C.O.D.E. Development: A Vision for Cyber Leaders

Recognizing the need to provide the Department of Defense a cohort of technical operators in the face of growing threats and increasing activities by adversaries in the cyberspace domain, the Army approved the Cyber branch in the Fall of 2014. Allowing for current servicemembers to transfer in and the accession of newly commissioned, warrant officers, and enlisted soldiers, the branch must balance the need for cyber technical expertise while growing its own leadership as cyber leaders will serve in complex, uncertain, and contested environments.[1] The Army Capstone Concept states one of the Army’s “greatest competitive advantages resides in its ability to learn faster and adapt more quickly than its adversaries.”[2]

With increasing rates of technology changes, lowered costs, and enhanced dissemination to the lowest level of actor and adversary, leaders throughout all branches must remain imaginative, adaptable, and innovative.[3] Maneuvering through cyberspace in support of strategic objectives and Unified Land Operations requires cyber leaders to develop into “agile and adaptive leaders who are flexible, critically reflective, and comfortable with ambiguity and uncertainty.”[4] The Army’s Cyber Branch must prepare leaders to improve competence in their technical requirements, remain operationally focused, seek lifelong development, and possess an entrepreneurial mindset through the application of learner-centric, adult learning models in the classroom to meet the needs of the Army as it defends the nation. This article first develops and defines the vision of cyber leaders and then discusses how to educate those leaders.

Cyber Leader Vision

Cyber leaders set conditions to enable operations and empower commanders at all echelons to accomplish their mission on land, sea, and air. Grounded in doctrine, policy, laws, and authorities, cyber leaders must effectively apply their technical expertise in the joint, interagency, intergovernmental, multinational environment to maneuver through cyberspace and support operations across all domains. Moreover, while much of what the Army’s Cyber branch accomplishes is technical, leading teams within the cyber force still requires focusing organizations towards a  purpose, making work productive, and understanding the “social function” of management.[5] Within the U.S. Army Cyber School, the Cyber Leader College encourages the growth of competent, operationally focused, developing, and entrepreneurial leaders for the force through its educational offerings.

Breaking the C.O.D.E

Competence: The Army Leader Development Strategy recognizes that the “pace of technological change” requires the Army to “develop leaders who are proficient in cyberspace.”[6] As the Cyber branch, leaders must set the tone for competence in the technical arena, maintaining competency in technology trends while continuing to possess a foundational understanding of common core Army operational tasks. The speed of technological change combined with the “nearly ubiquitous access to information” challenges the cyber leader to anticipate and adapt faster than the Army’s adversaries to maintain the competitive edge required on today’s battlefield.[7]

Soldiers with the 780th Military Intelligence Brigade conduct cyberspace operations during a training rotation for the 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif., Jan. 24. The Fort Meade, Md.-based 780th was one of several cyber organizations that took part in the rotation as part of an pilot program to designed to help the Army develop how it will build and employ cyber in its tactical formations. (U.S. Army Photo)

Operational Focus: Cyber leaders must leverage the larger Army and defense enterprise, which “integrates maneuver in cyberspace with the other forms of maneuver to deny the enemy’s ability to conduct operations in cyberspace while preserving U.S. freedom of action.”[8] As such, cyber leaders must ensure their organizations “embrace its essential tasks” and focus on overall commander’s intent and mission goals. Integration of cyber and electromagnetic effects as part of the operation “combine[s] technologies” across several domains, compelling the adversary to face multiple, simultaneous predicaments while enabling Joint Force mission accomplishment.[9]

Development: Army education occurs at defined periods in a leader’s career. The “complex and ill structured challenges presented in the” operating environment requires leaders to continue to educate and train themselves and their subordinates between mandated professional military education opportunities across all branches.[10] Cyber leaders must first develop their foundational understanding of Army and Cyber operations in the classroom. Once experience and education create expertise in Army and Joint doctrine, cyber leaders must leverage creative approaches to continued development—from broadening education and industry opportunities to a disciplined approach to reading and the pursuit of technological projects to further expertise in current topics. Moreover, cyber leaders must ensure subordinates recognize that “career-long learning is essential to development.”[11] Emphasizing sustained development creates cyber leaders who continue to grow and gain knowledge of the complex environment in which the Army operates.

Entrepreneurship: Cyber leaders must detect and then exploit opportunities as well as “anticipate, articulate and manage change” within organizations while accepting prudent risk to achieve the objective.[12] Operating in a domain that outpaces acquisition, typical organizational change, human capital management policy development, and—sometimes—even planning, cyber leaders must “anticipate future demands, stay ahead of determined enemies, and accomplish the mission” by “innovating new tools or methods.”[13] Leaders must accept risk in the face of bureaucratic obstacles to innovation and effectively communicate the requirements to effect change.[14] The entrepreneurial spirit meets those demands through a blend of risk taking, initiative, imagination, and creativity in and out of organizations.[15] Cyber leaders will either have that spirit naturally or must find ways to foster it internally and in others to succeed in the complex environment they face.  

Cyber Leader Education[16]

Achieving these four traits requires education efforts and delivery methods to foster the knowledge, skills, and abilities outlined in the vision of a cyber leader. Instruction from the Cyber Leader College must create problem solving leaders.

