Effective organizations rely on leaders to balance uncertainty, remain flexible, and provide a climate where subordinates have the latitude to explore options.
– ADP 6–22 Army Leadership, pg. 2
It’s happened to all of us. We receive a mission or task and launch into generating creative ways to execute it…only to be told which course of action to take and methods to use. This is a let-down for people who like tackling challenges on their own. Further, this directed approach prevents the subordinates from contributing alternate (and perhaps better) solutions.
Several factors about the military culture make it easy for leaders to reduce subordinate latitude:
- the premium we place on the leader’s “experience”
- the severe consequences of underperformance or failure
- the complexity of the missions
- the fast pace of operations
Nonetheless, doctrine asserts that the good units are the ones that foster critical thinking and creativity in solving problems. In fact, consider the opposite point…units will be ineffective if they do not give subordinates latitude in executing their missions.
Consider a few ways to ensure you’re giving your team the freedom to explore options:
- Acknowledge that you don’t have all the answers
- Ask for different perspectives in defining the problem and generating solutions
- Realize that your perspective is different from your team’s (you’re probably giving more guidance than you think)
- Adopt the “left and right limits” approach to giving guidance (typically associated with Mission Command)
- Be patient when subordinates complete a mission in a way that’s not what you would have chosen; as long as it’s not illegal, immoral, unethical, and meets your intent…let it ride.
Originally published at www.themilitaryleader.com on May 13, 2014.