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On Training

On Training, disarm armed attacker, war is my business, training, FM 21-150

Figure 5-24

FM 21-150: Combatives

Department of the Army, 30 September 1992

In the entirety of “Section 1 - The Science,” we discussed the nature of the universe, its laws and how they set the fundamental conditions of how literally everything functions. We discussed the complex applications that these laws produce, and how life came to exist as a consequence. We discussed humanity's existence, how we perceive the environment around us, and how the limitations of our brains in-turn limit the extent of this perception and impact how its shapes our actions. Finally, we tied it all together, in how the study of military theories, principles, and tenets can be applied to the business sector as a direct result of the nature of our brain functions shaping our perceptions and our actions.


In “Chapter 2.0 - On Violence,” we discussed what drives us to use violence. That violence is merely a tool. That the causes of violence (predation, domination, revenge, sadism, and ideology) have evolutionary roots that make violence an intractable characteristic of homo sapiens; regardless of our recent development as a domesticated species.


In “Chapter 2.1 - Psychology and Physiology of Combat,” we discussed how our bodies drive us to use violence. When confronted by violence, or choosing to initiate it, we learned how a person reacts to the situation. How their body prepares to do what is necessary to survive the engagement, and how the stress of combat causes illogical and perplexing responses.


Why should we take into account the nature and impact that violence has had on our species in the previous two chapters? How can we leverage that understanding to be better in our endeavors, be it in combat or business, through training? And how can leaders use this understanding to shape the actions of those that follow them? I will answer these before the end of this chapter.

Why Study the Nature of Violence?

Before jumping into how we can use training and leadership to shape human behavior in stressful situations, we should recap what we have talked about so far. Not only does it help us to get on the same page for a common understanding, but it also helps those that are just now jumping into the conversation.


The timeline of our development as a species is contentious, but for the purpose of our discussion our common ancestor, Homo Erectus, developed human-like ways of thinking 1.8 million years ago. Not just using tools, but altering them in such a way that displays creativity in thought and in the ability to alter the environment to better suit their needs. Our ancestors were already using tools like sticks and stones, but 1.8 million years ago they figured out that they could alter those existing sticks and stones to have sharpened edges and points for cutting and stabbing. They no longer had to find a naturally occurring sharpened stone or stick. This creativity provided advantages and those advantages were further developed over hundreds of thousands of years.


200,000 to 300,000 years ago, Homo Sapiens became our own thing - alongside our Neanderthal and Denisovan cousins - we developed larger frontal cortices for more complex social activities. About 11,000 years ago, we developed such complex social connections that we could construct large earthen-work structures - showing the capacity for long-term group projects. About 5,500 years ago, humans began learning to write, so information could be passed onto future generations without the need for other humans to provide lessons through oration. Agriculture, commerce and trade, domestication of animals, and discoveries of the natural world propelled our species into great societal development. Clans, tribes, chiefdoms, cities, kingdoms, states, nations, empires, and international orders are all a relatively new social construct of humanity. 11,000 years of mostly violent and brutal domestication, preceded by more than 1.8 million years of our own ancestors manipulating tools to survive in an unforgiving environment all the while combating environmental hazards, wildlife, and each other for scarce resources. Just because we now wear suits, live in air-conditioned homes, can have instantaneous communication with people all around the globe, and engage in space travel doesn’t mean that we have erased the genetic shaping of 90,000 generations of our direct ancestors. Ancestors who did what they had to do to survive, ultimately culminating in your existence today. You, as am I, are a product of our ancestors engaging in many endeavors we would now consider savage and horrid, but were necessary for their continued existence. Present humans are not a fresh slate of lessons learned about peace, cooperation, and scientific curiosity, but what we are now is only the result of recent advantageous adaptations built upon a framework of survival.


Why should you study violence, and why can studying it help you in business or in any endeavor for that matter?


Because your existence is predicated on your genome having survived brutal environments, and violence plays a major part in that survival. By understanding the nature of violence, and how its related stressors impact your psychology and physiology, you can take control of this predisposition. You can employ it effectively when it grants you an advantage, and you can intervene when it poses a threat to your ultimate goals. Additionally, you as a leader, coach, and mentor can harness this predisposition in your people to help them achieve their goals and meet organizational objectives. One of the best adaptations that evolution has provided us is a brain able to critically assess itself. So we take a deep dive into our own violent nature that is ever-present, even if only suppressed for our own good. But how can we critically analyze this predisposition and employ it? Well, that is through training ourselves as individuals and leading others through training.

What Is Training?

I think everyone has at least a contextual understanding of what training is, but some may be best familiar with its Pavlovian sibling, conditioning. To carry on with this chapter, I will lay out the definitions of these two terms, or at least the definition I intend to imply when I use them – as most words in a language can have multiple definitions. The following definitions come from the New Oxford dictionary.


Training -

  • To teach a person a skill or type of behavior through practice in instruction over a period of time.
  • To be taught to practice instruction.
  • To cause to be sharp, discerning, or developed as a result of instruction or practice.

Conditioning -

  • To train or accustom someone to behave in a certain way or to accept certain circumstances.

To restate these definitions and to ensure we are on the same page: training is the act of teaching or improving the skills and capabilities of yourself or others through repetitious and practical exercises, while conditioning is the compulsive and sometimes automatic behavior that can result from stringent training.


Training is a new cook learning the recipe by following the instructions, measuring out the ingredients to specifications, and tasting the dish continuously to ensure everything is right. Conditioning is the head chef whipping up the dish from memory without having to follow instructions, being able to throw ingredients into the pot without having to do measurements, and being able to determine that the recipe is consistent with other senses like smell and the feel of the mixture underneath their spoon or spatula.


Training is a new driver reading the driver’s manual to understand local traffic laws, looking in every direction for oncoming traffic and distracted drivers, and ensuring that every single sign and light is followed on their trip to their destination. Conditioning is a person that has discovered that they have been driving for the last 30 minutes on auto-pilot and have made it home or to work alive and they don’t remember any of it.


Training is a machine gun crew understanding that they are one of the most lethal weapon systems on the battlefield, that the weapon needs to constantly be manned to provide cover for friendlies, and that to ensure it is constantly manned how to change out gunners as quickly as possible. Conditioning is a skilled gunner, after having been shot in the head and will die immediately, still taps their buddy on the shoulder and then throws their own body to the side, away from the gun, so that their buddy can then immediately jump on it to man the weapon and get it back into the fight. More on this specific story later in the topic on the “final act of a dying man.”


If you look back on our discussions in “1.4 The Human Domain,” we used a similar chef and driver analogy when discussing how the human brain makes the best use of its limited capacity. That the unskilled brain employs many more neurons, many more activations within the brain, to do the same task as the skilled brain. The skilled brain, through successful repetition of a task, has determined which neuronal pathways are needed to successfully accomplish a task that is deemed necessary. Each repetition strengthens the correct pathways while the others are allowed to weaken. This is training, at least when it comes to the brain.


As a tangent, physical training adds an additional element - building muscle strength, cardiovascular health, flexibility, and improving one’s metabolism. Straining muscle fibers, breaking them down, and rebuilding them- increases muscle density and strength. Through aerobic exercise, the body improves oxygen delivery throughout the body by increasing the red blood cell count and volume in vascular capacity to increase flow. Through stretching, we work out muscles and ligaments through their full range of motion and extremes. Through constant energy-intensive activities, the brain assesses that our lifestyle requires a much more extensive expenditure of energy and increases metabolic processes to help keep up with the demand. That being said, most of the training is geared towards improving neuronal pathways.

From constant training, we can learn how to move and position our bodies. Martial arts and combatives train the mind on how to react to certain stimuli, what moves to perform to get out of a grapple, and how to best deliver a powerful strike while not exposing yourself. It becomes almost instinctual in how you take down an adversary, draw your weapon, aim your rifle, and wield it all in a safe manner.

In business, we see efficiency in movement and position from all levels by those who have mastered their duties after thousands of hours of repetition. Seasoned assembly line workers at their station, master chefs working a blade, bricklayers applying motor, and custodians cleaning floors and furniture. An individual who has conducted the same task numerous times will invariably develop techniques to optimize the results of each repetitive movement.

From constant training, we are able to visually discern the important bits of data from the noise. We learn how to identify objects in a chaotic environment. We learn how to positively identify an enemy tank, personnel, artillery, and command posts, while on the other hand, we use that knowledge to learn how to effectively hide our assets from the eyes of the enemy. We know that much of the world is awash with not-so-useful information, so we learn how to display only the data that is necessary for the development of answers to critical, need-to-know information; such as friendly combat power, availability of support and intelligence assets, and enemy locations and activities.

In business, we have spreadsheets and graphs doing very much the exact same thing – displaying need-to-know info the managers want. In factories, we use colors to code where things should go so that workers don’t need to read every label, and we use colors and shapes to identify areas that are hazardous and caution should be taken in the name of safety. Color is also vital when it comes to branding and logos that some businesses even copyright specific shades of color. Over 25% of all neurons in the brain are dedicated to simply processing visual information, so it is no wonder that visual processing and understanding are such important aspects of training.

