Hesitation in combat, or in any decision-making circumstance, is a result of an unresolved inner conflict. Let me demonstrate this phenomena at two extremes.
Chocolate Fudge and Multiple Opponents
I like fudge. Specifically, fudge with black walnuts from Richardson’s candy store. Many years ago, having had Thanksgiving dinner, with full belly, in my easy chair, a Louis L’Amour western in hand, I was indulging in the aforesaid fudge. As the discomfort in my belly was graduating to pain, I caught my hand hovering above the bowl of fudge while I wrestled with the dark forces of the enticing fudge and the guilt of the ever-increasing sludge in my arteries.
On another occasion and far less experienced than I am today, I had a conflict with a man that didn’t know not to touch my wife. As he reached for my wife’s waist I chopped his forearm and offered a quiet but firm warning to not touch her. His response was to throw a right punch at me. At least that is what he telegraphed. I knocked him out as I moved behind him and held him upright to my chest. I was now facing his friends who were coming to his rescue while the bartender to my right jumped over the bar and was coming at me.
It is at this juncture that I ran into a decision I had yet to make. I knew that his friends would be on me momentarily and that the bartender was going to be at me even sooner. I had not yet decided how far I was going to take this. I had a moment’s pause while I decided how violent I was willing to be and whether I really wanted to take that course of action.
Because of my advanced skill and their ineptness, I had time to ponder everyone’s future. It is not always so. What I learned from that event is that unresolved inner conflict can create a delay in your response time. (For closure on the story, my read on the situation was that they simply wanted their friend back. I discarded the unconscious one into his friends’ arms and they disengaged.)
Know the End from the Beginning
Before you enter into conflict, you should know the end from the beginning. The ability to do that only comes from close examination of why you do anything that you do.
As we plan our lives and the lives of our families or formulate our business plans, we generally do not have to manage time compression. However, when we are forced to make a snap decision regarding a member of our family or a business circumstance, or pulling the trigger on a human being, we predictably fall back on our identity to make our decision. If we are representing an organization,such as a police department, then we fall back to our mission statement and our values statement.
Leaders Internalize and Embrace Values.
A clear example is when I first became a Sergeant in patrol for the Joplin Police Department. As is typical with a new Sergeant, I was assigned to the evening and midnight shift. The Assistant Chief of Police empowered me stating, “After 5 o’clock you are the police chief.” He was sending me a very clear signal that the responsibilities of managing the safety of our city was clearly on my shoulders. But he was also empowering me to use my judgment and discretion. Wisely, he knew that I would be faced with circumstances for which there was no clear policy or standard operating guidelines. Over time, as I gained experience and began to guide others into their leadership roles, I would tell them, “Sergeants earn their pay in five minute increments.” (A well-experienced and well-trained police officer knows the rules and policies and needs little input as they go about their business of law-enforcement.) It is a Sergeant’s duty to know what to do when there are no policies and guidelines or precedents or when time compression does not allow for the convenience of deliberation and consideration.
A leader’s job is to have a firm grasp on the identity of the organization. The leader must have internalized and embraced the values of the organization so that decisions made in haste represent the best that the organization has to offer the community or to the customers that it serves. This is the very essence of liability mitigation. When done properly, the decision maybe lauded as exemplary. Done poorly and you may have a community in uproar. Now let’s translate that into a personal context for you.
Three Categories of Variables
Combat effective decisions are not different than any other business decision that we make. In a dynamic and uncertain environment there are many variables. These variables can be reduced to three primary categories.
1) timeframe, (short and long term),
2) internal and external drivers, and
3) your personal identity or your organizational identity.
You Manage Through the Lens of Your Identity.
We are going to examine the intricacies of time management and the variables of internal and external drivers. But, know this: all of these variables are managed through the lens of your identity or who you are.
Time parameters have a direct correlation and interrelationship with internal and external drivers. Both, time and drivers, are managed through the lens of your identity. The danger is, unless you have examined your identity and its relationship with your decision-making then you are running on default. Running on default can cause hesitation in the midst of turmoil and conflict. I speak to time management in a combat environment in a separate article here.
