The essence of military style command and control is mission based planning and direction. Most people have a vision of military command structures based on caricatures dating back to the First World War. However, even during that war (and preceding ones) military forces were only successful to the extent that units and leaders at all levels were free to interpret plans and orders and exercise their initiative within the superior commander’s intent, rather than following detailed set-piece plans and executing orders to the letter.

If you want to be truly successful in achieving your aims, you have to give your team members the overall intent and scheme of manoeuvre, while letting them figure out the best way(s) to achieve them. This can be summarized as “tell them what to do, not how to do it.” Yes, there are times when you must be highly prescriptive, implement procedures, and set minimum standards. But these only cover the most common and basic needs. Leaders must have the freedom to explore different options with their teams and to reinforce what works while dropping what doesn’t. Not only is this more effective and efficient, it also leaves them with more space to exercise initiative and provides everyone with the intellectual stimulation and intrinsic motivation to succeed.

Richard Martin is The Force Multiplier. He brings his military and business leadership and management experience to bear for executives and organizations seeking to radically improve performance, grow, and thrive in the face of rapid change, harsh competition, and increasing uncertainty.

© 2015 Richard Martin. Reproduction and quotes are permitted with proper attribution.

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