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CWO Guy, MGen Gosselin, and  CWO Lamothe

Canadian Defence Academy photo

Commander Canadian Defence Academy, Major-General Daniel Gosselin, flanked by two iterations of Formation Chief Warrant Officers, Chief Warrant Officer Robert Lamothe (right), and Chief Warrant Officer Stphane Guy.

The Command Team: A Key Enabler

by Chief Warrant Officer Stéphane Guy

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What is the ‘Command Team,’ and how important is this concept within our organization?  In the recent past, I have met and discussed this concept with many senior officers, and discovered that, unless they have been involved in a Commander/Chief Petty Officer First Class (CPO1)/CWO relationship at some point in their career, this concept is unfortunately often misunderstood.  My intention here is therefore to explain the benefit of this unique close-knit relationship, and to highlight how a better comprehension of the Command Team concept can assist any organization within the CF.1

For the purpose of this discussion, a Command Team consists of the Commander and his most senior non-commissioned member (NCM) within any organization, with the exception of the special relationship that exists onboard ships, when the Command Team comprised of the CO and the Coxswain quickly expands to a Command Triad, with the inclusion of the Executive Officer (XO). Furthermore, the principles discussed can be applied to any Command Team from the unit level to the most senior positions within the CF, with the understanding that at the unit level, a CPO1/CWO will mostly be involved in leading the unit, while his counterpart in very senior positions will be focussed more exclusively upon leading the institution and his contribution may have a more profound and longer-term impact on the CF as a whole.

As described in our CF leadership manuals, command is based upon formally delegated authority, and is reflected in the NATO definition of command as “… the authority vested in an individual of the armed forces for the direction, coordination, and control of military forces.” Command typically includes, but is not limited to, such things as planning, problem solving and decision making, organizing, informing, directing and leading, allocating and managing resources, developing, coordinating, monitoring, controlling, and so on. Nearly everything a Commander does – planning, directing, allocating resources, monitoring – is driven and governed by the Commander’s vision, goal, or mission, and the will to realize or attain that vision, goal, or mission. As such, command is the purposeful exercise of authority – over structures, resources, people, and activities.2 Consequently, a Commander has the responsibility to lead and manage all resources assigned to him through his legal and personal authority, as well as by his leadership and management skills. The interesting note is the ratio of leadership and management requirements change with higher ranks to a point that a Commander at the strategic level is deeply involved with strategic visioning and management, while his leadership role has shifted from leading people to leading the institution.

A CPO1/CWO, on the other hand, has and will always retain his essential responsibilities of promoting morale and welfare, maintaining discipline, and other similar duties. Increased time in rank and seniority, combined with NCM professional development programs, which provide excellent opportunities for CPO1/CWO to broaden their knowledge and intellectual potential, cause their responsibilities to evolve as well while becoming a full member of the Command Team (i.e., less emphasis upon maintaining discipline). Consequently, their most important functions and responsibilities gradually progressed to become close advisors to, as well as strong supporters of the Commander by promoting his vision, elaborating upon his intent, and explaining his decisions. In some cases, the CPO1/CWO may be involved in the development of the Commander’s vision, and, therefore, will exert considerable influence upon the future of the formation/command.

Consequently the functions of a CPO1/CWO are critical to the success of a formation/command, and, when properly understood, they have the potential to become key enablers to any organization, especially if an officer fully recognizes the value of this relationship and exploits it early in his career. It is therefore important to explore these two functions separately.

