Thursday, August 20, 2009

4-Star Leadership

Karl Moore over at The Globe and Mail interviews 4-star Army General Martin Dempsey, Commander of the Army's Training and Doctrine Command. General Dempsey leads the organization (TRADOC) responsible for training the Army's leaders and producing relevant policies and procedures for success in all the Army's missions. You can read the interview here.

In his discussion of the evolution of military leadership, I think there is much to learn on his approach to training military leaders to operate during complexity and chaos. The interview also gives the General's thoughts on leadership versus management, and how senior leaders need both. Finally, I appreciated his discussion on the need to replace control with trust, especially given the complexity of today's operating environment in places like Afghanistan.

I really appreciate this last point on trust. I think any more that decision cycles are too short for strict, hierarchical, bureaucratic command and control. Leaders must set the conditions, provide intent (the what and why...not the how), allocate resources and align them with priorities, and empower subordinates to figure out the rest. They must trust their teammates to make good decisions consistent with their training and values.

Many of us still struggle with this concept of empowerment and trust. But in this information-rich society and difficult economy, leaders have to let go. General Dempsey reminds us that our teammates, especially the younger ones, have an intense desire to understand, to contribute, to connect. This should cause us to be more open, to be more collaborative, and to listen. Then trust them to do the right thing.

Good stuff. That's Leader Business.


James T. Parsons said...

When a supervisor doesn't develop trust in a subordinate leader, it does not mean that mistakes won't be made (even factoring out those decisions that could not be made in time if verification was acquired). It just means that many mistakes will live in secret - their originator will attempt to bury them so they don't have a "career ending" one - or the mistakes will occur at the worst time with no training done in the exercising of judgment, and thinking on one's feet.

Young Leaders need to be given some ground to mess up, learn from their mistakes, and then develop better judgment and decision making ... so at higher levels where the consequences are more grave, they are more likely to exercise the right decision. To assume that you cannot train judgment is really to assume that no one ever learns. If leaders make that assumption of their subordinates, they are saying there is only room in the team for "one" leader. However, one leader cannot be everywhere at all times. Even Superman would fail under that assumption.

I think supervisors are wise to remember the lessons of sports. A young quarterback, though gifted, may well make a mistake, but their character on the field is not judged by their never making a mistake, but by how they deal with the mistakes they make and correct the problem. While no coach will promote a starting quarterback that always makes mistakes repeatedly if other quarterbacks without similar or equally bad flaws exists, no coach should never assume that the starting quarterback cannot make mistakes.

If you look at the best quarterbacks, it is not that they don't throw picks or occasionally fail, it is that they rarely do so, and when they do, that they come back on the field in the next period, and drive the length of the field to victory.

We can all learn alot about leadership from sports, ... and for that matter also war. Both arenas develop great leadership - since it is done systematically over time.

As I try to note, a Young Churchill failed miserably in WWI, but it only taught him the lessons he needed for D-Day and WWII.

Tom Magness said...

Thanks James. I always appreciate your feedback and your insight! You are right, this is so important with young leaders. If we give them the skills and tools to be successful, then show that we trust them, help them when they fail, we can see their growth (and their loyalty) take off exponentially. That equation any arena! TM