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.”


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