Leadership on the Objective: Respect or Fear?

“Don’t mess with the Commander…”. 

  What does it mean to be respected?  Some leaders coach and mentor.  Some simply lead by example.  It’s a blended approach normally.  A few lead by fear and intimidation.  How do you want the “commander” sentence to be finished when it is applied to you?

  – “Don’t mess with the Commander.  He really knows his stuff.”

Or

  – “Don’t mess with the Commander.  He’ll tear you a new one…”

  Here’s the basic scenario – common to both questions below.  Mission success against a complex enemy is dependent upon a number of variables and judgment calls by a leader who has to grapple with few facts, several assumptions and confusing uncertainty.  The Commander is the leader.  His leadership style is well known.  He is leading an element with varied levels of experience, age, educational background and civilian acquired skill sets.  As well, all are duty MOS qualified.  Time is critically short.  Based upon the threat, a wrong decision may spell absolute catastrophe.

  SCENARIO ONE:  The commander’s leadership style produced a theme among subordinates, “give up on doing it right; just do whatever it takes to get this by the commander”.  Seemingly, anyone who questions the commander is punished severely.  He has been personally successful by many standards, as he has been promoted quickly through the ranks and has attended all the right schools and held all the right assignments.  However, any who have served under this commander and have gone on to be successful, merely did what it took to survive their time with him.  Today, a young staff officer sees a pattern in enemy behavior. “How can the commander not see this?” thinks the staff officer.  “Doesn’t the commander know this already?”. The staff officer has to decide if he’s going to tell the commander about this “obvious” element of information.  He initially decides not to.  It’s decision time.  It’s happening.  The commander is taking the wrong decision.  Time is up.  Will the staff officer speak up? 

  SCENARIO TWO:  The commander’s leadership credentials, experience and displayed knowledge are well-respected.  He’s what everyone is looking for in a leader.  He has a proven record of success and every unit he has led has been successful.  Many junior leaders he has mentored over the years have gone on to lead successful units.  Today, a young staff officer sees a pattern in enemy behavior. “How can such a smart leader not see this?” thinks the staff officer.  “Doesn’t the commander know this already?”. The staff officer has to decide if he’s going to tell the commander about this “obvious” element of information.  He initially decides not to.  It’s decision time.  It’s happening.  The commander is taking the wrong decision.  Time is up.  Will the staff officer speak up? 

  What do you think?  How can a leadership style impact decision making, information flow, course of action development?  How do you approach each of the scenarios if you were the staff officer?  A toxic environment might spell mission failure in the long run.  Not everything has to be as critical or complex as a combat situation, but, rather, the reputation is built in day-to-day interactions.  Reflect on your own style.  Do you coach, mentor and lead by example?  Are you approachable enough to get the critical information you need?  I look forward to a respectful dialog.

COL Hagler