Monthly Archives: July 2013

The Best Leadership – In Command and Out of Control

I really enjoyed re-reading Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Blink” recently. He tells a lot of great stories about human beings’ ability to make quick decisions on limited information, but the phrase that stays in my mind comes out of one story about the military.

In the book, he relates a story about a war games exercise one of his subjects particpated in. Team A had lots and lots of sensors, advanced technology systems and defined processes for reaching decisions; Team B had standard information-gathering techniques and very little tech. The theory was that with lots of information and lots of processes to govern decision-making, Team A would naturally be the winner.

You can guess already that this didn’t happen, right? Once the games began, Team A received too much information, which they then spent too much time talking about. They weren’t set up to handle unexpected events or behaviours from the other side and as a consequence lost the game.

As an experienced battlefield commander, the leader of Team B knew that he didn’t WANT to know everything and that events often move too quickly for deep discussion. He wanted his people in the field to be able to address the situation in front of them effectively and tell him what he needed to know to forward the overall objective.

His expression for this was “in command and out of control,” which I thought was a great description of effective modern leadership.

It came to mind again during the recent floods in Calgary as we saw Mayor Naheed Nenshi do such a great job leading the city from disaster to recovery. He knew he didn’t need to know everything all of the time and he didn’t issue detailed instructions – he just said, “Help your neighbours,” which proved to be all people needed.

Are you in the same position? Can you give your team a broad directive like that and know they will perform effectively?

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