WO Jim Blackmore and Maj Eleanor Taylor

DND photo IS2010-3026-1

An Advisor

It is a well known fact that a Commander and a CPO1/CWO look at issues from different angles, and, in my view, these differences are the inevitable result of our different experience and distinct officer and NCM professional development construct.  An officer will develop his leadership skill by leading people at the junior level, and will gradually transition to leading the institution by the time he has reached the senior officer level, and will have attended the senior course at the Canadian Forces College. He will therefore need the right balance of management and leadership skills, as leading the institution becomes critical to the Commander in order to ensure the organization is progressing in the right direction. A good example is the former Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS), General Rick Hillier, and his transformation model. It is interesting to note that by the time an officer attends the Joint Command and Staff Program at CFC Toronto, it is also at that point that he may be selected as a commanding officer. The NCM professional development is very different. The education framework for NCMs is focussed upon leadership and leading people with a taste of leading the institution, and, unless an NCM is employed in a staff position, it is only at the Chief Petty Officer Second Class (CPO2)/Master Warrant Officer (MWO) level that managing and leading the institution takes more prominence in his day-to-day activities. Even then, the large majority of CPO2 / MWO positions exist at the unit level, with the NCMs having to perform few institutional duties.

Consequently, the experience gained by an officer will be a mixture of management and leadership, focussed upon leading people at the junior officer level, but his leadership must change to leading the institution by the time he reaches the senior officer level. The NCM, on the other hand, will remain focussed on leading people and will transition to management and leading the institution later in his career. As the manual NCM Corps 2020 states, “… the NCM[s] are traditionally strong at leading teams of other NCMs under challenging and difficult circumstances. Their strength is derived from employing proven leadership principles and practices.”3 Consequently, these differences in experience and education create a synergy that is complementary to each other when considering that, to be efficient, any organization requires the right balance of management and leadership, including leading people and the institution.

As an advisor, a CPO1/CWO will be consulted on many issues, especially when a new policy or a forthcoming decision may have an impact upon morale, welfare, or any other aspect of personnel management. In these cases, the experience of the CPO1/CWO will be crucial to generate productive arguments that will be considered by the Commander before a decision is rendered or a policy is promulgated. His advice will also be critical with respect to initiatives that may affect the organization. While these initiatives may be limited in scope (and therefore may be perceived to have a limited impact upon personnel), it is not unusual to find out that, in the long term, initiatives that affect the organization as a whole have a profound impact upon its members. In all cases, the CPO1/CWO must be involved from the start and accompany the Commander whenever these initiatives are discussed, both to broaden the CPO1/CWO knowledge and to allow him to understand the scope of the project and, more critically, to be in a better position to evaluate the potential impact it may have on personnel and the organization. To involve the CPO1/CWO halfway through the initiative will only put the CPO1/CWO into a ‘catch-up’ mode that negatively affects the efficiency of the Command Team, and can possibly slow down the process. In short, to be an effective advisor to the Commander, a CWO/CPO1 must be engaged in all key issues affecting the organization.

Supporting the Commander

The CPO1/CWO has the most influence within the Command Team through the CPO1/CWO network and feedback from senior NCMs, an area that is often forgotten or marginalized in importance.

As stated in the CF leadership manuals: “Creating a vision is an essential activity that institutional leaders undertake and it is widely recognized as one of the top attributes for senior leadership whether in the military, government, or business. Undeniably, a clear vision for an organization is of fundamental importance to its well-being and without a clear vision, organizations tend to drift with no sense of purpose and with a lack of coordination among their integral components. However, a compelling vision and strategic objectives provide the essential foundation for initiating change.”4 The manuals also identify: “The challenge is to develop and shape the vision, along with a plan for implementation of the vision through a collaborative approach. In leading and implementing change, institutional leaders require effective strategies and resources to educate, persuade, and motivate other institutional leaders and members of the profession of arms to commit to change. Once the vision and strategy have been established, a ‘change team’ provides the initial endorsement and action to put the vision and plan into action across multiple levels and domains. It is essential that this initial change team have the power and credibility to lead change, and an effective team comprises institutional leaders with proven transformational skills who are representative of all stakeholders and who have the potential to influence change.”5

