Adaptive Leadership Training in DoD

Developing an Adaptability Training Strategy and Policy for the DoD
Interim Report (1.5 MB PDF)

William R. Burns, Jr.
Waldo D. Freeman

Institute for Defense Analysis, October 2008


Among Army pilot efforts, the Adaptive Leader Methodology (ALM) originated
by Major Don Vandergriff (ret.) while teaching ROTC at Georgetown University
illustrates the critical role played by instructors and mentors in developing adaptability. (31)

A number of training commands have shown an interest in using all or parts of
ALM. However, since the training has not been applied in a universally consistent
manner and there are no metrics associated with it, indications of its value are anecdotal.  We find it encouraging that junior officers who have had the training and have subsequently deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan have credited the training with being their best preparation for their real world and very dangerous assignments, where being adaptable is essential to success. (51)

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One Response to “Adaptive Leadership Training in DoD”

  1. Ed Beakleyon 12 May 2009 at 5:30 pm 1

    IDA’s effort beginning with “Learning to Adapt to Asymmetric Threats,” by John Tilson, et al., August 2005 (and noted on DNI), is entirely focused/tasked on DOD. IDA concluded that asymmetric threats were only one aspect of the current and future operating environments, the chief characteristic of which is unpredictability… and the key skill or attribute that individuals, units, and teams of commanders and leaders need to improve on is adaptability.

    Early in 2006, Chet put me in contact with Mr. Tilson, who then directed me to retired Navy Captain Bill Burns. Bill graciously provided me with several IDA studies and arranged contact with retired Army General Frederic Brown, who is co-author of “America’s Army” which introduces the Team of Leaders (TOL) concept.

    Inteface with these gentlemen and the research papers provided were major references for the intial Project White Horse 084640 effort focused on time critical decision making in hyper complex or worst case disasters.

    Adaptability and development of TOL have been addressed continuosly on PWH, with emphasis on the homeland security aspects as compared with military operations. Of particular note, the most recent INTERSECTION discussion focuses on “training decision makers to the ‘Ace’ level through Combat Training Center type situations. Participants in this dialogue include Col GI Wilson- original 4GW author, Lt John P. Sullivan, LASD, long time writer on 4GW and crime and intelligence, Don Vandergriff and Fred Leland – ALM- developers and practioners, Dr. Dag von Lubitz, long time writer on all things Boyd, and editor for a major publication including Chet’s paper on MOOTW, General Brown, not only developer of TOL, but also one of the founders of the combat training center idea, and General Russ Honore.

    There are many similarities and cross over points between the military and first responders in context of adaptability. This quote from IDA’s newest paper, page 42, is as crucial to 1RPs as military commanders engaged in insurgency and/or 4GW operations:

    ‘… notable paradoxof military training, which is the need, on one hand, to prepare people to carry out some failrly elaborate procedures automatically, with as little thought as possible in contrast to the need, on the other hand, to apply critical thinking and judgement in everything they do.”

    DNI readers are invited to view the discussion on adaptability learning and training on PWH and in particular the 3 Part ongoing discussion “…’Ace’ Level” at