Through concentrating, we learn to assess the status of things by their sound. The crack of bullets can tell you if you are being shot at as well as the type of caliber and even the type of weapon based on the cadence of shots. An American M4 sounds a lot different than a Kalashnikov, and an American Abrams’ gas turbine engine sounds a lot different than the diesel engine of Soviet-made tanks. You can tell whether artillery fire is incoming or outgoing. You may even be able to tell the nationality of people based on the language in nature of their speech.

In business, through repetitious exposure to sounds, we are able to learn how things should turn out. The pitch made by pneumatic power tools can tell the informed ear the level of PSI just as much as the actual display on the equipment. The sizzling sound of pan-fried food can inform a chef whether the temperature is ideal. Digital beeps and chimes are used to inform everyone on an assembly line the status of the line or of the workday.

Through constant training, we even learn how to employ some of our less evolved senses such as smell, taste, and feel. A crewman of a mechanized vehicle; like a tank or an infantry fighting vehicle, will understand a lot about the health of their vehicle by how it feels in the vibration of the engine and its movement. They also understand much of its health in any novel smells that may signal a fluid leak or the smoke of an overheating engine or grinding gears.

In business, the machines of industry are treated in much the same way. Some of the first signs of the beginning of an equipment failure might be felt in the vibrations of the machine. After hours of use, when it starts to feel different it is noticeable. For military and civilian cooks, smell and taste are critical senses in their profession, and through repetition of the same dish, they learn to assess its quality. While the number of ingredients will differ in a recipe for two-hundred people compared to one person, they both should taste and smell exactly the same.

While these few examples go over individual or collections of related senses that have clusters of neurons in the brain called cortices, it would be wrong to say that a task only involves one cortex to accomplish. Indeed, practically every activity involves the whole of the brain in some capacity. As we mentioned, successfully completing a task has as much to do with what neurons are not activated just as much as those that do. Skilled brains are efficient while novice ones are wasteful; activations going off everywhere, as they try to figure out what to do.

Think about an individual Soldier on a battlefield. If the task is to destroy an enemy combatant, every sense is involved in processing, assessing, and acting upon stimuli from the surrounding environment. They hear the verbal orders and callouts from leadership and squadmates, bringing their attention to the presence of the enemy. They visually identify a person of interest as an enemy combatant and, alongside activations in the motor cortex, orient the entirety of their body to assume proper body position, raise the rifle, line up the rifle’s sights upon the center mass of the enemy, and squeeze the trigger. They feel their rifle fire, informing them, without much thought, that their weapon functioned properly – if it didn’t, they would’ve automatically conducted corrective procedures to clear the jam or eject the dud in the weapon.

They continue to fire until the target is neutralized, all the while passively assessing new information from the surroundings; The sound of more friendly callouts, the sight of enemy movement and the kick-up of the dirt from the shots, the feel of each recoil of the weapon, the constant movement, and repositioning of their body to ensure the weapon is still sighted in on the enemy while they themselves maneuver to better cover in relation to squadmates. While taste and smell may not be activated in this fight, that itself speaks about the environment, as the smell/taste of pungent gasoline/diesel or the musky/stinging presence of chemical agents in the air, may be a cause for concern. The fact that the olfactory and gustatory cortices (smell and taste) are not showing major activations is information about the environment in and of itself.

Now, none of the effective actions that Soldiers do in combat is inherently instinctual to our species. The heightened senses that occur in dangerous environments increase blood flow to the brain which helps facilitate faster assessment and reaction to stimuli, this is natural to us all. But what we do with the information we have processed; how we react to patterns we have identified, has to be learned. Or I should say, in these times we want to ensure we react effectively and in such a way that increases our chances for survival and success, and this requires training. In fact, in times in which we are flooded with stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol, and our brains are quickly assessing any number of environmental stimuli, if we have not been trained to identify the patterns of which we are witnessing and associating effective responses to those patterns, then we may be effectively paralyzed by indecision. This can be fatal when life or death actions must be taken within a matter of seconds.

Train As You Fight

Leaders create training environments as close to combat-like conditions as possible. Such training environments include opposing forces (known as OPFOR) that replicate tough, realistic, and relevant near-peer threats in a variety of operational variables so Soldiers and units train to overcome the stress, chaos, uncertainty, and complexity of combat. (FM 7-0: Training)

So, while we know it is important to train in a task so that we know what to do without much thought, we also need to be cautious that the training we engage in is accurate to real-world scenarios as much as possible. Remember, our automatic or compelled responses will be activated upon familiar situations - patterns that, once recognized, begin to activate well-worn neuronal pathways in the brain. Pathways that are built upon similar experiences or training that replicates them. If these pathways lead to actions that are beneficial, then great! If these pathways lead to actions that cause you problems, then not so great. But how would you get into a position where you instinctively engage in an action that disadvantages you? Simply put, poor training leads to bad habits that are replicated in the real world.


In combat, much of what a warfighter does feels instinctual. A common tenet of battle, that is extensively talked about by leadership, is that when things get chaotic and you become panicked that you will invariably “fall back on your training.“ When you are exposed to a situation that is unique then you will react according to the previous training that resembles that situation the most; even if the response isn’t the ideal course of action for this scenario. While we try to make training as realistic as possible, it won’t be as effective as the real thing, but regardless, tough and realistic training will help develop those pathways in response to patterns that closely resemble actual combat situations. If the training, however, includes actions that are there for the purposes of facilitating training itself, then there is a possibility that those actions may be replicated in combat. Here are a few examples:

Pocketed Brass

This particular scenario revolves around how people train at small arms ranges. What is the purpose of a gun range? It satisfies many needs of firearm users, be they military, law enforcement, competition shooters, or private citizens. It is a generally safe place to train in your firearms, practicing your aim, grouping, accuracy, and reloading skills alongside building familiarity and confidence in your weapon and its use. With enough time and repetition in its use the weapon can feel like an extension of the body, and be employed in a reflexive way; just like a person may block or deliver punches with their arms. And just like martial arts, what you do in training, good or bad, may be replicated in an actual fight.

While shooting at the range is a relative cakewalk when compared to an actual gunfight, the posturing of the body; the drawing and holding of the weapon; the sight picture, steady positioning, proper breathing, trigger squeeze; and transitioning between targets can become second nature. So much so that when put under the stress of competition and duress of combat they are still able to fall back on this training and focus on situational awareness, assessment, and decision making. The things trained on at the range are the fundamentals that become the worn neuronal pathways in the brain that can be relied upon to be an almost automatic response.

The range, however, has its own unique rules and environmental conditions that are not present in competition and combat. The range gives you the time necessary to engage static targets that don’t shoot back at you like in combat. You have more ammunition available to engage targets at the range or in combat than you might in a competition where you are limited to only a few shots. Additionally, at the range, shooters have to clean up after themselves once they are done, and this includes picking up the brass; the spent cases of bullets that are fired. Most people pick up the ejected brass and the end of a session, however, for those that use weapons that didn’t eject their spent cases after firing; like revolvers and breech-loading weapons, they have to manually eject them. Some people, wanting to avoid the aggravation of the post-session clean-up, would manually eject the cases into their hands and put them in their pockets. These people were unaware of the impact that habits developed in training have upon real-world performance.

Bill Jordan, in his book No Second Place Winner, tells the story of Sam McKone, a border patrol officer engaged in countering smugglers on the US-Mexico Border; who earned his Distinguished Excellence in Pistol Marksmanship in 1938 and was a competition shooter. Sam McKone, like many officers of the time, was equipped with a revolver, specifically a .38 Special, and in one incident he was involved in a gunfight with a contrabandista equipped with a rifle at around 200 yards away. McKone won this engagement! And while a pistol defeating a rifle at longer ranges can only be attributed to his skills with the weapon, there was another habit that manifested; unbeknownst to him, during the fight.

What has all this to do with the statement that a man will do unconsciously as he was trained, provided the training was thorough and extensive? Well, after the fight someone noted that McKone's pocket was bulging and politely inquired as to what might be spoiling the drape of his trousers. Puzzled, Sam thrust in an exploring hand. The pocket was full of fired cases. During the fight, without realizing he was doing so, McKone, an old reloader, had saved every empty!

Bill Jordan

Bill Jordan displays a body position and technique to engage a threat between 3-7 yards away. This would have been the attire and weapons used by Sam McKone during his fight with the contrabandista. From No Second Place Winner,

He had developed the habit of placing his spent brass into his pocket during practices at the range. Instead of letting the brass drop to his feet, he would empty the brass into his hand and then into his pocket. Naturally, during the fight, he would be focused on avoiding getting shot himself, while attempting to accurately hit a target at a great distance with a pistol. All other activities, such as reloading, would become an automatic reflex response while his focus was on the enemy - on surviving - and while he lived to see another day; this oversight in his training put him at potential risk, much to his surprise.

Disarming, then Rearming Criminals

Now for this example, take it with a grain of salt as it is hearsay, from a handful of sources. The reason for this is because of the rarity of the situation, but it is nonetheless a probable and interesting situation in conditioned reflexes.


