Friday, January 20, 2012

Colin Powell's Leadership Lessons - 16

The commander in the field is always right and the rear echelon is wrong, unless proved otherwise.

I literally watched the degeneration of this lesson while I was in Iraq. When I was first there in 2003, the LT or SGT on the ground was always backed up by command. There was never any question about whether or not the use of force was necessary, unless something was obviously wrong. By the time I got back in 2006, the rules had changed to the point where the commanding general demanded a briefing for every bullet fired in his division (consisting of 22,000+ troops deployed throughout Baghdad).  How do I know this? I was a tank platoon leader for the first tour, and sat in the briefings for the general on the second tour (in his defense, Washington was pressuring him to answer for any major conflict that happened in the supposedly safe Baghdad area).

In the corporate sector, we find this trait is also dominating. Think about all the times a person has to answer to an Accountant or Business Analyst because his/her actions don't pass mustard from a dollar and cents standpoint? Bureaucracy breeds this problem, and usually, when a group runs into a problem, they staff up the areas of analysis rather than identifying the decision and why it was made.

I recently went through a situation where a new system was implemented, one where additional work was created for the people dealing with the customers and plants so that the accountants would have better visibility. On top of that, the accountants received approval authority for budgets and change orders when they had no authority before the system was implemented. Now, a lot of the accountants I count as friends, and we work well together; but I would point out that the "commanders in the field" were hampered by these new hurdles, which probably didn't need to exist.

Please don't doubt your leaders at the tip of the spear. They are in the weeds dealing with the opportunities as they arise, and they don't need their hands tied, or to be looking over their shoulders when it is time to act.

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