I can distill my personal command philosophy into four concepts…no catch phrases or buzz words…just simple principles[a1] . First, a commander needs to shut up [a2] and let their [a3] folks do their job as much as possible. Second, a commander must clearly understand what the [a4] individuals and organization expect from them. Third, a commander must create their own reality. Finally, a commander must be genuine. Before explaining, I should probably qualify that what I’m[a5] about to say is a product of my warped set of experiences. It is in no way meant to be derisive or satirical…it’s just what I know to be true.
Surely everyone is familiar with the notion that a well-executed, mediocre plan is much better than a poorly-executed perfect plan. This [a6] is the crux of empowering people. Countless times[a7] I have observed people discussing different approaches to a problem often pitting leaders against workers on how to skin the cat. Unfortunately, the leader usually weighs in with the final say even overruling subject matter experts. [a8] This leaves the subordinates to swallow the “front office” solution and try to make it work.
Of course [a9] most employees are good followers and they make it happen according to plan but there are several drawbacks of the top-down approach. [a10] First, it can take time for people to buy into a solution they played no part in conceiving. Second, it can stifle solutions from the experts in the future.
Third, it pulls the leader further into the weeds as direction is necessary to verify and vector progress[a11] . Why is this so hard to achieve in practice? Perhaps it is personality driven, or perhaps it is instilled by senior mentors, but for [a12] some reason most leaders seem to lack the mental or moral aptitude to let folks press with solutions they deem “inferior.” Why not ask, “What do you think we should do?” and give that solution your full support. Folks will take immediate ownership and you’ll be floored [a13] by the results.
Leadership literature is filled with cursory calls for the leader to communicate their [a14] vision, goals and expectation. Honestly, this somewhat of a cop out[a15] . Of course a leader needs to take an organization in [a16] a clear direction, but [a17] that direction has everything to do with context. It is completely absurd to create a vision or organizational climate that fosters risk taking [a18] at a nuclear base or rapid uninformed decisions in an engineering design flight.
Likewise, it is equally ridiculous to roll into a squadron trying to pump [a19] everyone up following a commander that rode them all into the ground during an ORI[a20] . A wise commander would take a moment to figure out, “What does this unit need from me?” Do they need a disciplinarian to check rampant DUIs? Do they need a personable/approachable commander to get them through a recent suicide? Perhaps they just need some top cover from the group or wing so they can get their jobs done. Of course this will vary during a commander’s tenure as events occur and the personality [a21] of the organization changes; the key to know what your folks expect of you. [a22]
We’ve heard the anecdotes contrasting the impact different commanders have on the same organization, “under Col Smith my unit happy [a23] and effective but after Col Jones took command, we were miserable and unproductive.” This is a good illustration of how commanders create their own reality. Commander and supervisors who lament over their long hours, stressful environment and massive workload cannot improve their plight until they realize that they create this reality.
Typically this frenetic environment is the result of a combination of poor organizational skills, micromanagement, lack of decision making and insufficient triage. Conversely, the alternate universe that a commander should seek to create is one where folks understand what’s important, are trusted to work those priorities and insulated from distractions. Likewise, the commander needs to be competent enough to know when to make a decision and when to shut up. It all sounds simple, but in practice, creating this reality can be very difficult especially if there are strong type-A personalities within the unit or in the chain of command.
The final concept and one that a commander has the least control over is sincerity. One can do all the right things and say all the right things [a24] but still be ineffective if they are not true to themselves. If a commander isn’t passionate about what they [a25] are [a26] doing, doesn’t care about their[a27] unit, or doesn’t respect their [a28] boss, no amount of tap dancing or rhetoric will mask it. This can be the result of apathy, narcissism or any number of other traits but it always shines through.
Likewise, if a soft-spoken introvert wants to become a cheer-leading, fist-pumping commander, it will fall short. Some amount of self-centeredness can be mitigated through education, self-reflection and mentoring but only to an extent. Similarly, changing personal techniques or leadership styles to suit a specific situation can compensate for some personality traits. The bottom line is that I would much rather work for a commander that was an uncharismatic, wrinkled blob who truly cared over the ‘GQ[a29] ,’ smooth-talking egotist irrespective of how competent, ethical or confident they were.
You might be thinking, “wait a minute, this guy is forgetting all the important stuff like core values, standards and discipline.” Well, yes, I did…I only have three pages and so accept these “bumper stickers” as given. Will I expect service, integrity and excellence? Absolutely! Do I plan to emphasize safety, accountability and ethics? No doubt! I’m a military professional—anything less would be unacceptable. It is actually these fuzzy principles (and others like them) that distinguish the vision-puking, smooth-talking automaton from an effective commander and leader in my book[a30] .