The Army Learning Concept emphasizes shifting from previous lecture, instructor-centered material delivery to one that engages “learners in collaborative practical and problem solving exercises that are relevant” to the role they fill in the force. Students gain the required knowledge by preparing to meet comprehension objectives through reading, self-paced instruction, or research. Once students achieve the baseline on their own, the classroom serves as a place for collaborative learning activities where the instructor facilitates discussion in a manner that “constructs” knowledge through student participation.[17] A learner-centric approach allows students to think critically and imparts outcomes that foster not just their competence, but also their ability to continue to develop themselves and subordinates.

Soldiers, with U.S. Army Cyber Command's 780th Military Intelligence Brigade, take part in network defense training. (U.S. Army Photo)

Winning in today’s complex and challenging operating environment requires cyber leaders who are not just competent in a broad array of skills, but who also possess initiative, agility, confidence, and can develop adaptive thinking through the Adaptive Soldier Leader Training and Education model developed by the Asymmetric Warfare Group. Educating for broad, intangible problem solving skills allows for a force prepared to shift to fight new adversaries and anticipate the need for innovative approaches instead of focusing solely on knowledge gained from previous conflicts and instruction.[18]

Design for Experience challenges cyber leaders with solvable but complex problems focused on current operations. Instructors coach, while learners lead the discussion and problem-solving process, applying knowledge gained in preparation. There is no single solution; students may solve the designed experience in a variety of ways that focus on the broader acquisition of new knowledge, skills, and abilities to apply in the Cyber Mission Force.[19] All classroom experiences must allow the students to learn through experience to fully engage learner-centric, outcomes based approaches.


The Joint Force, U.S. Army, and Cyber Mission Forces all require competent and entrepreneurial leaders who develop themselves and others and are operationally focused. Failure to do so will lead to tactical, and ultimately strategic struggles, no matter how technically skilled the force. These cyber leaders must adapt faster than their adversaries, anticipate needs from the Joint Force, and develop innovative tools, processes, and methods that empower commanders to achieve their objectives. Through a learner-centric, outcomes based focus on education, the Army can create these leaders through experience in the classroom.  Perhaps more importantly the army can create networks between leaders, and provide space in which these leaders can continue their own development.

Charlie Lewis is a Cyber Operations Officer and serves as the Chief of the Cyber Leader College at the U.S. Army Cyber School. Charlie is a 2004 graduate of the United States Military Academy and holds a Master in Public Policy from Harvard University. He currently serves as a Madison Policy Forum Cybersecurity Fellow and as an Assistant Editor for Army Cyber Institute’s Cyber Defense Review. The views expressed are his alone, and do not reflect those of the U.S. Army, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.

The author would like to thank the support from the US Army Cyber School during the development of this article.

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Header Image: The Cyber Operations Center on Fort Gordon, Ga. (Michael L. Lewis)


[1] Fort Gordon Public Affairs Office, “Army Cyber Branch Offers Soldiers New Challenges, Opportunities,” Military.com, November 26, 2014, retrieved from http://www.military.com/veteran-jobs/security-clearance-jobs/2014/11/26/army-cyber-branch-offers-soldiers-new-challenges-opportunities.html on May 17th, 2016.

[2] Training and Doctrine Command, “TRADOC Pam 525-3-0: The U.S. Army Capstone Concept,” Headquarters, United States Army Training and Doctrine Command, Fort Eustis, VA: 2012, pp 21.

[3] Ibid, pp 21.

[4] Office of the Chief of Cyber. “Cyber Branch,” Draft: DA-PAM 600-3, Human Resources Command, 2015, 1.

[5] Zachary First, “Technology Changes, Good Management Doesn’t,” Harvard Business Review, Accessed from www.hbr.org on April 8th, 2016, Cambridge, MA: April 7th, 2016.

[6] United States Army, “Army Leader Development Strategy 2013,” Headquarters, United States Army, Washington D.C.: 2013, pp 6.

[7] Army Capstone Concept, pp 21.

[8] Training and Doctrine Command, “TRADOC Pam 525-3-1: The U.S. Army Operating Concept,” Headquarters, United States Army Training and Doctrine Command, Fort Eustis, VA: 2014, pp 24

[9] Army Operating Concept, pp 11.

[10] Training and Doctrine Command, “TRADOC Pam 525-3-3: The U.S. Army Training Concept,” Headquarters, United States Army Training and Doctrine Command, Fort Eustis, VA: 2014, pp 68.

[11] Army Leader Development Strategy, pp 7.

[12] Alvaro Cuervo, Domingo Ribeiro, and Salvador Roig, “Entrepreneurship: Concepts, Theory and Perspective. Introduction,” Entrepreneurship, edited by Alvaro Cuervo, Domingo Ribeiro, and Salvador Roig, Springer: New York, 2007, pg 1.

[13] Army Operating Concept, pp 22.

[14] Peter Drucker, Innovation and Entrepreneurship, Harper & Row, New York: 1985, pp 180.

[15] Cuervo, pp 3.

[16] The education of cyber leaders nests within the U.S. Army Cyber School draft training strategy “Training for Effect” by Ryan Tate.

[17] Training and Doctrine Command, “TRADOC Pam 525-3-2: The U.S. Army Learning Concept,” Headquarters, United States Army Training and Doctrine Command, Fort Eustis, VA: 2012, pp 19.

[18] US Army Asymmetric Warfare Group. Preparing Soldier and Developing Leaders for Decisive Action, White paper 2013, pp ii-v.

[19] C. Hoadley, & P. Kilner, Using Technology to Transform Communities of Practice into Knowledge-Building Communities, ACM SIGGROUP Bulletin 25.1, 2005, pp 31-40.