Imagine how individuals train to disarm an enemy in hand-to-hand combat. Well not as common for warfighters during battle it is trained by military, civilian law enforcement, and for self-defense in non-combat environments by civilians going about their day where they may be confronted by a mugger with a knife or a firearm or witness a robbery or active shooter. For these people, they may choose to disarm a threat rather than run or hide. Many train for such potentialities and one of the best ways to train in disarming attackers is to go through numerous repetitions of specific step action drills.


  1. Observe the threat.
  2. Orient oneself to assess the situation and determine options.
  3. Decide on how to act - such as disarming the threat.
  4. Act in the appropriate manner to successfully disarm the threat.
  5. (In Training) Repeat steps to commit the process to muscle memory.


Muscle memory, in this case, is simply the strong neural pathways that allow the individual to quickly execute a series of actions that have led to success. Because training repetitions are treated like a real experience, as far as neuronal development is concerned, it won’t necessarily forgo or skip steps without conscious effort. You may have seen the potential problem before I mention it, but to enlighten you on the problem here are the incidents from two different sources.


Fig. 5-17 from FM 21-150: Combatvies showcasing a parry and disarming of a knife-weilding attacker.

From On Combat by Grossman and Christensen:

In the blink of an eye, the officer snatched the gun away, shocking the gunman with his speed and finesse. But no doubt this criminal was surprised and confused when the officer handed the gun right back to him, just as he practiced hundreds of times before.

From an article titled, “The Danger of Repetition in Martial Arts” by Jim Wagner:

Let me tell you a true story that was told to me while I was training the defensive tactics instructors of the Poliisikoulu (the National Police Academy of Finland) in Tampere in 2002. A Finnish police constable was confronted by a violent criminal. The criminal pulled a gun and pointed at the constable in order to take his life. The constable immediately disarmed the criminal and pried the gun from his hand. The constable then gave the gun back to the suspect without thinking. Realizing the mistake he had made the constable had to do a second gun disarm, and just in time. The Finnish constable was successful with the second gun disarm, and the criminal was arrested and went to jail.

So, in these cases, the problems were not related to the actual disarmament of the threat, but in the training process that they undertook to develop it as a reflexive action. With these stories in mind, training in hand-to-hand disarmament not only begins with a distinct observation phase that kicks off the process but a clear completion condition at its conclusion. This completion could include destroying the threat, subduing them, contacting law enforcement or reinforcements, or anything that leaves the trainee in a position of security and control. This occurs before putting the training weapon aside for the training partner to collect. Never give the weapon back to the training partner! You wouldn’t do it in the real world so don’t make it a habit in training.

Disarming, then Rearming Criminals

Have you ever heard of the quote attributed to Albert Einstein and paraphrased in pop culture about the definition of insanity?


“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”


You may have witnessed individuals constantly repeating the same mistakes or undertaking courses of action that have failed many times before and wonder why they keep doing it. Why does someone execute an action that experience has already taught them won’t work?


Firstly, and this is mainly a side-note to the actual discussion I want to talk about, repetition isn’t just doing the same thing over and over. In each instance, environmental variables can be different, even if only slightly. In a fistfight, it isn’t insane to keep punching your opponent in the face because each strike causes disorientation and brain injury, and we know if we do it enough they will eventually get knocked out. It is only insane when we can assess that we won’t be able to achieve results with the time and resources we have and that it will only be a waste to do so.


Secondly, and more importantly for this topic, it isn’t just physical actions that can be hard-wired into our brains but thought processes as well. From the perspective of the brain, everything is just some form of neuronal activation. When we start thinking through the problems we face in life - tests in school, playground arguments, workplace projects, and situational training exercises - things that really get the whole brain working to solve, then when we start getting positive feedback about things that worked, and those associated neuronal pathways are strengthened. The same pathway you will rely on again and again to achieve results, and each successful repetition will only make them stronger. You develop a preference, a bias, for how you solve problems. Because of this, as the saying goes, “when all you have is a hammer, all your problems look like nails,” this applies to thought processes, and problem-solving, and this can be detrimental to the point of appearing insane to outsiders, though is actually sane, yet unfortunate.

With that, two more SEALs enter the hallway and are promptly massacred by the barricaded shooter. Then the leader calls for two more, and two more after that, and he continues to send men until no one is left except the young SEAL leader himself. He thinks he knows what he must do, so he takes a breath, charges down the hallway, and, like the rest of his men, is hit head to toe with paintballs and “dies” in a blaze of glory.

US Navy Seabees practice with new simulated ammunition

US Navy Seabees practice with new simulated ammunition in a "kill house." Similar to what Jocko's trainees would have trained with during their training scenarios. Image from DVIDS,

In this training scenario, from the book Leadership Strategy and Tactics, this young SEAL leader was stuck in a constant rehashing of the same process that had been drilled into him. While previous training and positive feedback had reinforced the value of direct violence of action to deal with threats, in this training scenario the tactical situation would make this process too costly to be successful. Only once the author, Jocko Willink, was able to get the trainee to detach and reassess the environment was the trainee able to come up with a new course of action that may prove successful - neutralizing the shooter via an exterior window into the room.

While Jocko attributed the persistent adherence to a failed course of action as a never-quit attitude coupled with an inability to see a bigger picture, I would add to it another issue that I previously mentioned. Of all the things the leader could have done, his tactical plan was to send pairs of SEALs to assault the enemy position, and he was taught the importance of sticking with your plan. His decision to execute the plan and stick with it even when detrimental to his objective can be attributed to powerful neuronal connections that were created and reinforced during previous training events. When faced with similar conditions he choose the “assault the enemy position” option, and when that failed the “never quit” perspective simply restarted the process to “assault the enemy position.” This cycle of well-worn neuronal pathways was only interrupted when Jocko forced it. Getting the leader to reassess and look for other options, in turn, started creating new neural pathways that would help him in future engagements.

Final Act of a Dying Man

During the fighting of the Second World War on the Burmese Front (modern-day Myanmar), there is a story of reflexive conditioning so powerful it occurs as the last act of a dying man. The men of 30 Column of the 4th Prince of Wales's Own Gurkhas Rifles were engaged in mountain and jungle fighting with Japanese soldiers. A small detachment of men was sent ahead to recon an area for a future ambush. Mike MacGillicuddy led this recon and tells of what he witnessed occur with one of his machine gun crews that accompanied him.

The recon element came into contact with a contingent of Japanese soldiers. Mike had displayed bravery while exposing himself as he engaged in direct fire against the enemy, but it is what happened to the machine gun crew which resonated deeply. The crew had taken up a firing position nearby and received directions directly from Mike. This team of two Gurkhas operated a magazine-fed Bren-gun where the No.1 gunner operated the weapon and the No. 2 assistant gunner fed fresh magazines into the weapon, changed hot barrels, and carried additional ammo. They were actively engaging the enemy when this occurred:

Ghurka Bren Gunner

An unknown Ghurka Bren Gunner in the Pacific Theater

From The Road Past Mandalay by John Masters:

The No. 1 was seventeen years old - I knew him. His No. 2 lay on his left side, beside him, head towards the enemy, a loaded magazine in his hand ready to whip onto the gun the moment the No. 1 said “Change!” The No. 1 started firing, and a Japanese machine gun engaged them at close range. The No. 1 got the first burst through his face and neck, which killed him instantly. But he did not die where he lay, behind the gun. He rolled over to the right, away from the gun, his left hand coming up in death to tap his No. 2 on the shoulder in the signal that means Take Over. The No. 2 did not have to push the corpse away from the gun.

In response to reading this story, Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, in On Killing, referenced the reflective response of this Gurkha in this passage:

The “take over” signal was drilled into the gunner to ensure that his vital weapon was never left unmanned should ever have to leave. Its use in this circumstance is evidence of a conditioned reflex so powerful that it is completed without conscious thought as the last dying act of a soldier with a bullet through the brain.

What this situation tells us is that people can be given a training regime that drills skills, steps, and actions through repetition to such a degree that even if parts of the brain are literally destroyed then a reaction can still be triggered. The only way this could have occurred, given a bullet damaging portions of the brain, is that:

  1. Sensory receptors were still able to detect stimuli about the condition of his body.
  2. That there were portions of his brain still able to process this info and determine that the patterns of neuronal activation could be assessed as preventing him from accomplishing his current task of being a gunner.
  3. With this assessment, a conditioned response would be triggered and signals sent to execute the necessary actions.
  4. That portions of the brain associated with carrying out this response - motor and somatosensory cortices - aren’t too damaged.
  5. And that the neuronal pathways that produce the actual response in these cortices are so well developed that when triggered the action is still carried out even when many other cascading brain activations were occurring in the last seconds of his life.

From these examples, we see the power of conditioning on human action. Without conscious thought, our brains are capable of executing more than simple bodily functions and kinesthetics, but complex actions that are learned and unique to environmental conditions. We train in a particular way to create strong neural pathways that are executable when certain stimuli activate them; even under duress and damage. We know this to be true because we experience this temporary automatic control of conscious somatic processes. While driving a car, walking or running, riding a bike, menial tasks around the house and during work, can all be done while focusing on something else. By making brain activations of complex actions as strong as simple ones they too can be automatic as with the examples that we have just seen.

