One of the reasons I started writing these posts was to answer the question whether “Command & Control” was a characteristic of a military leadership style – at least from my point of view.
As a military leader I am given power of command – but I am also given several duties: I have to lead by example, and I have to take care of my soldiers (and some more, but these serve as examples) – and I only give out orders in support of the mission.
My primary job is to make sure that I plan my mission, take decisions, communicate obstacles to my chain of command and to instruct my soldiers. So if I translated this insight into the business world terminology? My job is to make sure that I know and communicate the big picture of the mission and align our efforts accordingly.
As a military leader in order to have success in an exercise or even a real situation, I have to work together with experts from different units from different arms. So for example pioneers aid us regarding building bases, bridges, minefields, and artillery aid us with fire support. I am neither trained as a pioneer nor as an artillery officer. So what do I do? I explain my mission goal to them and ask them to support me. I will probably add where I need fire support and where I need to cross the river with my tanks – but I sure as hell will not tell them how to build a bridge or where to place their howitzer. We will just make sure we stay in touch.
As a squad leader or platoon leader – I usually don’t tell my soldiers where exactly their tents should be at the night and from which positions we should secure that area. I ask them to scout for a place to spend the night and develop a plan for fires, tents, food and security. I set a goal – and then the team finds a way to work towards it.
Yes, in the military I am given the power of authority – and soldiers have to obey, if I force them to. But really? Is this how it works or should work? Jurgen Appelo has created delegation poker and seven levels of delegation. In the end as a leader I have to delegate all the time. And as I leader I have to choose what level of delegation I can apply for which decision and as a clever leader – I apply all of those levels.
From my point of view “Command & Control” is a technique of a weak leader who has to rely on his authority and uses micromanagement techniques. This is not a charateristic of military leadership. It is characteristic of a commanding, bad leadership – and in the terms of Appelo someone who only tells his team what to do – who does not consult his team and does not let the team participate in decisions.
Being a leader is a great gift. And among the first things a military leader must to with all his subordinates is: “Tell me if I’m wrong and let me know if you have a better idea”! Why? Because it saves lifes: Sweat and thoughts save blood. And good soldiers and a good team don’t let their leader run into minefields or mistakes. So we always have to build trust – by being honest, reliable and humble.
As a project manager or project portfolio manager – in most cases I have to lead without power, without being superior. How can I possibly do that? By explaining the mission to the team and starting a collection of the best ideas in order to accomplish it – and letting the teams know that I’m here to help them and solve their problems and impediments. My job is to make sure that they can concentrate on the mission without having to battle administration or executives or lacks of funding or decisions.
Obviously this article is still a draft – but I’m tired and I’ll go to bed. But I’ll publish it anyway so I can get some feedback from you on this.
General George S. Patton wrote in his book “War as I knew it”:
Never tell people how to do things.
Tell them what to do, and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.
So even the Americans experimented with Mission Command 🙂
Literature / Further Reading
 Delegation Poker @ Management 3.0