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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Right Tool

This is Steven Petrick Posting.

One of the common phrases is "the right tool for the right job". Few realize that this also applies to people. Consider Robert E. Lee at Chancellorsville, was there any other General to whom he would entrust half the troops he had to making that flanking movement?

Most gamers are well used to the idea that a counter is a counter is a counter. If the game has "leaders", these are usually going to be "known quantities". (Any one who has played Squad Leader knows that Oberst Greup is a 10-3 for example.) What many fail to grasp is that there is more of selection process to this than a game reflects.

To hark back to stories about Napoleonic Miniatures to illustrate the point. When I first joined the group I was given various "commands" and the older and more experienced players would watch (peripherally, of course, since they were running their own forces) what happened. Gradually they came to realize that my ability to use cavalry was not very good, and light cavalry was disastrous. There was an aspect to its use that eluded me. But it was also noticed that I could handle infantry very well, and literally could be inherently treated as a "force multiplier" in and of myself. The result was a succession of battles where my commands were more or less "bare bones", i.e., I was given the absolute minimum that the "commander" felt might be able to accomplish the assigned task so that he could mass force elsewhere.

Even better, I was too young at the time to really know this was going on, so I tended to simply accept what troops were assigned me, and then perform the mission. I never, ever, went to "the commander" and begged for more troops, or guns, or horse, even when I felt going in that what had been alloted me was insufficient. The pay off was that any position I held, no matter how badly strained in the process, would still be held at the end of the battle.

I was "the right tool" for the task. The economy of force mission protecting the flank that allowed the commander to concentrate more offensive power at the point where he wanted to attack. I did not earn that "specialty" on the first day, it was a thing recognized over a series of battles.

This applies very much in the real world. If you are a company commander, you do not simply send the first platoon to do a given task because "it is their turn" or "they are closer". You will first be making an evaluation. However much you want every task to be done by the platoon leader you think is the best one, sometimes you have to send the next best, or even the worst of them, to do a given task because you need to keep your best leader ready for the unexpected, and sometimes you will have a series of critical assignments and you will literally burn your best platoon up because doing so will save more down the road.

So, as a commander, you have to know your subordinates, how competent they are, which ones need more supervision (command emphasis), which ones need to be prodded, and which ones simply need to be given the mission. And you can be certain that your commander is doing the same thing with you, rating you and your company's performance against the other companies in his battalion as he decides which mission to assign.