Training In Business

We are in the process of shaping ourselves and our people to be more effective in their effort. To shape our actions to create the best results possible in support of our objectives. It’s through training that we are able to do this, and it should be apparent that training applies to all human endeavors.

In the military, we train in preparation for the battlefield. To improve our capabilities, lethality, and survivability. We hone our skills through training, though we may hope to never use them. Most of our career is spent training to fight, and rarely, if at all, actually fighting.

In business, we train in preparation for actual fieldwork. In a new job or position, there are often new systems and processes that must be learned, and we practice using them in practical exercises and dry runs before actually doing it for real where safety and client/customer accounts are on the line.

In sports, teams and individuals will train and condition their bodies and minds to become more effective athletes. They go over the same drills, adding variability to keep themselves agile and flexible to change. There is more time spent training for games and competitions than actually participating.

In life, schooling; elementary, secondary, post-secondary, as well as trade and technical education, is simply training for future jobs and careers. As well as being a more effective and well-rounded adult. Scholastic training, the combination of practical exercises and learned knowledge, is apparent in our everyday lives. Regardless that we joke about the effectiveness of public education, we understand its importance as we make suggestions on how we should improve it.

Through training, we are able to apply the knowledge we have learned about a profession, our craft, in a controlled environment where the consequences of failure are negligible. The ability to test our mettle before actually having to use it in a real-world situation with more tangible consequences. As an individual who is training themselves, or a leader you must train others, it is through training that we are able to produce various benefits that help produce better results and increase the long-term viability of our organizations.

  • Improve Performance
  • Master and Innovate on a Process
  • Produce Behavioral Change
  • Control Emotional Responses

This non-exhaustive list covers some of the biggest benefits of training that I will be discussing in greater detail. First, from a business perspective, then from a comparable military one.

Improve Performance

Obviously, the most important and salient reason for training is to simply be better at accomplishing what we set out to do. It takes experience to execute a process or achieve a goal through a system of variable processes, in an effective manner. We can learn through schooling or mentorship what needs to occur to accomplish a task or complete a process, but we haven’t experienced it ourselves till we go through the motions. In other words, from the perspective of brain functions, we can understand what neuronal pathways need to be triggered to execute an action to achieve the results we want, but we need to actually follow through with those actions to activate those pathways.

When these neurons are activated and reactivated multiple times these pathways improve their connectivity and make future activations stronger. If we then improve upon our task by adjusting the process so that we create better results, we refine the pathways through experience as we witness the effects of our actions. It is through practical experience, not knowledge, that we develop our skills and it is these skills that make us effective in our actions. From Peter Drucker's The Effective Executive:

There is much more to the self-develop of an executive than [their] training in effectiveness. [They have] to acquire knowledges and skills. [They have] to learn a good many new work habits as [they] proceed along his career, and [they] will occasionally have to unlearn some old work habits. But knowledges, skills, and habits, no matter how accomplished, will avail the executive little unless [they] first develop [themselves] in effectiveness.

What makes an individual worker, manager, or executive valuable for an organization is their ability to achieve desired results in an effective manner. With tools, people, and capital at their disposal, they must be able to achieve the ends with little waste and expense. If they are unable to do this then the problem could come from a lack of needed resources, a poorly developed plan, or ineffective training. Through training, however, we become familiar with how things should precede given a plan and resources. A well-trained individual may be able to assess that the plan, resources, and training is not sufficient to achieve desired results. Yes, it does require training, at least to a certain level of competency, to be aware that one’s training is not sufficient to achieve results.

Even for an individual worker doing the basic manual tasks of their station, training is imperative. It helps them understand what is expected of their work, the quality of output necessary for their position, and, ideally, how the output fits into the greater system of the organization. If they know the process of their station, and the functions of the organization's system, then they know what is needed to improve their performance to achieve greater results - not for themselves, but for the team, through their contributions.

The value of training, in regards to these aspects we discussed, not only helps improve the results but prevents the Dunning-Kruger effect from taking hold. This insipid problem is when the incompetent don’t realize how incompetent they actually are… because they are incompetent.

Dunning-Kruger effect, in psychology, [is] a cognitive bias whereby people with limited knowledge or competence in a given intellectual or social domain greatly overestimate their own knowledge or competence in that domain relative to objective criteria or to the performance of their peers or of people in general.

Be it getting better results or understanding the process, training leads to greater competence in the tasks and processes that lead to results desired by the organization. Training to be better eventually leads to mastery which in turn leads to improvement of tasks and processes.

Master and Innovate on a Process

Another benefit of training comes in the form of what is practically automatic action that allows the individual to focus on other pressing matters. If we are trained to do a certain action or process that appears to be done on autopilot, then our minds are allowed to wander elsewhere. The untrained mind will focus on accomplishing the task at hand as it assesses the cause-and-effect relationship between its actions and the results, and adjust subsequent actions based on this assessment. The untrained will focus on the work being done since they don’t have the experience - the strong neuronal pathways - that lead to successful outcomes. The trained mind has experience - well-developed neuronal pathways - and can execute with limited attention, freeing the mind to focus on other things.


Think about the times you first learned to drive, ride a bike, type on a keyboard, or use tools. You were most likely focused on the action itself, how to manipulate the equipment and yourself, and how your inputs produced certain outcomes. Once you became skilled in these activities, your body was able to accomplish them with a certain level of autonomy, and you could think ahead to subsequent actions or an entirely unrelated issue. The fact that you can drive from home to work while thinking about what tasks you need to accomplish when you arrive, instead of focusing on driving, is telling of a brain with well-developed neuronal pathways.


The ability to think about things other than the task at hand allows us to properly plan and adjust as new information is received. We can continue, stop, or alter a course of action mid-task as our efforts start producing perceivable results. Even if we are not thinking about the consequences of a task, we are able to let our minds wander breaking the monotony of repetitive actions.


If you understand a particular task, if you have mastered it, then you understand the nature of that task and how its function supports other processes and systems within an organization. The novice can execute a task, the skilled can teach a novice how to do it, but the master or subject matter expert can explain the reasoning on why it should or shouldn’t be done. When we become intimate with how a tool functions, a drill is performed, a process flows, or a system functions, then we can start to innovate in new and unorthodox ways. We understand how it works, and because we know how it all goes together, when problems arise it is often the experts who know where to look to solve problems and troubleshoot.


The Toyota Motor Company has a management and manufacturing philosophy called the Toyota Production System (TPS) also known as the Toyota Way. While many companies have their own stated values and philosophy, Toyota’s system that led to improvement in quality assurance and control became referred to as lean manufacturing. If you have ever been exposed to lean manufacturing or its more quantitative adaption of lean six sigma, then you have been exposed to this Toyota system in some capacity. Within the Toyota Production System, they utilize a learning cycle called SHU-HA-RI, which represents the three phases of learning that turn a novice into a master of their craft.

KATA, which literally means “form,” is the basis for teaching many Japanese arts like karate, kabuki, or the tea ceremony, and it is the way people learn to perform a highly detailed and scripted task… The core of KATA is the layered learning cycle, which is called in Japanese SHU-HA-RI. These three terms refer to the three stages of learning for the student and three levels of involvement for the teacher: SHU means “to protect,” HA means “to break away,” and RI means “freedom to create.”

In the SHU phase, the student, under the watchful eye of the master, learns the fundamentals by repeatedly performing tasks to precise standards… In the HA stage, the student has more freedom to practice unsupervised, although the master checks on [them]; the student can apply the rules creatively, but still follows the standard form quite rigidly. In the RI stage, the rules and behaviors have become so ingrained that the student no longer thinks about them consciously. The actions come naturally, and the student is then in a position to develop [their] own understanding and to improve on what [they have] learned.

It’s critically important to understand that in the SHU-HA-RI cycle, success hasn’t been achieved when the student can emulate the master perfectly. That is only the HA stage. This is a mistake that many who have superficially studied Japanese culture or Toyota make when they conclude that this approach produces automatons who are incapable of thinking for themselves. The real measure of success in the Toyota learning cycle is reaching the RI stage, where the student isn't just mindlessly acting as a clone of the teacher but has mastered the process so thoroughly that [they] can make changes that improve on what [they have] learned.

Shu Ha Ri

Shu-Ha-Ri as written in Kanji​

The SHU-HA-RI cycle, fundamentally speaking, is about creating neuronal pathways in the brain so well-developed that the individual is able to complete a task without conscious thought. When they reach that level of mastery, they are taught to philosophize or ruminate on the nature of the work and are able to improve upon what they have learned. It is one thing to be stuck in the HA phase where all they can do is emulate the tasks, but to get to the RI phase they eventually learn to detach themselves from the task to see the bigger picture.

