Byron's Babbles

Leading Like Mission Command

FullSizeRenderThe ability to influence a group of people to accomplish a common goal takes
great leadership. At our first Harvard LILA virtual meeting of the year, last month we discussed many principles and one that stuck out to me was the idea of the US Army’s Mission Command. The principles of mission command are a guide to build and influence an organization to achieve common goals over time. The principles of mission command are: build cohesive teams through mutual trust; create shared understanding; provide a clear commander’s intent; exercise disciplined initiative; use mission orders; and accept prudent risk. Leaders cannot just execute these principles at that crucial time when the need is greatest, they need to already have a solid foundation built within the organization.

The core of a credible leader is competence, which in turn builds confidence in and from the team. People do not follow incompetent leaders, at least not knowingly. Needless to say that trust is the most important thing a leader can have, along with the team trusting each other but, without competence all of the trust is for not. Competence begins with personal and professional development. This includes the honing of skills for the profession or mission. Great leaders also develop the competence of those they serve. This in turn should result in a competent organization which is creating results.

Another important component of Mission Command is the presence of the leader on the ground next to the troops. In order to set the example, we must be shoulder to shoulder with those we serve. This will give us the first hand knowledge of the welfare of our team. Additionally, it enables us to share in the hardships and dangers of the team members we serve. It would be very tough to be competent without having a first hand view of what is going on. This first hand knowledge is also crucial for trust to exist. Many times it is the unremarkable actions of a leader that can build trust. These events might be things like a leader’s unexpected visit, an unspoken gesture of appreciation or concern, or the leader filling in for a missing team member.

“Some commanders used a helicopter as their personal mount. I never believed in that. You had to get on the ground with your troops to see and hear what was happening. You have to soak up first-hand information for your instincts to operate accurately. Besides, it’s too easy to be crisp, cool and detached at 1,500 feet; too easy to demand the impossible of your troops; too easy to make mistakes that are fatal only to those souls far below in the mud, the blood, and the confusion.” ~ Retired Lieutenant General Hal Moore in his book We Were Soldiers Once…and Young

Leaders must strive to collect the necessary knowledge from many different sources in order to make the right decision. This is why shared understanding is so important. This shared understanding can be as basic as leadership cultivating effective teamwork, which requires that team members share key understandings of their roles, of what a team is, and how to work together. Leaders must strive to collect the necessary knowledge from many different sources in order to make the right decision. This means that we must have our teams is a state of shared understanding.

This really becomes a centralized to decentralized system of leadership. Centralized leadership concentrates the power to one place. Decentralization, as a type of organizational structure, allows daily operations and decision-making responsibilities to be handled by middle and lower-level team members out and within the organization, allowing top management to focus more on major decisions. In other words, allow those closest to where the data is being produced, or what I call street level, make the decisions. Team members can be empowered by having more autonomy to make their own decisions, giving them a sense of importance and making them feel as if they have more input in the direction of the organization. It also allows them to make better use of the knowledge and experience they have gained and implement some of their own ideas. This distributed leadership is very important and should be intentionally used in organizations share the responsibility and not have everything fall on one leader. As was stated in our LILA session, “This allows leaders to solve the way they see fit.”


Flaw-Tolerant Leadership

This morning while feeding in one of our pastures I came across the most beautiful spider web. There was a dew on, which accentuated the detail and geometry of the web. It was so cool I took a picture and have included it in this post. I tweeted that the spider web either had a geometry or leadership lesson in it. Here is the leadership lesson. 

In researching spider webs just now I came across the research of Markus Buehler, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering (CEE) at MIT. Buehler has analyzed the complex, hierarchical structure of spider silk and its amazing strength. His research shows that on a pound-for-pound basis, it’s stronger than steel. 

Working with CEE graduate students Steven Cranford and Anna Tarakanova, and Nicola Pugno of the Politecnico di Torino in Italy Buehler found that a key component of spider silk that helps make webs robust is something previously considered a weakness: the way it can stretch and soften at first when pulled, and then stiffen again as the force of the pulling increases.
Additionally, these researchers found that spider webs typically only fail or get damaged in small areas. This makes it easy for the spiders to make repairs. If you’ve ever looked closely at a spider web, it still functions even with damage. This what Buehler described in this way: “It’s a very flaw-tolerant system.”

This made me think about leading in a flaw-tolerant way and creating a flaw-tolerant organization. We talk about encouraging taking risks and encouraging failing quickly, but have we made our organizations flaw-tolerant? We need to make sure we are set up like the spider web to have localized failure/damage without it being catastrophic. 

We are beginning to accept the value of failure in the abstract. In other words we have learned, at least that corporate policies, processes, and practices. Conversely, it’s an entirely different matter at the personal level. Everyone hates to fail.

In order to create a flaw-tolerant system, more effective and interdependent upon the decisions made by each departmental leader. We need to be like the spider web and weave our teams together so we can sustain failure or small damage and be able to quickly make local repairs without missing a beat.

Is your organization flaw-tolerant?

