Last Thursday I spoke in front of a group of security and intelligence executives from government and the private sector gathered under the auspices of the National Capital Security Partners Forum, a chapter of the Canadian Security Partners Forum. Grant Lecky, founder and president of the CSPF, as well as Bonnie Butlin, the group’s executive director, invited me to speak, and it was an excellent opportunity to spread the message of my new book, Brilliant Manoeuvres: How to Use Military Wisdom to Win Business Battles.

The focus of my presentation was on ‘mission command’ and how it should be applied in business and other organizational settings outside the military. This is the approach the military uses to ensure that all levels of leadership in a unit are fully appraised of the situation and know the superior commanders’ intent, missions, and plans. The essence of mission command is to leverage the initiative of everyone in the unit to achieve its mission and vision. The key is to tell people what they need to achieve and why they need to achieve it, and to let them figure out the best way to get results, while staying within certain parameters. (I have a video which explains this concept in greater depth.)

The discussion was lively and reinforced two key points for me. The first is that mission command as practised in the military and in the most adaptable and robust organizations is definitely the best way to gain full alignment to the organization’s mission, vision, and objectives. On the other hand—and this is the second key takeaway for me—an organization or business that wants to create a culture of empowerment under the auspices of military style mission command must develop the proper skills, competencies, and organizational processes and decision-making structures. That organization also requires incentives that reward initiative and that allow a certain level of prudent, calculated risk-taking.

Another issue we discussed is how mission command is also highly applicable in a matrix management and/or project management framework. In such a system, managers who are responsible for organizational initiatives and projects have the mandate to achieve their aims, but don’t necessarily have the hierarchical control of the people and resources to carry out their missions and achieve their aims. This requires a mindset where everyone has to understand the mission and vision of the business or organization, and be an excellent team player. If everyone knows what is needed and why it is needed, that makes it much easier for project managers and initiative leaders to get the cooperation and collaboration they need to get their mandates done.

Executives and managers at all levels must not only be excellent managers, but they must also be transformational leaders. This requires a level of commitment from the organization’s senior leadership to develop and select for these skill sets over the long term. You can have all the best intentions in the world, but if your ‘chain of command’ isn’t fully committed to mission command and the leadership it entails, then pronouncements of empowerment and bottom-up initiative are just that, empty words. Every one has to walk the walk, not just talk the talk.

© 2012 Richard Martin. Reproduction and quotes permitted with full and proper attribution.

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