This is similar to our earlier story of the Jocko Willink and the young SEAL leader who kept sending pairs of SEALs down a hallway to get shot again and again. Only when Jocko got the SEAL to detach from the situation and see the situation as it was, only then was the SEAL then able to be successful. The SEAL had mastered small unit leadership tactics, understood the nature of violence of action, and continued to emulate what he was taught and experienced in past training. But this situation was unique to the young leader’s experiences and required innovation. Potentially unbeknownst to Jocko, by making him detach and reassess, he successfully got the SEAL to transition from the HA to RI phase - at least in this one particular instance.

Be it training in the military, in business, or in any human endeavor, mastery of skill allows for near-automatic reflexive action and permits the individual to focus elsewhere - like in improving the skill itself for better results.

Produce Behavioral Change

Humans don’t like change. First, because of the unknown that change can bring. There are many variables at play with any given course of action and the environment which changes how we do things and will produce results we don’t fully understand. Second, the familiar way of doing things is hard-wired into our brains. Those well-developed neuronal pathways that came from successful repetitious experiences require less mental activity. Changing behaviors and actions necessitates engaging in many more less-developed and potentially superfluous neuron activations until the brain learns how to implement the change in an optimized manner. This means that trying to produce a behavioral change in ourselves or others is a mentally taxing and stressful situation.

Therefore, to successfully institute behavioral change, we need to train in implementing that change to help develop those new neuronal connections. If we don’t then we risk simply reverting back to doing things as we always have - those pre-developed neuronal pathways - the old habits that die hard.

Partners In Leadership Above and Below the Line

Above and Below the Line thinking as put forth by Culture Partners  (Partners and Leadership)

From Roger Connors and Tom Smith's book Fix It:  Getting Accountability Right:

David Chapin, CEO of Forma Life Science Marketing, a promotional and marketing company targeting the life-science space, told us that getting people to do what they say they're going to do requires deliberate team training. They have successfully encouraged people to follow through by adopting “accountability language” learned in The Oz Principle Accountability Training. Otherwise, people naturally fall Below The Line.

Now, for this business to implement elements of a “language of accountability,” it required training in order to actually get it working. In The Oz Principle, accountability involves individuals and management taking ownership of results - especially bad results. It is natural for people to want to avoid the negativity associated with failure as it weakens our status with organizations and puts at risk our future prosperity. People are, therefore, prone to 1) blame others, 2) make excuses for why objectives weren’t met, 3) deny that things aren’t actually as bad as they appear, or 4) cause a lot of inter-organizational drama to disperse attention and lessen personal responsibility. These are “Below The Line” attitudes and actions associated with people that rely on the victim mentality to justify what they do or don’t do.

It takes training to get people to focus on solving the problems instead of focusing on protecting themselves. It is through training people in the language of accountability that the organization was able to push past these natural defensive tendencies. It is difficult to be “Above The Line” in The Oz Principle’s accountability paradigm. Where a person 1) takes ownership of everything their organization does or fails to do, 2) holds themselves accountable for results, 3) takes responsibility for the actions of their people, and 4) finds opportunities to learn and improve in the face of failure. Through training and repetitive practice, the benefits of these actions can satisfy the two elements that resistance takes form by 1) showing how being accountable produces individual and organizational benefits unique to their environment, and 2) developing those new neuronal pathways that implement actions associated with a “language of accountability” until it becomes second nature.

Now while this particular discussion is on the topic of training for behavioral change and not on accountability, there is a direct military example of this very topic of behavioral change tied to accountability from our good ‘ol friend, Jocko Willink:

Despite all the failures of individuals, units, and leaders, and despite the myriad mistakes that had been made, there was only one person to blame for everything that had gone wrong on the operation: me… I had to take complete ownership of what went wrong. That is what a leader does - even if it means getting fired… It was a heavy burden to bear. But it was absolutely true. I was the leader. I was in charge and I was responsible. Thus, I had to take ownership of everything that went wrong. Despite the tremendous blow to my reputation and to my ego, it was the right thing to do - the only thing to do.

This instance in Jocko Willink’s career, in which an operation that he led had many control and communication issues that led to a blue-on-blue incident, also known as friendly fire, shaped his perspective on leadership. This would lead to him developing a particular principle on leadership called Extreme Ownership, in much the same way that The Oz Principle views leadership, in that the leadership should take responsibility for all results that occur under them. Extreme Ownership itself would become a major principle for Jocko’s future publication of a book of the same name, and a cornerstone of his, and his SEAL compatriot Leif Babin’s, business leadership group, Echelon Front.

By taking ownership of all things that occur, especially for the bad results, you alleviate the burden of blame off the shoulders of everyone else involved. By assuming fault, it allows others to focus on what needs to occur to prevent or reduce the risk of similar issues happening in the future. Everyone is naturally defensive in order to protect themselves, but when others accept faults then it creates an environment where others are apt to accept that they too had a part to play in the failure. The goal of assessing failure is to correct issues so that it doesn’t occur again, but organizations of humans looking out for their own interests can’t do that effectively by being defensive.

So, by assuming ownership, as brought up by The Oz Principle or Extreme Ownership, sets the conditions for the organization to have a more honest and open environment that allows and respects individuals that accept ownership as that is what is needed to improve the team’s performance. This, however, takes training to establish a culture of ownership of this level. People are naturally defensive, it is an emotional response to potential threats, and training helps the individual, especially the leader, create a culture that improves the organization. It isn’t enough to say to one’s people that they need to behave a certain way. It needs to be practiced by those that preach it, actively cultivated when the situation allows, and reinforced when it is displayed; this is what training does for behavioral change within an organization. Especially when the change we want to create is a change from the natural emotional responses of us and our people, which segues nicely into the next benefit of training.

Control Emotional Responses

The perceived situation of the environment and the subsequent flood of hormones that resulted, in what we call emotions, drive humans to act quickly. Acting in a timely manner improves our ability to survive threats and take opportunities when they arise - situations that benefit from an immediate response instead of methodical assessment. In nature, emotional responses were valuable tools for our species. In warfare, naturally, a warrior's ability to react quickly is a benefit and can provide the fortitude to close with and destroy a threat and protect compatriots. For business, however, emotional decision-making isn’t as imperative as time isn’t of the essence.

What I mean to say is that in our contemporary society, most of our decisions don't’ require immediacy. We can take time to gather more information, assess the pros and cons, and determine short and long-term consequences of various courses of action. In fact, only a few aspects of life benefit from the timeliness of emotional responses, such as in life-and-death scenarios. Even if people generally understand the dangers of basing decisions solely on emotions it is still extremely common as emotions are powerful motivators for action. To expound:

  1. Our body’s sensor receptors (see “1.4 The Human Domain”) pick up information in the environment.
  2. Our brains receive this information and attempt to assess its nature through perceived patterns.
  3. These patterns, whether reflective of reality or misperceptions of it, trigger particular hormones and associated actions through well-developed neuronal pathways.
    • These action pathways are intended to produce desirable results given the perceived situation, and specific hormones are released to facilitate those actions.
    • All of this is quick and compelled, but if the perception of the environment is incorrect or if there are other options that produce better results, then the emotional response may be counter-productive.

This is where training benefits the individual. Training new neuronal pathways that compel the individual to react in a disciplined manner - fighting against the emotional compulsion to act a certain way - can provide the detachment needed for a methodical assessment to determine the best course of action with the available information. From Jeb Blount's book, Inked: The Ultimate Guide to Powerful Closing and Negotiation Tactics That Unlock YES and Seal the Deal:

Mastering your emotions begins with your awareness that the emotion is happening. This allows your rational mind to take the helm, make sense of the emotion, rise above it, and choose your behavior and response. Awareness is the intentional and deliberate choice to monitor, evaluate, and modulate our emotions so that your emotional responses to the people and environment around you are congruent with your intentions and objectives… Once you become aware that the emotion is happening, self-control slows you to manage your outward behavior despite the volcanic emotions that may be erupting below the surface.

In business, potentially more than in combat, behavior can shape the success of a course of action - a transaction for example. Emotional outbursts, misdirected anger, or frustration towards customers, clients, colleagues, and supervisors often derail deals, negotiations, and projects. Imagine the times in which you have witnessed rudeness or hostility in work or in a customer service setting, getting blown out of proportion. In real estate, when transactions involve properties of hundreds of thousands of dollars with high commissions, then real estate agents can become desperate when small problems get in the way and this can lead to heated emotional discussions.

At the sales negotiation table, you will be pushed to emotional extremes by stakeholders who challenge your positions, diminish the value of your proposal, hit you with hard questions, and make you feel insignificant… They‘ve been trained to do this because when they do, you are more likely to give concession. The secret to gaining control of disruptive emotions in the moment is simply giving your rational brain a chance to catch up and take control so you can rise above these disruptive emotions… A ledge may be a statement, acknowledgment, agreement, or question. It can also be a noncomplementary response (relaxed, assertive confidence) that disrupts the stakeholders’ patterns and their expectations for how you will respond to their approach.

