Undue Command Influence

By | April 23, 2021

[April 23, 2021]  With recent comments by U.S. President Joe Biden about the trial of police officer Derek Chauvin, undue command influence has made a comeback as a topic of senior leader conversations.  Leaders exert influence; that is what they do.  But when leaders bias an otherwise independent agency or process, things can go bad quickly.

Leadership is not about a title or position.  It’s about influence, the ability to get others to do something they would not ordinarily do.  If senior leaders did not exert command influence, we’d have no institutions, governance, or traditions.  Our culture would be adrift, and people would be living at the lowest levels of humanity.

However, undue command influence is acting outside the accepted ways of communications.  When a senior leader, either intentionally or carelessly, makes statements or takes actions to influence, persuade, or oppress those under him in the performance of his duties, that is undue command influence.  Such influence might not be illegal but is seen as unethical and corrupt.

This influence can be in the form of direct instructions, instructions through the staff or others, or statements and actions done in such a manner that the influence is clearly directed at the outcome.  Joe Biden’s comments on the hotly debated trial of Derek Chavin before the jury rendered their verdict is a classic example of undue command influence.

Having commanded from Platoon level up through Brigade level, I was always careful not to exercise influence that would jeopardize the outcome of any ongoing military judicial action.  If I had, the U.S. military would have called this “unlawful command influence,” a subset of undue command influence and is expressly prohibited under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

A good friend of mine and a Brigade Commander himself advised us to just duct tape our mouths shut when influencing judicial matters or issues that don’t concern us.  Making comments that influence others can tread on an ethical line.  Doing so shows a lack of discipline and sense.  Avoid it.

What a leader can find difficult is understanding the difference between legitimate command influence, where a strong sense of vision and purpose is a great benefit and undue command influence when we need to keep our mouths shut.  Knowing the difference is one of those skills leaders must understand, else they will find themselves rightly criticized and ultimately achieve the opposite of their desires.

Joe Biden, as well as the Vice President, should stay out of judicial affairs and let the courts go about their business undeterred by our Executive Branch of government.  We all will be better off for no undue command influence.

Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article every day on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

15 thoughts on “Undue Command Influence

  1. Rowen Tabernackle

    Gen. Satterfield, I agree that leadership is all about influence and that a good leader knows when influence is wrong. That is the crux of smart leadership. Those that are properly trained and gain the right experiences can be successful without stepping on the metaphorical land mines that are scattered in the path of leaders.

    1. Eduardo Sanchez

      Only because the idiot media are not doing their jobs.

  2. Tom Bushmaster

    A leader must know when to keep his mouth shut and when to open it and comment.

  3. Dead Pool Guy

    Interesting Gen. S. Thanks. I think most of us appreciate your articles when they link directly to the US military. It gives us a sense that they actually know what they are doing. At least most of the time. An example where a senior US Army leader is failing is at West Point academy.

  4. JT Patterson

    Key quote from Gen. Satterfield:
    “What a leader can find difficult is understanding the difference between legitimate command influence, where a strong sense of vision and purpose is a great benefit and undue command influence when we need to keep our mouths shut. ”
    Now, that deserves a four thumbs up salute.

    1. whathteheck

      Yes, I thumbs up that comment as well. I’ve seen too many “leaders” step on their wing wang because they couldn’t tell the difference.

  5. Steve Dade

    Another article on a key topic that good leaders must have some knowledge. Else, they will step on too many people’s turf and cause all sorts of unintended consequences. I see this happening all the time with politicians who fail to provide proper guidance and rules, yet get themselves involved in the minutia of details carrying out their dictats.

    1. Pooch T.

      It’s because the politicians don’t know their place. They neglect their job and get into the weeds with others who have to do their duty without proper guidance. Typical small mindedness.

      1. Yusaf from Texas

        Joe Biden, classic example. Plus, he is dividing the country. Shame on him and his media friendly ilk that supports it. I know that Gen. Satterfield doesn’t like political statements (although he won’t censor them) but I must say Biden is the worst president of the US ever in our history.

        1. Randy Goodman

          Biden isn’t running the country, he cannot get out of bed without help. His VP is a complete, cackling idiot who got where she is by sleeping with powerful men (while married). Who is running the country? Voters demand to know.

        2. Doug Smith

          Divider in chief. I used to call him slow Joe but I now know otherwise, he is just crazy.

  6. Audrey

    Unlawful or undue. I think, correct me if I am wrong, but “unlawful” only applies to the military. I might be wrong here.


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