinate leaders are more than capable and have plenty of good ideas to get the job done.  You just need to have some faith in them!

Final Thoughts

If you are a military leader, take your mission planning seriously.  Make sure that you get input from your subordinate officers and NCOs whenever possible.  Run your idea by them before you finalize it.  Also, follow the 1/3 – 2/3 rule and give your subordinates enough time to do their mission planning.  Do a site recon and get an “eyes on objective” so you can identify any critical information you might not have known about.  Finally, come up with a concept of operations, but don’t micro-manage them and tell them every little detail of the plan.  Let them use their own creativity and ingenuity to make things happen.

On a side note, I would love to hear from you. What mistakes do you think military leaders make when it comes to mission planning?  Just leave a comment to this post to let me know what you think. If you have any questions on this, you can ask them below.

chuck holmes

Chuck Holmes
Former Army Major (resigned)

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7 thoughts on “Common Mission Planning Mistakes by Military Leaders”

  1. I’ve spent 12 years in the military and there is nothing more frustrating than getting these crazy mission orders sent down from higher asking us to do things that are next to impossible. Sure, it might sound like a good idea to them, but for the guys and gays on the ground that have to execute the order, it is a different story. I wish these “planners” and “staff officers” would consult with their subordinate units BEFORE they published these orders.

  2. One more mistake might be not having a backup plan and run both the mission plan and the backup plan through a computer program that lets them be tested in a virtual setting. Also the NCO and the group making the mission plan must think like in a chess game and consider the 2nd and 3rd order effects of the plan?

  3. Neil O'Donnell

    Listening to NCOs and getting their feedback early on could significantly increase the odds of a mission’s success. Specifically, their input could quicken the planning stage, which should leave adequate time for conducting the mission. Regarding Site Recon, failure to check over the mission area before deployment could certainly lead to significant surprises, which would lessen the chances for success. Weather alone could quickly move into a region requiring troops to enter from a different route. Not having advanced notice of resulting environmental obstacles such as flooding would likely force a mission to be scrubbed. Consequently, site recon is essential.

    1. All Officers are assigned an NCO for a reason. Many officers don’t seek adequate input from their NCOs. Or if they do, they don’t always listen. Most NCOs have more experience than their officers, plus they know what their soldiers are capable of doing. By all means, you don’t have to do what they recommend in every situation, but you should at least consider their input and have that be a factor in your decision making process.

  4. You are spot on Michelle.

    It’s always a good idea to get input from the people who work with you. They are normally filled with lots of great information and ideas that can help you become a better leader.


  5. I think it’s really important to get input from the NCOs and officers, especially since they are the ones dealing with the missions head on. As a leader in any case, it’s always important to plan out any of your perspective missions. This is especially the case when you are a higher ranking officer in the military. Remember to consider feedback from all off your fellow comrades, regardless of their rank. You may learn something from a different perspective and think about planning your mission differently in the future!

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