Leadership Lesson of the Day

While I enjoy poking fun at the Air Force as much as the next guy, the fact is, they are a military service, and they face many of the same leadership challenges that the other services struggle with.

While this post focuses on the cultural problems of the Air Force, I’d say the lessons, particularly regarding centralized execution, are universal across all services.

Doctrinally, each and every service preaches devolving authority to the lowest possible level.  Mission orders describe an end state that a subordinate must achieve, allowing him the flexibility and initiative to achieve that state by the best means.

But in fact, virtually no commander at any level is willing to grant his subordinates the true freedom to execute without micromanagement. No supervision (which is a good thing) but detailed micromanagement. And if you micromanage your troops, they’ll let you assume more and more responsibility for how things are done, and the outcome good or bad (and it’s usually bad).

I’m a “company guy.” I’m not a bold, outside the box thinker. I spent a lot of time reading and understanding doctrine and thoroughly bought into the concepts. I wasn’t going to be the guy that invented a new way of doing things. On the other hand, our Army had a couple centuries of experience, and had bothered to write down what worked  in the past, so I saw no sense in reinventing the wheel, or learning the hard way what someone else had already taken the time to write down as “ the right way, AND the Army way.”

But there is a difference between understanding doctrine, policy, management practices and  processes, and forgetting that those policies, practices and processes are merely tools to achieve a mission. Following them is not the mission itself.

8 thoughts on “Leadership Lesson of the Day”

  1. Well written post. The managers have already accomplished this in police work – thwarting the mission (purpose) by focusing on the rules of engagement that are usually established and monitered by managers who never engaged in the mission in their career. Many examples of crimes that go unsolved by troops that are afraid of making a mistake on the ROE.

  2. I think the airforce is the only force that can get away with micromanagement, it shouldnt.
    In the RAF, a Wing Commander commands a squadron of pilots.
    In the British Army, the equivalent rank (LT Col) commands a Battalion of 630 soldiers.

    Micromanagement is a bad thing, but the airforce can get away with it more than most.

  3. “They were regaled with stories of awesome technologies capable of placing senior generals into the tactical decision loop. His message was breathtakingly deflationary.”

    And breathtakingly revealing about how little we understand war.

    1. I’ve eaten at AF, Army and Navy DFACs, and there isn’t much difference in the chow between them. MY father was an AF Mess Sgt and I grew up with that kind of food. My father was always quick to defend the other service’s chow. He repeatedly pointed out that all service cooks are trained at the same school and draw from the same supply system for the basics. You’ll see some variation between chow halls on the same Base/Post, but, on average, one is as good as another.

      Another thing I noted was that Lackland AFB had about the same amenities as Fort Rucker (I liked Rucker about as much as I did Lackland) and the Army posts I frequented in Germany. There are positives and negatives of each service.

  4. Micromanagement is the unintended bastard child of oversight. @obsidian: I so agree, how else would “mud soldiers” learn to call a place to eat a Dining Facility and not a chow, or mess hall. USAF folks used to tell me that AF personnel could always tell Army soldiers presence as we were the only ones standing in a Dining Facility with a tray in our hands looking for a “window” to take the tray to. Thanks, that one took me to the “way-back” machine.

  5. We have rules so that we achieve a desired end state.

    We have people so that we recognize when the rules are getting in the way of that end state.

    1. And other people who make it their mission to see we don’t reach that desired end state. We call them politicians, and some of them wear Stars.

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