Following on from last week’s Thought Article, I will address how those incidents I mentioned could have been handled differently as a leader in order to avoid catastrophic outcomes?
These are personal discoveries in discussion with peers:
1 Clear articulation of intent: Ensure you communicate your intent clearly enough so people several layers down do not misinterpret your messages. Intent behind directives can get bogged down somewhere in the intervening layers of management and hierarchy between those delivering instructions and those carrying them out.
2 Use technology to have real communication: Model transparent and inclusive leadership behaviours. Articulate not just guidance, but more importantly your thought process out loud, in front of your subordinates (potentially thousands of them at once in large video-teleconference). Let them walk away understanding how you are thinking.
3 Transform the system: Traditional bureaucratic models don’t allow for the multi-dimensional problem solving and communication structures that are needed. A better, hybrid organisational and leadership model would ensure a breakdown in understanding is prevented.
This last point is a critical one. The organisational models and leadership practices that are typically used in the past are incapable of dealing with complex sets of challenges we now face on the modern battlefield, similar to the problems many of you are likely seeing manifest in your own environments. I’ve wrestled with this for a long time and had many long discussions thrashing this challenge out with many colleagues on the changes we instigated and implemented. I’m more convinced than ever that this is the critical challenge of our generation – transforming traditional, bureaucratic models into ones that are able to function with the adaptability the information age demands.
The world is grappling with 21st-century problems (networked terrorism, global supply chain disruptions, viral trends, pandemics), yet we are still using 20th-century organisational solutions (a command-and-control hierarchy, siloed corporate structures, bureaucratic procedures). In today’s world, it’s not one isolated military unit or one lone corporate division tackling a problem, it’s a task force involving multiple nations, or a global corporation spanning multiple countries. Your team may understand your mission, but your counterparts in a different country may not.
You as a senior leader may have a clearly defined vision for your company, but if those five layers down don’t know your strategic objectives, then how can you achieve them?
The organisational models from the 1980s and 1990s weren’t built for rapid, cross-functional communication and execution; yet that’s precisely what is needed to solve the multi-dimensional problems we face in the 21st century. Teams in silos can no longer have all the answers — it takes a “team of teams” to accomplish today’s missions, whether it’s defeating Al Qaeda, the Taliban, growing a small business into a globalised corporation or leading a multi-national organisation toward an ever chaining future.
Mistakes are valuable and failing as a leader is essential to growth. But we can’t wait to fail, we must change the way we operate and collaborate now. The people in the world we live in demand it and deserve it.