You need to train to buy your brain the time to think through options instead of falling back on the first emotional decision the brain feels compelled to execute. The “ledges” statement that Jeb Blount speaks of is one such option. Training the brain to respond to emotional pressure through a non-committal response such as:

  • “I understand you are frustrated…”
  • “You do make valid points…”
  • “This is a problem that has been voiced by others…”
  • “Thank you for being honest and open with me…”

Any variation of this is meant to give you time to think, and is very similar to other rhetorical delaying techniques commonly used in speeches and in question and answer sessions such as:

  • “That is a great question…”
  • “I am glad you brought this up…”
  • “We have also thought about that too…”

And in both the ledge statement and the rhetorical delay the purpose is to buy time, a few seconds, to think about what to say next. The same thing can be attained through a few seconds of silent contemplation. Silence, however, is difficult to achieve because of the compulsion to do something that emotions cause - not to mention that silence opens up continued pressure from that party who also wants to fill the void. The combination of various hormones and the perceived situation has evolved in us to get us to act quickly, however, in both heated negotiations and in press conferences, quickness and immediacy aren’t what is important; even if it feels so. More than a timely response, the analytical and methodical response that helps achieve our goals in the discussion is what matters. While we may know this to be true, emotions compel us to say something, otherwise, the silence feels awkward; possibly the result of appearing weak, incompetent, or flustered. The ledge and delay statement help alleviate the awkwardness while giving us a critical few seconds to think about what to say that is in our interest. Training to do this will make these statements more natural.

In much the same way a Soldier may; need to stop, take cover, take a deep breath, detach from the immediate situation, and look around before deciding on what ot do next, it takes training to learn to belay the need to immediately execute what is natural and do something else. Ideally, or I should say more practically, the best we can expect is to train to delay action so we can think. Training to employ ledge statements, rhetorical delays, and detaching to assess the bigger picture for a few seconds allows us to control our emotions that otherwise might become counter-productive.

Training In Business

Before we close out the discussion of training, we should discuss the fundamentals of training and how to make training effective. While the contents of the training - based on the ways and means of the profession - may be different between military and business organizations, the process of training, at the fundamental level, is similar. As a result, we can look at the principles of training in the military, see how it is applied, and determine how it translates to the business sector. And for this, we will reference the U.S. Army “Principles of Training” found in its training field manual title Field Manual FM 7-0: Training and use their principles to dive just a little deeper into why they are important.

The principles of training provide foundational direction for all commanders and leaders. These principles guide and influence training at every echelon. The following principles of training complement each other, providing task and purpose to every aspect of how Army forces train:

  • Commanders are the primary trainers.
  • Noncommissioned officers train individuals, crews, and small teams; advise commanders on all aspects of training.
  • Train using multi-echelon techniques to maximize time and resource efficiency.
  • Train as a combined arms team.
  • Train to standard using appropriate doctrine.
  • Train as you fight.
  • Sustain levels of training proficiency over time.
  • Train to maintain.
  • Fight to train.

Field Manual FM 7-0: Training

Commanders are the primary trainers

Commanders and leaders at echelon are responsible and accountable for the training and performance of their units. Commanders train and resource training one echelon down, and they evaluate to two echelons down. They are responsible for assessing unit training proficiency and prioritizing unit training. Subordinate unit leaders are the primary trainers of their elements.

It is the duty of the unit commander to ensure the unit is ready to accomplish its assigned mission. It must be able to accomplish its mission-essential tasks expected of its organization, as it is tailored specifically to support its higher organization in that capacity; most commonly nowadays as a combined arms team where different types of units are organized to mutually support one another to accomplish the overall mission. While the nature of the structure and organization of the modern military will be discussed later, what makes the commander the primary training is that the commander is in charge of ensuring the unit is able to execute when it is called to do so.

If the commander is to lead the organization into battle, it would make sense that the commander would and should take charge of the training that makes it battle-worthy. While they are rarely the ones directly training the organization, leaving that up to subordinate officers to plan and lead and noncommissioned offers to physically facilitate training, it is the commander’s duty to assess the current capacity to meet its mission and schedule training in the appropriate areas that will get the unit battle-ready or maintain a high-level of readiness.

In a business organization, especially ones with many departments with their own delineated duties, it is often those at the top of the organization that can see to ensuring everyone works towards accomplishing the purpose of the business, its mission. Each department, generally, knows how to accomplish its tasks, but may not be aware of how to ensure it is accomplished effectively within a multi-departmental organization. A simple example would be the finance department seeing that they need to increase the bottom line and deciding to cut costs without regard to the efforts of the other departments that relied on those additional expenses to accomplish their tasks. It should be the heads of the business, such as an owner, chief executive, or operations officer, who ensure that the business is effective in its execution, and may require periodic practical training of new and existing members to ensure all essential tasks are accomplished within the combined team.

Those in charge are the ones that should be charged with the training, due to their oversight over all within their organization and being held ultimately accountable for results.

Noncommissioned officers train individuals, crews, and small teams; advise commanders on all aspects of training

Noncommissioned officers set the foundation of Army training. They train Soldiers, crews, and small teams to be battle-ready. They provide crucial input and advice to the commander on what is trained and how it is trained. This ensures the organization trains on its most important tasks down to the individual Soldier.

While the officers are charged with planning, resourcing, and leading training in support of the unit’s overall mission, it is the noncommissioned officers, the NCOs, that actually execute the training of the Soldiers and ensure it gets done. The Army as a whole, and its subordinate units down to the platoon, easily see its officers outnumbered by its NCOs and junior enlisted personnel; especially in the units designated for combat, as opposed to those higher staff heavy units. Officers rely on NCOs to ensure the movement of personnel is conducted in proper order and allows the officers to focus on supervising and adjusting operations as things progress.

Without the contribution of a strong body of NCOs, the Army would have to rely on its officers to handle personnel alongside their traditional planning and leading duties. There is, however, only so much a small cadre of officers can do, let alone a single lieutenant can do in a platoon of upwards of 50 Soldiers. If these officers also had to ensure that everyone one of their Soldiers had all been properly inspected prior to a movement while simultaneously deconflicting last-minute tasks brought down my superior officers in support of a plan constantly in flux, important tasks may not get accomplished, or accomplished in a mediocre manner. This especially applies to individual and team training; where the execution of training, initial evaluation of training plans, and assessing the plan’s ability to produce desired results, requires NCO input.

A large business organization, with multiple departments, and multiple teams within those departments, benefits from having leaders in charge of each subsequent subordinate team who can ensure their small entourage of people is effectively supervised and controlled. If it is up to a department head in charge of tens or hundreds of people to ensure they can accomplish their mission and train in an effective manner, they will need to develop and empower leaders within the department to be charged with a smaller handful of personnel. This allows the overall leader of the department to communicate with only a few subordinate leaders, instead of the whole organization, and get proper reports of everyone’s team to get an understanding of the readiness of the whole organization. The personnel are also able to benefit from having greater support and attention from a junior leader rather than being another rank-and-file employee in a sea of faces to that department lead.

Train using multi-echelon techniques to maximize time and resource efficiency

The Army fights as a team, and whenever possible, trains at echelon as a team. Additionally, the simultaneous training of multiple echelons on complementary tasks is the most efficient and effective way to train because it optimizes the use of time and resources.

A military organization is structured in such a way that subordinate units support the higher unit’s mission. Higher units provide the direction and resources needed by subordinate units, and adjacent units mutually support one another by either providing direct support; such as logistics, or indirect support by controlling their own battle space and handling threats in their own area of responsibility that otherwise might have impacted operations. Needless to say, everyone has their part in the greater fight, and the Army, as is every other service, fights as a cohesive team; or at least it endeavors to do so.

As a result of the reality that the Army will fight composed of multiple levels of organization, it desires to train accordingly. Not only does it allow personnel within these organizations to be trained on how to communicate requests for support and information up and down the hierarchy, but by coordinating training to include multiple echelons; the levels of the organization - such as a company to battalion to the brigade, it reduces overall training costs. These personnel and internal teams needed to train in their duties, regardless, and scheduling training for everyone to train simultaneously can reduce costs, as opposed to scheduling separate training events to achieve the same level of readiness.

Naturally, in the business sector, trying to coordinate multi-echelon training can be difficult as the company may already be engaged and be proficient in daily operations between the many levels of the company. However, there may be times when new systems or processes are rolled out within the organization, or a new department or supplier is added to the scheme of business operations. The organization will need to train in order to incorporate new aspects into its scheme of operations; to ensure everything functions well and to troubleshoot any problems before actually implementing the change, otherwise, unforeseen issues can derail current operations. Since everyone will need to be trained to help identify issues from their own station, it is best to coordinate training at multiple echelons for this very purpose. Not only can this reduce costs but it can reduce time, as everyone involved is focused on knocking out the training together during the same timeframe to get ready and make necessary adjustments before actual execution.

An organization operates at multiple levels, therefore, its training should include multiple levels.

Train as a combined arms team

The Army fights as a combined arms team. To win, units must regularly train with the organizations they operate, and the capabilities with which they intend to fight. Leaders must proactively plan and coordinate training to account for as many elements and domains as possible with which they will operate.