Identity is Based Upon Values: Values Dictate Responsibilities.
Your identity, or who you are, is based upon your values. Before we proceed you must examine the type of responsibilities that you have and how exactly you came to shoulder those responsibilities. Some responsibilities we choose. For example, we can choose to become a soldier or a police officer. If so, we submit ourselves to a higher purpose or cause, or to an oath, and we knowingly accept our own peril. We choose to be a parent, in so doing we set ourselves aside. These are value-based decisions.
Prioritize Your Responsibilities
I do not impose my belief system upon other people. For an example I will lay out the paradigm through which I make decisions. My value-based responsibilities are listed in order of priority as follows:
4. Innocent people
Before I retired, as a police officer, my value-based responsibilities were as follows:
3. Innocent people
5. Suspects or adversaries
This paradigm works for me because, based upon my belief system, I do all things as unto the Lord and not unto man. I knew that if I was serving God first then He would see to everything else.
I chose the responsibility of taking an oath. I trusted that, should I perish while serving God, and upholding my oath, God would see to my family in my absence. However, you will see that I made a personal decision to not risk my life or put my family in danger of losing me on behalf of a suspect or adversary. This is a value-based decision and while it seems simple, it is not: and not all people agree with it.
Let me give you an example that will seem controversial. To some it will even seem unethical. I distinguish truly innocent people that are victims from those that play a role in their own demise.
If I respond to a shopping mall for an active shooter or to a bank robbery-in-progress, where there are hostages, I go forward knowing that the people that I am protecting are truly innocent and I willingly choose to risk my life for them.
However, when I respond to a known, high-risk location, such as a bar, my decision making-matrix varies and I manage the risk differently than I did at the shopping mall or at the bank robbery.
As I see it, bars are a known quantity. There are stabbings, shootings, and physical violence regularly at bars. When a patron chooses to go to that location they assume a known risk. When I respond to a bar for a disturbance, I manage the risk differently in that I will take more tactical precautions to protect myself and mitigate the risk required to manage or control the event. This means I am willing to delay my insertion into the event until I have sufficient resources with me to provide adequate cover and protection so that together we can successfully resolve the situation.
More clearly, in response to an active shooter at the mall, I may choose to insert myself as a single response officer. Wherein at the bar, I may do a limited insertion and gather Intel and observe in order to find a tactical advantage while I wait on additional resources to help to control all of the variables that exist at that location. Not all police officers find this response formula palatable.
I’m not suggesting that you subscribe to my operating principles. I am suggesting that if yours go unexamined you will run headlong into your own unresolved conflict in the middle of very important decisions that come with time compression. The consequences of which are usually an ever-degrading spiral into failure. I simply submit that you must examine and prioritize these issues so that your decisions are made ahead of time: in advance of dangerous situations when you must provide a response mechanism that is balanced, and that takes into consideration long and short term costs and consequences. In order to accomplish this, you will have to have prioritized your values or the values of your organization.
Why You Do What You Do
You choose to enter into a fight or not. You choose to protect other people or not. You can choose to make a stand or not. In order to make these decisions, you must know why you do anything that you do. Why do you get up and go to work even though you are already exhausted? Why do you exercise even though it is difficult to fit into your schedule? Why do you make the sacrifices for the people that you love so that they may live more comfortable and productive lives? The only way you are going to be able to determine what is important in the immediacy of the moment, is to fully understand why you do anything. The answer to the question is to be found in what is important to you.
When the tempo of conflict is fast, victory arises out of purposeful and deliberate decisions made without hesitation. In order to accomplish this, some decisions have to be made in advance. I call these decisions, ‘foregone conclusions’.
Make your list now. Prioritize your values and examine your responsibilities closely. Are they chosen responsibilities? Are they self-imposed responsibilities? Or, are they responsibilities that you have assumed out of fear, obligation, or guilt? That is precarious footing to be standing on. It is even worse if it has not been examined.
Your Combat Coach