Educating Future National Security Leaders at National Defense University’s The Eisenhower School


Photo Credit: Flickr

Authors: Jim Chapple, Larry Colby

Fort Lesley J. McNair, located on the Washington D.C. waterfront between Hains Point and Nationals Park, is the home of the Department of Defense’s (DoD’s) National Defense University (NDU).  The Eisenhower School for National Security and Resource Strategy is one of NDU’s five graduate colleges tasked with preparing military officers and federal government and private sector civilians for strategic leadership and success in developing national security strategy.

As former Assistant Professors of Behavioral Science in the Strategic Leadership and Industry Studies Departments, we have seen first-hand how The Eisenhower School’s work meshes with the capabilities within our own department (L233, Human and Organizational Systems [HOS]), MITRE Labs, and the Federally Funded Research and Development Centers (FFRDCs) managed by MITRE.

National Security Graduate Education

Under the guidance of the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, The Eisenhower School is a unique meeting place for students selected for their potential to become future leaders at the highest levels of the Armed Forces, government service, international partners, and private industry. Much as MITRE is forward-looking as it assesses future challenges to the United States, Eisenhower’s courses of study are designed to prepare these rising senior government and military personnel, and industry executives for the national security challenges of the 21st century. The accredited graduate-level curriculum develops critical and innovative thinking and decision-making skills, resulting in a Master of Science in National Resource Strategy. Our fellow alumni represent general and flag officers, ambassadors, senior executives in government service, and executives in industry who understand the strategic environment and work to develop long-term strategy across the spectrum of the national security enterprise, and private sector activities.

The ten-month, full-time graduate education is designed to promote the development of students as strategic thinkers and national security policymakers. The curriculum emphasizes the resource component of national security, with courses on national security studies, strategic leadership, economics, acquisition and innovation, international business environments, and industry. These core courses are supplemented by a variety of elective courses, elective concentrations in global supply chain and logistics and senior acquisition, and a one-of-a-kind study of the U.S. and global industrial base and its role in supporting the resource requirements of national security.

Eisenhower’s Strategic Leadership Curriculum and MITRE’s HOS Capabilities

After joining the MITRE team over three years ago, we immediately saw the strong alignment  between The Eisenhower School curriculum and HOS’s core capabilities, particularly organizational change and agility, and strategic engagement. One of the two academic departments in which we taught was the Strategic Leadership Department.

The Strategic Leadership Department’s curriculum that we taught in 2018 was built around a study of organizational and leadership behavior. The curriculum’s goal was to develop innovative strategic thinkers and change agents who could create and lead agile, effective organizations to attain and maintain competitive advantage in a volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous strategic environment. The focus was on the work of the strategic leader, the requisite skills to successfully do that work, and assessment and development of the leadership styles that students had developed up to that point in their military, government, or private sector careers. The curriculum was designed to first expose students to foundational concepts and leading practices through readings, case studies, and guest speakers, and then have the students reflect on that foundation based on their own personal experience and the experience of their classmates.

The first half of the year focused on the conceptual and interpersonal skills required for strategic thinking and leaders. The second half of the year focused on leading large organizations. The final project was a practical exercise in the form of a series of in-person interviews with strategic leaders at the C-suite level in corporate America, General and Flag Officers in the military, and SES and Senate-confirmed Secretary levels in government. A representative sample of interviewees ranged from the White House Chief of Staff to the Secretary of the Air Force to the C-suites of SpaceX, Goldman Sachs, and Google.

When we both left Eisenhower in 2018 and arrived at MITRE in 2019, we immediately saw the strong alignment between the Strategic Leadership concepts that we had taught, and the HOS support that MITRE provides its sponsors. The overlaps were significant and confirmed the importance placed by both The Eisenhower School and the MITRE Corporation on key knowledge areas beyond technical engineering. The parts of the curriculum that we saw reflected in HOS capabilities included but were not limited to systems thinking, emotional intelligence and social competence, vision, and communication, aligning to the external and internal environment, organizational climate and culture, trust, building teams, and leading organizational change and learning. Although the specific tools might vary–for example the McKinsey 7-S model taught at Eisenhower versus the Burke-Litwin model used by MITRE–the systemic approach and concepts used to assess organizational performance and leading change were remarkably similar. The final project of the Strategic Leadership Department’s curriculum, where our students were meant to test their application of the curriculum’s concepts, is very analogous (although on a smaller scale) to the organizational assessments HOS conducts for agencies across the Federal government.