Leadership Like A Sequoia 

Today when I read Lesson #48 entitled “The Roots of a Giant” in 52 Leadership Lessons: Timeless Stories For The Modern Leader by John Parker Stewart. In this story Stewart tells about the root system of a giant Sequoia tree. He explained that the roots of sequoias only go 6 to 20 feet into the ground, but the roots will spread out over 200-300 feet. This allows the tree survive floods and conserve soil nutrients. 

“Take care of your ‘roots’ . No one can do it all alone, not even a Giant.” ~ John Parker Stewart

I have been blessed to walk among the giant Sequoias in King’s Canyon National Park in California. In fact I have been blessed to take many groups of Agriculture Science/FFA members to see these wonders of nature. I’m disappointed that I didn’t think then to discuss this amazing root system with my students. What an amazing metaphor for developing the right foundation.We and our organizations are stronger when we are rooted in a strong foundation.
In my research on this topic I found that Sequoias help each other. Giant Sequoias do not compete with each other for resources, rather their huge root systems fuse together and they share resources. So, what is the key to a strong foundation? The root system. We are intertwined and interconnected, supportive, dependent, yet interdependent as team mates. Interlocking with each other and holding each other up. In other words we must create powerful interlocking systems to make a powerful difference.

As leaders our roots are hidden out of sight but the condition of those roots is clearly evident in our lives as a leader. Weak roots make a weak leader, just like weak roots make a weak organization. Just like the root system of the Sequoia, our roots extend in different directions. Our roots anchor us against life’s storms. They feed us and sustain us. We must also not forget to grow our leadership root system and that of our organizations.

Take a look below the surface at your organizations foundational root system. What do you see? Then take a look down deep at your own root system. Is it worthy of being compared to a Sequoia?

3 Self Leadership Strategies to Reduce Stress at Work

Guest post from Susan Fowler. Originally Published 5/25/17:

The fast-paced nature of today’s work environment can create stress and anxiety for workers at all levels in an organization—but especially those responsible for getting things out the door on a daily basis. Even the most organized and efficient among us can feel the strain.

Looking for some relief? Recent research confirms that a little proactive self leadership results in significantly less strain (and more energy) at the end of your workday.

See for yourself by giving one—or all three—of these strategies a try.

Ask for FeedbackTomorrow morning, try a bold start to your day. Ask for feedback from your manager, colleagues, or staff members: “Would you be willing to share one piece of feedback, based on your experience or observation, that you think would help me do my job better today?”

Neuroscience provides evidence that asking for feedback sets up a more responsive brain condition. Requesting feedback delivers the information you need when you need it, but also results in less defensiveness—meaning you are more likely to hear what you need to hear and act on it.

So, when you learn something of value, act on it! Put what you’ve learned to use. Asking for feedback and then acting on it will demonstrate the willingness to learn and grow and the courage to be honest. What’s more, others will see it as a valuable example of proactive behavior.

Identify Solutions to Problems

Ask people what is getting in the way of their being more productive and many will half-jokingly point to their manager, an irritating coworker, or an unreasonable client. Instead of bemoaning your manager who “doesn’t get it,” why not be proactive and sell your solution? Follow these four steps:

1. State the problem or issue in one clear sentence, including the implications for you and others if the situation isn’t improved.

2. Generate three solutions with the pros and cons of each solution. One of the solutions should be the one that you believe will solve the problem based on your experience and insight. But as good as your idea may be, you need to generate two more. Three is the magic number.

3. Identify the decision makers and present to them your three solutions and the pros and cons for each—not revealing which one you think is best.

4. After presenting all three solutions, provide your recommendation for the solution you think is best, along with the rationale for why. Then, seek agreement.

This technique has been proven to create either the change you desire or a valuable learning moment. Either way, you experience less stress and more energy.

Be Proactive
Stop waiting to be given authority. Be proactive.

It’s been said authority is 20 percent given and 80 percent taken. If you have a solution to a nagging problem or an idea for improving efficiency on a particular task or project, don’t let yourself get frustrated by the permission process or the hoops you need to jump through to get things done. Instead, take action. Build a business case for giving you the authority to act.

In taking action you will experience a sense of competence and autonomy—two psychological needs required to thrive at work. And those who give you the authority will also benefit by empowering you to do more so that they can focus on other things that need their attention.
Practice a little self leadership each day to reduce your stress and fatigue. Ask for feedback, identify solutions, and be proactive starting tomorrow morning. You might find yourself able to devote more time to your health, family and friends, and all those dreams you’d pursue if you only had the energy!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Susan Fowler implores leaders to stop trying to motivate people. In her latest bestselling book, she explains Why Motivating People Doesn’t Work … And What Does: The New Science of Leading, Engaging, and Energizing. She is the author of by-lined articles, peer-reviewed research, and six books, including the newly revised bestselling Self Leadership and the One Minute Manager with Ken Blanchard. Tens of thousands of people worldwide have learned from her ideas through training programs, such as the Situational Self Leadership and Optimal Motivation product lines. For more information, visit