Building Strong Young Men: ‘Command’ vs. ‘Control’ Paradigms

Updated: Sep 8, 2018

Given the recent conversations about masculinity that have arisen in the wake of tragic school shootings, more and more parents are concerned about how to raise strong, stable young men. In an environment in which social disconnection and the proliferation of problematic media technologies have eroded adolescent psychological health, many parents fight a daily battle to counteract the increasingly poisonous influence of a society untethered from the norms that served young men so well in previous generations. And yet even as parents work so anxiously to help their kids, they often find themselves adrift in a kind of no-man’s-land of contradictory advice. Today’s parents are inundated with multiple questions about what constitutes proper parenting: Are traditional notions of masculinity healthy or ‘toxic’? Where is the line between proper discipline and overbearing authoritarianism? How does one cultivate a child’s character in a way that allows maximum freedom but also necessary guidance? 

A squad figuring out how to navigate to its next orienteering location.

Consider traditional military notions of ‘command’ vs. ‘control’

While most people consider these terms more or less synonymous, there is actually a profound distinction between them that is instructive for parents and all who would seek to instill leadership skills in young men.

The Latin word for control is contrarotulum, which literally translates as “roll against.” Contrast this idea with the Latin antecedent of command—commandere—which suggests a notion of a delegation of authority, a handing over of responsibility that allows the individual to exercise and develop his character in a structured context. With this in mind, the US Army Field Manual on Infantry Rifle Platoon and Squad tactics states that an “emphasis on command, rather than control, provides for initiative, the acceptance of risk, and the rapid seizure of opportunities… [which] can be viewed as freedom of action for the leader to execute his mission in the way they see fit, rather than being told how to do it…reinforced by the knowledge of the higher commander's intent and focused on a main effort.”

This model of command—known as “mission-command” in military jargon—is the gold standard in combat and corporate leadership and provides the necessary dual paradigm of discipline and freedom that helps to build authentic masculinity and a real sense of leadership.

Night hiking is a great way for future "mission-command" leaders to practice basic outdoor survival skills and leadership.

Training boys to be mission-command oriented

As a former Army infantry company commander, I regularly faced the challenge of how to build strong young men. After leaving the Army, I decided to continue this important and rewarding work. Toward this end, I created Squad STX Camping, a boys leadership & camping program whose goal is to effectively instill real leadership qualities in young men in ways that go beyond the kind of empty performative role-playing that most summer camp experiences provide. Our program’s emphasis on situational training exercises (STX) and rotating leadership positions within squads gives boys the experience of making leadership decisions and accomplishing team objectives. This type of experience will serve them well as they enter further leadership roles in school, business, or public service. They will understand from experience at Squad STX that while they cannot control everything, they can lead teams to success by knowing how to command like the pros do.

#military #leadership #camping