The concepts we had taught at The Eisenhower School transferred directly to our work at MITRE. We already understood the underlying concepts behind HOS’ approach and only needed to adapt to the specific tools used by HOS outside of academia. After three plus years at MITRE, we have each applied the adapted concepts that we once taught to support multiple sponsors with organizational assessments, stakeholder engagement plans, and communication strategies. We have also had the opportunity to cross-fertilize and share some of that curriculum and its application with our colleagues within HOS.

Eisenhower’s Curriculum and MITRE’s Capabilities

Beyond the Strategic Leadership Department, other core components of The Eisenhower School’s curriculum also correlate well to other MITRE capabilities and our FFRDCs. For instance, we co-taught the Healthcare sector study within the Industry Studies Program. The program was designed to assess selected defense essential and critical industries from a national security perspective. With that assessment came an evaluation of their preparedness and the role of public policy in those industries. The students in the program developed comparative analyses of U.S. and international participants in the industries and evaluated specific companies based on the economic forces within their sector. Each of the Industry Studies were organized around a series of seminars with discussions facilitated by faculty, prominent industry and government executives, and academic experts that focused on the critical aspects of the sector under examination. The program included an intensive domestic and international field study component that provided an integral practical application in operational settings where students could meet with professionals at all levels of the industry, including many CEOs.

To keep pace with the growth of emerging technologies and new strategic issues, the curriculum adapts. The Healthcare sector we studied in 2017 has been displaced in the list of industries currently studied as part of The Eisenhower School’s FY2022 Industry Studies, but may return to prominence in the future:

  1. Air Domain
  2. Biotechnology
  3. C4ISR
  4. Cyber
  5. Strategic Human Capital
  6. Electronic Warfare
  7. Emerging Technology
  8. Energy
  9. Strategic Materials
  10. Global Agility
  11. Land Domain
  12. Missile Defense
  13. Munitions
  14. Nuclear Triad Command and Control
  15. Organic Industrial Base
  16. Sea Domain
  17. Space
  18. Undersea Domain

In addition to the Industry Studies, two of Eisenhower’s concentrations correlate well with MITRE capabilities. The first is the Global Supply Chain and Logistics Concentration, which provides students with a strategic perspective on supply chain concepts, practices, and operational challenges affecting national security. The second concentration is a Senior Acquisition Course which provides students who are already acquisition professions with advanced accreditation from Defense Acquisition University.

The focus areas of The Eisenhower School’s concentrations and Industry Studies align well with capabilities throughout MITRE Labs and the FFRDCs. Additionally, these focus areas touch on many of the capabilities captured in MITRE’s Corporate Overview, Horizon Strategies, and Mission-focused Research.

Meeting Today’s Demand and Investing in Tomorrow

Our experiences of how the Eisenhower School’s curriculum and MITRE’s capabilities overlap led us to two conclusions.  First, since the purpose and overall curriculum of The Eisenhower School is guided by the priorities of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, the subjects covered in the School’s year-long graduate education program align very well with MITRE’s priorities in supporting the DoD.  If DoD values these capabilities enough to devote a year of full-time graduate education to them, then MITRE is well positioned to meet that demand signal. The second conclusion, which deals with the future, is that collaboration opportunities on these overlapping capabilities should be explored. Some examples of collaboration could be a MITRE employee–possibly from the National Security Engineering Center (NSEC)–attending Eisenhower as an industry fellow student or have a MITRE subject matter expert in the above-outlined capabilities teaching or guest lecturing at Eisenhower. This collaboration would be an investment by MITRE in establishing itself and its capabilities with the next generation of DOD’s senior leaders.

Jim Chapple is a Systems Engineer Principal at MITRE. He specializes in Human and Organizational Systems and has supported a variety of federal agencies with organizational performance assessments, stakeholder engagement, strategic communication, and change management. He is retired from the U.S. Army where he led enterprise change initiatives at the Army and Joint Chiefs of Staff and was an assistant professor of behavioral science at the Eisenhower School. He holds an MS in National Resource Strategy from the National Defense University, an MBA from George Mason University, and a BA in History from the University of Notre Dame.

Larry Colby is an Organizational Change Management Principal at MITRE. He specializes in Human and Organizational Systems with a variety of government organizations. He has flown for the U.S. Marine Corps and is a retired military pilot from the U.S. Air Force. He holds an MS in National Resource Strategy from National Defense University and an MA in Leadership from Duquesne University. Larry is also the author of the Ford Stevens Military-Aviation Thriller Series that features the Reserve Component of the U.S. military.

© 2022 The MITRE Corporation. All rights reserved. Approved for public release.  Distribution unlimited. Case number 22-2102

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