Not only does a military fight most effectively when everyone fights as a team, mutually supporting one another towards a shared mission or a shared end state, but it fights with many different types of equipment and personnel that each impact the nature of the battle. You have traditional riflemen fighting alongside tanks with the support of long-ranging artillery and close air support from aircraft. Not only do you have the lethal aspects of combat, but the non-legal effects of electronic warfare jamming and cyberattacks, as well as psychological operations attempting to win public support from local populations while compelling the enemy to submit. You have not only combat support capabilities; like the military police and medical personnel, but also the auxiliary capabilities needed for the organization to function; such as logistics, personnel management, and finances.

The fundamental aspect of combined arms operations is that we have many different systems working in tandem to give our commanders many different solutions to tackle a problem, while simultaneously causing our enemy to deal with multiple dilemmas; straining their personnel, resources, and cognitive focus with many diverse threats. The enemy not only has to contend with shooting enemy personnel, but also 1) heavy armor their bullets can’t penetrate, 2) artillery hitting them that they can’t see, 3) helicopters they can’t effectively engage, 4) bombers that are too fast and too high to hit, 5) jamming that prevents them from communicating with a commander, and 6) a leaflet at their feet telling them that, “maybe it is about time you just gave up!” In turn, these very problems for the enemy are a boon for friendlies, as they give us the ability to tackle a single problem with multiple tools or any problems with an array of options.

But these units need to train together to become effective in actually coordinating all these diverse capabilities. The infantry and tankers need to understand the complexities and difficulties of artillery fire and the reasons why it may take some time to get it. Artillerymen need to understand and coordinate their fires with airspace in mind to avoid inadvertently hitting their own aircraft, and those troops on the ground need to realize that aircraft may only be available should weather and mission permit it. Everything has its pros and cons, and it is through collective training, as a combined arms team, that we understand their capabilities and limitations, and ways to bypass limitations through other capabilities we have at our disposal.

Similarly, businesses benefit from a diverse array of capabilities within their organization between the various departments as well as within those departments. If training is to be conducted within the company, it should include as many of the departments of the company as possible. Sales may be able to implement a new system to increase performance, only to realize that logistics isn’t able to support the level of throughput required to support sales. R&D can develop the greatest gizmos on the market that will displace a competitor’s market share, but without marketing getting in on the discussions they won’t know how best to communicate its greatness to the consumer.

An organization is a team of varied capabilities, and if we want these capabilities to work together effectively they must also train together to foster this effectiveness.

Train to standard using appropriate doctrine

The Army trains to standard using appropriate doctrinal publications. A standard is the proficiency required to accomplish a task under a specified set of conditions that reflect the dynamic complexities of operational environments to include cyber, electronic warfare, and hybrid threats.

How can one objectively assess whether an organization is able to accomplish a task unless there is a standard to reference it against. How can we compare and contrast the capabilities of two or more units unless we have a metric to measure them against. We avoid units getting derailed in their operations by an influx of new personnel that brings with them entirely new ways of operating by having procedures and processes that are shared by all. This is the importance of following, referencing, and assessing an organization against an established doctrine a standard.

Doctrine is helpful in its way to instruct novice personnel and staff on how to effectively manage their operations, by referencing tried and effective ways of operating set forth by others. While each organization will invariably add its own flavor to doctrine, using new systems, processes, and methodologies that they believe will give them an advantage, these changes are based upon a foundation of proven methods. Doctrine becomes the baseline that all organizations share on how they operate, and for new personnel; or for outsiders like myself, it becomes less; “Do you do XYZ?,” and it is more, “how do you do XYZ?” I don’t expect a unit to deviate greatly from published doctrine, but I do anticipate that it may be done in slightly different ways.

For a business organization that handles many different franchises, teams, departments, wards, or any other division of a company that shares common systems and processes with each other, having an established doctrine or shared policies and procedures for the conduct of business is a must. You would not otherwise be able to assess the performance of one sub-element of your company in comparison to another. In the world of metrics gathering, you want to ensure that the data points you are receiving support the overall reporting criteria needed by the higher-ups to make decisions. If one branch store reports only completed sales, while others report completed sales as well as pre-orders, then the current and projected metrics between the two are no longer equal in terms of information.

Having shared doctrine within an organization will allow everyone, newbies and outsiders, the ability to appropriately assess and evaluate performance.

Train as you fight

Leaders create training environments as close to combat-like conditions as possible. Such training environments include opposing forces (known as OPFOR) that replicate tough, realistic, and relevant near-peer threats in a variety of operational variables so Soldiers and units train to overcome the stress, chaos, uncertainty, and complexity of combat.

I referenced this quote towards the beginning of this chapter on training in the section “Train As You Fight.” Yes, this is a principle of Army training, but I feel it is one of the most fundamental principles of training that we have and a principle that easily permeates through all human endeavors. The fact that training needs to replicate what people will actually have to do in their jobs, and with others that they will have to coordinate and work with, is applicable to anyone's organization. Otherwise bad habits that derail operations and produce bad results will become standard procedure. This is why I made a specific section on this principle towards the beginning, as its importance shapes the nature of the training itself.

We don’t want to reinforce those bad habits that end up replicating themselves in a real-world scenario. Things such as shoving empty bullet casings into pockets or returning the weapon after disarming an attacker, that has occurred as a result of doing the same thing in training. We do want to ensure that our people, and ourselves for that matter, develop good habits that are beneficial when we have to execute. War can be stressful, but good habits can produce actions that are helpful only when we train and develop them. In the stress of the business world, similarly, what we and our people do when stressed, tired, or even as a standard practice will be reinforced by what and how we train to do those tasks. Ensuring that we train from start to finish to meet all the appropriate steps of the task, process, or system will mean that the individual will be able to do the same.

Train as you fight and train as you do business.

Sustain levels of training proficiency over time

In training, commanders not only strive to reach training proficiency, but also seek to sustain levels of proficiency over time. Leaders understand the impact of task atrophy - that over time and circumstances, individuals and unit skills naturally erode. Leaders actively and aggressively work to mitigate the effects of task atrophy by using available training resources to extend training proficiency when possible. Effectively leveraging live, virtual, and constructive environments assists leaders in sustaining training proficiency and enabling task mastery.


Military organizations, especially in the regular active services, have larger turnover rates than one would see in the business sector. For the Army, Soldiers are constantly in-processing and out-processing out of units every few years, and it may be rare to see anyone that has been within one unit for more than a year or two. The Army likes to shift personnel around, developing the skills of Soldiers through exposing them to different operational environments, new command climates, slotting Soldiers into needed positions, and otherwise keeping things from stagnating and preventing these units from developing into culturally isolated communities.


With high turnover, however, you run the risk of falling out of proficiency in collective tasks as well as onboarding new Soldiers that are unqualified in their own individual tasks. Remember, a military organization fights as a team and each member relies on the others to accomplish their tasks to a standard and to be able to be flexible should people need to carry out the tasks of others killed, wounded, or absent. Not only would training to a cohesive and synergistic standard for organizations of hundreds of individuals be difficult, but trying to maintain a high level of competency in these internal teams becomes quite challenging when you have to say goodbye to 25% of your organization over the span of 6-months while bringing on the same number of people that have to be educated on your policies and procedures.


As a result, military commanders plan training along with cycles of individual, collective, and live-fire tasks every few months to ensure that the unit stays into a “band of excellence” in training proficiency - a sort of Goldilocks zone of decently skilled. This way, the unit always retains a certain level of proficiency so that if the unit had to prepare for future deployments and combat operations then they would be able to halt the loss of any Soldiers and quickly ramp up training to attain a fully-trained combat-ready status.


In business, I ask you, are you prepared to continue operations should something happen to one of your people? If you have people in key positions in your organization, you need to know what will have to occur should they no longer be able to carry out their duties. If the company is reliant on the duties of a virtual assistant who processes all of your documents, you need to have someone that would be able to step in and take over should they abruptly disappear. Your teams should be able to bring forward someone to fulfill the role of their manager should the manager need to leave. You need to ensure that your company doesn’t have single points of failure that cause disaster for everyone as a result of a person; falling in the shower, getting in a car wreck, being head-hunted by a competitor, going on emergency leave, or suffering emotional distress that makes them unable to work. Get organizations trained within a “band of excellence” so that personnel shifts, no matter in what form they occur, don’t derail your operations.


For example, my real estate brokerage, Sundance Realty LLC in the state of Oregon had to undergo a change when the original owner and brokerage manager, Farris Beatty, died from cancer. While prior to her death we were in the gradual process of transitioning management duties from her to myself. I originally was the brokerage’s marketing and web designer, but over the span of two years, I was being trained to become a full-time brokerage manager. While it was supposed to be a slow and gradual process of learning and shifting duties, when cancer struck what was supposed to be two years of gradual training was only about six months of gradual training followed by two months of an existential threat and one week of desperate administrative and legal form filling. The brokerage was saved, not just because we got the necessary documentation completed and the appropriate government agencies updated, but because the training that I had originally undergone gave me enough knowledge to know what to do in order to take over operations of the brokerage.


