As the saying goes, when everything is a priority, nothing is. In a system that heaps requirements and tasks on subordinate units, leaders routinely struggle to reach 100% compliance. Though some try, leaders cannot do it all themselves. They must prioritize tasks and delegate work to subordinates. But what tasks are appropriate to delegate? Which ball drops when there are conflicting priorities? It would be helpful to have a framework to sort it all out.
Vince Lombardi wisely quipped, “The man on top of the mountain didn’t fall there.” Success does not happen by accident…and neither does becoming a leader. The road to meaningful influence is marked by deliberate steps to acquire knowledge, gain experience, and engage in ways that specifically relate to leadership. Followers can do this on their own, but leaders have a tacit responsibility to grow other leaders and must find ways to further the leadership development of those around them.
When I took over my duty position, my supervisor told me that in order to succeed, I needed to get more involved in orders and taskings than the officer I replaced. I did the opposite and got better results. Here’s how.
“Working harder does not equate to being more productive.” Do you feel that military leaders still have not embraced this fact? Do we try to personally do too much? Do we hold on to projects until deadline, trying to get ever closer to perfection?
Michael Hyatt gives 5 Imperatives of Delegation in this podcast, but the real gem of the episode is his description of the 5 Levels of Authority. He simplifies the exercise of authority, which then clarifies how leaders should be delegating.
and answer questions during his visit to Wiesbaden, Germany, April 30, 2013.
Photo Credit: Staff Sgt. Steve Cortez
Do you ever get to Friday and ask yourself, “Why does it feel like I didn’t get anything done this week?” The reality is that you probably didn’t get as much done as you could have. Which, is ok…as long as you’re committed to improving your productivity. (Hint…if you’re not in the mindset to regularly assess your work productivity, you need to start.)
This article from CamMi Pham Medium.com, 7 Things You Need to Stop Doing to be More Productive, Backed by Science, touches several topics that are routine challenges for military leaders:
- Military leaders typically work long hours. Are we overtasked or just inefficient?
- We say YES to ideas that help Soldiers, even if they’re not the unit’s priority.
- The military is full of perfectionists who spend too much time refining products.
- Money and bureaucracy prevent the military from automating many of the procedures that make it inefficient.
Here are the bullets from the article:
- Stop working overtime and increase your productivity
- Don’t say ‘yes’ too often
- Stop doing everything yourself and start letting people help you
- Stop being a perfectionist
- Stop doing repetitive tasks and start automating
- Stop guessing and start backing up your decisions with data
- Stop working, and have do-nothing time
The Iron Major Survival Guide is 29 pages of advice on how to succeed as a field grade officer. It includes everything from how to arrive as the new S3/XO to how to set up systems for unit property accountability. This document will make you a better manager and leader, period.
(Hint: it’s not just for field grades. NCOs, junior, and senior officers need to read this, too.)
Here are some excerpts:
- The ability to anticipate and fix problems before they happen is why FG officers are paid the big bucks. Key to this is time to think. Get yourself out of the knife fight early and often. Hold your staff to extremely high standards early so you can build a level of trust and confidence in them that allows you to decentralize taskings and grants you the space and time to ask the “what if?” Spend your time anticipating what could go wrong then take steps to avoid failure.
- Apply some analysis to emails; don’t manage/lead your staff by forwarding higher HQ/or the boss’ orders. Make them your own. An “FYI” on a forwarded formation time is acceptable, but when the boss writes you and says “I’m tired of units submitting their Green 2 reports late”, don’t simple forward to company commanders and write “please note BN CDR comments below.
- If you can’t get out of the office most nights by 1800, then you are doing a poor job of time and task management.
- If you think staying up for 48 hours will make you more efficient and garner the respect of your subordinates, then you are probably oblivious to the poor decisions you made or the irascibility you demonstrated for them over that time.
- Figure out how to assign tasks, give guidance, establish suspenses, follow up, and quality control. It’s easy to hand out tasks, it’s harder to remember to keep track and follow up.
- Remember, that in addition to managing your staff, you still have to ‘lead’ your staff. Many a good junior officer has decided to bail on the Army because of a bad experience on a staff, most of which were instigated by a leader who didn’t care enough to lead them.
You seem to work longer hours than everyone else…
You feel totally indispensable…
You feel like you’re the only one who is energized…
You feel like no one else can do as good a job as you could on a project…
You know where this is going…if these statements describe you, you might not be delegating like you should.
Take a look at HBR’s article “Why Aren’t You Delegating?”
If you’re a military staff officer, you already feel overtasked. That’s the nature of our business; the military has far-reaching influence and responsibility that translates into ceaseless action. If you’re a commander, you can protect your unit from unnecessary tasks…to an extent. But there’s never a shortage of due-outs.
Two reasons why military leaders don’t delegate very well:
- We Don’t Say “NO”
The military has a unique socio-professional quality that makes it difficult for leaders to say NO to anything that ultimately helps Soldiers. Good ideas flourish in the military, especially because most everyone cares about making a difference. But not all good ideas are worthy of your or the unit’s time. Leaders can help themselves by being draconian about priorities and by actively directing subordinate energy to line up with them. Practice this response: “That’s a great idea. Thanks for the showing the initiative to suggest it, but it doesn’t support the commander’s priorities right now and we’re not doing it.” (Adjust your phrasing if you’re telling your commander his idea isn’t in line with his priorities.)
- We Don’t TEACH
It is common practice on staffs to assign staff tasks without verifying or teaching the skills to complete them. The leader usually informs the subordinate, “I don’t have time to walk you through how to do it” or “You should be able to figure it out.” Then, when the project comes in for revision, the leader becomes frustrated with its lack of quality and takes over. The process is unfair for the junior and horribly inefficient for the team. Smart leaders will spend time to push knowledge down the chain, which elevates the quality of all the projects, saves time, and grows junior members for their own careers.
Here are some skill areas you probably need to review with your staff:
- Professional writing and grammar
- Formatting guidelines for your organization (i.e. Operations Order format, presentation slide format)
- Email organization and etiquette
- Tips and shortcuts on the Microsoft Office suite
- Basic keyboard shortcuts (Copy, Paste, Undo, etc.)
- SharePoint procedures and shortcuts
- File sharing and collaboration techniques