Constraints, Restrictions, Freedoms: Must do, Must not do, Can do

Don’t let what you can’t do interfere with what you can do. – John Wooden 

Rules of Engagement
I recently read an article discussing the frustrations associated with the more restrictive rules of engagement placed on our combat Soldiers in our current conflicts as compared to previous wars. While these restrictions are frustrating and that article aimed to persuade decision makers to rethink their positions on the restrictive rules, I think that there is an underlying theme that highlights some of the strengths of today’s Soldiers.

Focusing on Restrictions 


I acknowledge that I have felt the frustration of operating within the restrictions of the rules of engagement. Many of you may have experienced a time where you had to limit your response because of an external restriction. I do not claim to have sufficient qualification to argue for or against the validity. Any argument I would present would be an emotional reaction, would not be rooted in evidence, and detract from the conversation. Rather, I would like to offer a perspective that I developed over the past few years after gaining some distance from those frustrating situations. 

A New Perspective 
This past year, I studied with the Irish Defense Forces. During that time, we had many discussions on escalation of force and the legal aspects of war fighting. The Irish have a long tradition of supporting peace keeping operations. During those operations, they deal with extensive restrictions and are still very successful. Their stories of unique solutions gave me a new perspective on our own operations. I realized that legal restrictions have always been and always will be a reality of war. However, I now realize that even with these restrictions, leaders who focus on their freedoms are able to innovate a path to success. 

Winning with Freedoms
It is with this perspective that I challenge you to acknowledge and work within any restrictions you have. As a leader, it is your job to understand the restrictions within your environment, identity freedoms, and focus on how you can leverage those freedoms for success. It is your actions that maximize the freedoms you identify that sets you apart as a superior leader.  

What restrictions have distracted you from achieving your goals and how can you change your perspective to maximize your freedoms?

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