Plan training to ensure the competency of people within your organization is sustained over time, and you can’t let this turnover weaken your ability to execute your mission.

Train to maintain

Units train to maintain to keep personnel, equipment, and systems in the fight. Leaders ensure units conduct maintenance under all conditions to sustain effective combat power over time and significant distance.

News flash, in war, people die and stuff gets destroyed. Regardless if it is the lowest ranking Soldier or a theater-wide commander of one-hundred-thousand battle-hardened warriors, the fight must continue. The military trains and prepares for the likelihood that its people may be taken out of the fight, either by emergency, injury, or death. They train for loss of equipment, either through accident, maintenance services, or destruction by enemy forces. They train for system failures, be it from the loss of a system operator or damage to a system component; such as a computer.

We train to be damaged, to be hurt, to not be at 100%. We train to keep fighting, under all situations that we may see ourselves in because in combat we are not able to call a timeout to fix our stuff. The loss of a commander, the loss of an aircraft, and the loss of entire units can’t be an excuse to stop operating. In the case of loss as a direct result of enemy action, the enemy could still be attempting to destroy our organization and you will need to respond with what you have, and we train for this. Once the threat has been neutralized, and we are once again in a secure position, only then can we think about what to do to stand down and reconstitute to rebuild our strength.

While in business we don’t train or plan for the potential that our people will die - though I would argue that you should have such contingencies in place - our equipment and systems are as prone to breaking down and failing as one might see in the military. We can’t allow a single failure to prevent our ability to operate. Manufacturing sometimes implements rotations on assembly lines to allow maintenance to occur and reduce wear on the machines. In times of assembly line shutdowns, remaining lines share the production burden with spare backup lines for such a situation; thereby preventing overall failure in meeting production numbers. Regardless of your industry, imagine what could go wrong, and plan training around it. Don’t just hope that bad things won’t occur. Anticipate that it could happen, train for it, and you won’t have to hope.

Train for things to fail, so that if things do fail, your people know what to do to compensate.

Fight to train

It is a commander’s duty to fight through distractions and protect training. It is the higher echelon commander’s responsibility to defend their subordinate organization’s approved training from un-forecasted requirements and to underwrite associated risk to lower priority missions. Regardless of the quality of planning and preparation, there will be challenges to the execution of training. The fight to train ethic separates great trainers and units from the others. (1-4)

Things will always get in the way of training. It could be some tasking that comes from higher or by regulation to provide personnel for a duty; such as security detail, work project, or other additional duty not directly related to their military occupation. We understand the importance of training, but someone has to guard the gates, someone has to clean up messes from floods and storms, and someone needs to watch others urinate into small plastic cups for the sake of drug testing. Things, not related to the purpose of the organization, need to be accomplished otherwise the organization will be unable to function for long.

Many additional tasks could, technically speaking, be outsourced to contractors. During the War of Terror and commonly throughout many military installations, the U.S. military outsourced a lot of jobs not directly related to combat to private companies. This would allow our personnel to focus on their profession’s purpose; fighting and preparing to fight. There are times, however, we can’t contract out duties to private companies because the budget doesn’t allow it, or there aren’t any contractors out there who will have the qualification needed to support the task; at top-secret installations, even the janitors require top-secret clearances. If we are unable to fill tasks through outsourcing; as a result of budget or lack of contractors, then we must insource it with our own people.

This is expected of large organizations with big footprints in their area, and it is the commanders throughout the chain of command that need to balance the accomplishment of tasks handed to them and training their units to be battle-ready. One technique that has proven effective is the red-amber-green training cycle:

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Descriptive Red-Amber-Green Cycle from the Training Management Directorate of the US Army

Red Cycle: A unit in the red cycle is the unit first hit up for tasking from higher. Generally speaking, since the unit is focused on receiving many taskings, sometimes even last minute, the only real training they can conduct during this time is individual training. The goal during this cycle, other than satisfying as many tasks as they can, is to get all their personnel satisfactorily trained on their individual tasks by shifting internal taskings to free opportunity to train for everyone at some point so that by the amber cycle they are able to focus on collective tasks amongst their teams.


Amber Cycle: A unit on the amber cycle covers down on taskings that the red cycle unit is unable to support because they have already been tasked too much. Basically, if the red cycle’s tasks begin to overwhelm the red cycle unit’s ability to support, then the unit on amber cycle takes over the excess. During amber, the unit doesn’t anticipate that many taskings and will have planned for more collective team-based training that would not have been possible during the red cycle. The goal of amber is to get all the collective tasks trained so that they can prepare for the green cycle.


Green Cycle: A unit on green cycle is focused almost entirely on training and getting proficient in their mission; getting as ready for battle as possible in their own home station. Ideally, no taskings should fall on this unit if it can be avoided, and the unit should be focused on training to the point that the entire unit has trained and qualified together in their tasks in a field environment. The goal of the green cycle is to get proficient in their warfighting capabilities, so that by the end the entire unit is as ready as it can be, before going back into the red cycle.

While a military organization, and the individual warfighters within that organization, utilize violence as a tool to achieve objectives, it is just that; a tool. The reasons for its use are based on the environment and the capabilities of those that would use it alongside other tools to achieve their desired ends. If one was capable of achieving their goals through other ways and means; like diplomacy, informational control, economic avenues, or combinations of these elements, then they may prefer that course of action. What is used, be it the tool of violence and heavy-handed pressure or that of fair exchange through commerce and trade, is determined by how the individual is able to perceive the situation as well as their own capacity to shape it.

In order to be effective in any tool we use and any course of action we develop we need to understand; how we perceive, how we decide on what to do, and how we are driven to achieve our ends, these are based on our own psychology and physiology. By understanding how our brains function and our bodies work, we can take a more active and knowledgeable approach to improve our ability to perceive our environment for what it actually is, not what we think it is, and hone ourselves to succeed in any situation.

One way we have to improve our success is through training and conditioning. Training allows us to learn what needs to be done in order to accomplish a task or support a system or process. Conditioning is about training our minds and bodies to such an extent that the desired action is executed in a timely and effective manner, if not instantaneously and on autopilot. Through training and conditioning, we develop neuronal pathways that make it easier to execute the same or similar tasks quickly and with less cognitive effort. It allows us to do the right things almost as if it was second nature to us, however, if our training and conditioning had significant flaws then we may replicate training oversights that result in bad outcomes.

To ensure that we don’t replicate bad habits during the actual execution of our mission, or jobs, we need to ensure that our training is structured to reinforce good habits. Our training must include the complete process of a task’s execution, from initially perceiving that a task needs to be done, going through all the steps of the process, until a point of task completion. While learning at first can be repeating particular steps of a process until it is effectively understood, the final iterations of training should include all the steps of the process until the process itself appears natural.

You train as you fight, and this means that in training and conditioning for final iterations there should be, if it can at all be avoided; no shortcuts for ease of training, no time-outs to collect thoughts, and accomplishment of desired goals. The final iterations should be completed from start to finish with no interruptions and in presence of variables reflective of the real-life situations so that the individual or group is confident to tackle a task, work through the process, identify issues, adjust where necessary, and come out at the end with a successfully completed task that satisfies desired ends.

We know the benefits that training can provide us. It makes us more competent in our duties. It allows us to master a process and eventually innovate on that process to become flexible and produce better results. It allows us to effectively institute some change within the organization through familiarity with the change and the benefits that it provides. And it allows us to control our emotions in troubling and stressful times so that we make measured decisions and not emotional ones.

And finally, we saw and understood the various principles of training that make it effective; especially for organizations. We know that those in leadership positions are in the best position to determine what training is necessary for the benefit of individuals and the organization, and should be charged with ensuring training is conducted. We know that with limited time and resources, we need to plan out training that effectively reduces the burden on people and the organization while safeguarding planned training from un-forecasted disturbances. And we understood that ultimately, everyone needs to train with the team in mind; either training together so that people are familiar with what everyone else expects of them and what they need from others, or training individual tasks with the understanding that the tasks themselves are part of a bigger system of systems within the organization.

All this being said, it should be obvious that within an organization; be it military or business, that training personnel, teams, and the whole organization falls on the shoulders of leadership. That training sometimes requires the leverage of leadership to make it happen, and not only to schedule and resource training but to motivate the people of the organization to actually do it and see value in it. It is the leader’s duty to guide the organization, develop its readiness, and accomplish its assigned mission and its purpose.

Leadership is a topic unto itself. While the military, especially the U.S. Armed Forces have many different types of schools, courses, and structured training. Most professional military training beyond initial occupational training is based around leadership development at progressively higher echelons. As a result, one of the strongest benefits of military personnel entering the private sector is the leadership qualities they bring to the workforce; not just from on-the-job leadership but from these various schools as well.

In the following chapter, “2.3 On Leadership,” we will discuss the nature of leadership. How it is promoted and developed within the military, as well as the principles of leadership that are espoused. Afterwhich we will see how these military leadership fundamentals translate to the business environment, as the process of getting people to act for the benefit of the organization applies to all human endeavors.

(Next Section)


On Leadership

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