Sgt Kent Turriff and BGen Robert Beletic

DND photo TN2010-0031-118

Therefore, a Commander will rely upon key players within his organization to ensure his vision and intent are well understood. Consequently, the officer’s chain of command will assist in broadcasting the vision, the pertinent information and directives, while the CPO1/CWO will engage his NCM network to explain and re-enforce the Commander’s vision. It is important to note that once the directives have been given by the officers, it is truly the senior NCMs that are the agents of change by being in direct contact with every NCM throughout the organization. This interaction is crucial, as the senior NCMs will utilize their leadership skills to coordinate the effort of everyone toward a common goal, and to provide valuable feedback through the NCM network up to the CPO1/CWO. This feedback can then be used by the CPO1/CWO to inform the Commander with respect to how effectively his vision is being transmitted, and how well his intent is being understood, and on morale and other important issues that, at times, are not formally brought up through the chain of command. The same process occurs whenever a project is implemented or a decision has been taken by the Commander.  Again, directives are issued by officers through the formal chain of command, while the CPO1/CWO engages his network.

This network is therefore a key enabler whenever an issue is controversial or has the potential of affecting morale and welfare. However, to be effective, the CPO1/CWO must again be well informed and fully conversant of the issues. It is therefore imperative that the CPO1/CWO be involved in all discussions and meetings to understand the intricacies surrounding an issue, allowing him the ability to answer questions whenever they surface. To be involved halfway through the decision process will yet again put the CPO1/CWO into a ‘catch-up’ mode, with the same effects mentioned earlier.

Having understood both of these functions, the Command Team must also be seen as one entity with the same vision and the same voice.  At times, the Commander’s decision may not be the preferred option of the CPO1/CWO, but having considered his point of view, the decision becomes a Command Team effort. By being viewed as a Command Team decision, in which the senior NCM has been consulted, it provides a powerful image that has a direct impact upon both the officers and NCMs, as it is generally understood that any issues identified through the CPO1/CWO network will have been taken into consideration, and, consequently, will ease the implementation of any controversial decision. That image must therefore be nurtured by having the CPO1/CWO accompany the Commander whenever it is appropriate to do so. By being seen together, it sends two powerful messages, the first being a partnership that consults each other, the second being the organizational governance with the Commander representing the officers, the authority and the decision-making process, while the CPO1/CWO represents the human factor including the NCM corps, discipline, and welfare. The CPO1/CWO should therefore always be present whenever the Commander represents the organization such as during a ceremony, at a meeting, during a unit visit, or on any other occasion that the Command Team is required.


The Command Team is a powerful key enabler, and, to be effective, CPO1/CWO must receive the proper education and development opportunities to expand their ability as advisors. To be fair, the CF has made great strides toward that goal with the introduction of our Non-Commissioned Officers Professional Development (NCMPD) program, but with the evolving Command Team Concept, we should seek more training/education opportunities, especially at the officer/NCM Developmental Period (DP) 5 level. He must also be involved in all discussions and meetings that have an impact on the organization. By doing so, the CPO1/CWO will be provided with a holistic understanding of the issues surrounding the unit, and therefore, a better appreciation of the direction the Commander wishes to take. He will consequently be able to disseminate the Commander’s decision and most importantly, the vision and mission through his NCM network and therefore enhance the implementation of any directive. The end result can only be a significant improvement in the performance and efficiencyof the unit.


Base Imaging CFB Kingston photo KN2007-654

CMJ Logo

Chief Warrant Officer (CWO) Stéphane Guy, MMM, CD, was Formation Chief Warrant Officer of the Canadian Defence Academy in Kingston from July 2008 until July 2010, and is currently the National Military Representative Chief Warrant Officer at Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) in Casteau, Belgium.


  1. For ease of reading, the use of the masculine form has been used throughout.
  2. Leadership in the Canadian Forces: Conceptual Foundation, p. 8.
  3. The Canadian Forces Non-Commissioned Member in the 21st Century: Detailed Analysis and Strategy for Launching Implementation (NCM Corps 2020), pp. I-14.
  4. Leadership in the Canadian Forces …, p. 82.
  5. Ibid., p. 85.