Sunday, December 9, 2007

Troop Leading Procedures (part 3)

The last several posts we have discussed what I learned at the US Army Ranger School as Troop Leading Procedures. They are the general procedures by which leaders at any level – for any mission - can assume command. They are not a leadership cookbook and certainly no recipe for guaranteed success. But they are a battle-tested approach to take a team from receipt of mission to mission accomplishment. I think they have relevance to any leader, on any battlefield:

L – Listen.
E – Energize the Troops.
A – Approximate Plans.
D – Drive towards the objective
E – Eyes on the Battlefield.
R – Refine your plan.
S – Share the plan.
H – Hold your team accountable.
I – Integrate changes.
P – Practice, practice, practice.

We have already covered LEADER. Now we’ll get on to the important...SHIP!

Share the Plan. Issue your orders. Once you have completed a reasonable plan, in a reasonable amount of time, it is necessary to share the details with the troops. Notice the key word in the previous sentence – reasonable. No plan will be perfect. Acknowledge that the plan will likely be modified later, especially once you reach the execution phase (that is okay…what version of Microsoft Windows are we using now?). The old battle axiom, “No plan survives first contact with the enemy,” is as true in every military mission as it is in most any product rollout, sales lead, or new business opportunity.

For most troop leaders, a reasonable amount of time to develop plans is one-third of the available planning time. Giving subordinate leaders two-thirds of the available time to complete their own planning processes (the military’s 1/3 – 2/3 rule) is a great time management rule of thumb. Focus plans on task (what needs to be done) and purpose (why it must be done) and empower subordinates to determine how to make things happen. Issue orders and get out of the way!

Hold Your Team Accountable. Once orders have been issued and as the troops leave, no doubt inspired by the leader’s vision and ready to give their lives for mission accomplishment (well maybe not quite yet!), know that the hard work has just begun. Subordinates must begin their own planning and set off to accomplish their assigned tasks. The leader’s job is to follow-up…and follow-through.

I use the expression, “Check, Double check, check the checkers.” Assess the line workers to determine if everyone is getting the message and to gauge how well your orders are being received. Listen and get feedback. Walk the halls and see (first-hand) if schedules are being met and change is occurring as intended. Determine for yourself if your vision has reached every soldier in every foxhole on the battlefield! Hold subordinate leaders (checkers themselves) accountable for meeting milestones and accomplishing assigned tasks (i.e. check the checkers). Don’t confuse expectation with inspection (per former IBM CEO Lou Gerstner, subordinates will only respect what the leader inspects).

Most military leaders will agree. At Ranger School, we would never begin a mission without inspecting each man’s load, their weapon, and their understanding of the mission. Rehearsals would further validate the team’s understanding of tasks while synchronizing the execution of multiple requirements. Inspections, rehearsals, and “checking the checkers” are fundamental to holding people accountable.

Integrate changes. We can’t fall in love with our plans. Recognize the old adage that “planning is priceless while plans are useless.” Since the standard for issuing initial plans and orders was “reasonable,” leaders must be able to gain feedback and integrate new information and emerging opportunities into ongoing missions. Question everything. Don’t let ego get in the way of being able to make necessary changes. This is the art of execution – mission focused - that separates the good from the great!

Practice, practice, practice. Recognize that no team is ready for the big game without practice – tons of it. Conduct rehearsals at every level to ensure a full understanding of the plan. Solve problems. Supervise execution. Incorporate lessons learned (there will be tons!) and do everything to make the team successful. Decentralize decision-making and stay focused on task and purpose.

That’s the formula – L.E.A.D.E.R.S.H.I.P. Troop leaders have been using this approach from the jungles of Vietnam to the deserts of Iraq. They are battle-tested steps and a time-tested approach to leading men and women – on any battlefield. They are used to measure leadership at the US Army’s Ranger School and at the US Army’s National Training Center. Successful leaders at every military echelon swear by their validity.

Put them into action as you lead your “troops” to greater levels of success. Use warning orders, reconnaissance, inspections, and approximate plans to enable your team for success. Use this framework to help new leaders understand what it takes to take on any mission. They are the military’s Troop Leading Procedures. And this is Leader Business.

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