No matter our position of assignment, we operate with three intertwined elements – responsibility, authority and latitude. To keep this short and sweet, I’m going to ask you to consider “latitude”.
We understand we have the responsibility to “do the right thing”. We, as commanders, have the authority to “do the right thing.”. Or, as staff officers, we have the obligation to advise the commander about “the right thing.”. That said, we rarely discuss “latitude” and we really should.
Accomplished and seasoned leaders refuse to enter into a debate between the “right thing to do” and the “wrong thing to do”. This kind of discussion serves no purpose other than to reveal weak leaders who remain incapable locking their integrity and selfless service value-based mind-set into the default setting of “do the right thing” and “do it the right way” as well as “do it to standard.”
Leaders don’t debate about “doing the right thing.”
If leaders levels below ours do their jobs well, leaders at our level should be faced with deciding between a “right” course of action and another distinctly different “right” course of action.
Here’s where the real leadership challenge resides – between “right” and “right”.
So how do you choose? How do you decide? How do you exercise your latitude?
Course of Action A (Good for one Soldier, but not the unit): This COA is absolutely correct. It does benefit the Soldier more than the unit, but legally, there’s nothing wrong with it. If we take this decision, we will likely face this situation again six months or a year from now. Then again, this decision may pan out to prove the benefited Soldier will once again be a productive member of the organization (but perhaps there is long track record of performance which doesn’t seem to support that outcome). No matter. Four Soldiers junior to the benefited Soldier will operate a pay-grade above their current level, but will not be promoted during this time.
Course of Action B (Good for the Soldier, good for the unit): This COA is absolutely correct. It does benefit both the Soldier and the unit. Legally, there’s nothing wrong with it. Easy. Right? However, often times this COA may not present itself for a number of reasons. Also, some solid analysis needs to be done to accurately determine positive impact in the way we expect it. We don’t want to falsely rationalize our way into a course of action.
Course of Action C (Good for the unit, seemingly not so good for one Soldier). This COA is absolutely correct. It does benefit the unit more than the Soldier, but legally, there’s nothing wrong with it. This COA allows for increased unit readiness, fairly takes into account the impact to four Soldiers over just one and accounts for respectful treatment of the Soldier impacted.
Which COA should you choose? Which one should you choose if COA B isn’t possible? Why should you chose one COA over another COA. Both or all three are “right”.
How will you choose to exercise latitude in this case?
Be careful. Be deliberate…
Another trait of an accomplished leader is careful, considered consistency. If you set down a path, you’ll only be able to depart from it a few, very justifiable, times before your subordinate and higher-level leaders lose confidence in you. Accomplished leaders know confidence is the coin of the realm when it comes to effective leadership.
Let me know your thoughts.
“Mission first. Soldiers always.”