Leaders must make command decisions based on their training and character. By Gary Gagliardi

“When once a decision is reached and execution is the order of the day, dismiss absolutely all responsibility and care about the outcome.” William James

"Which method of command works?
Which group of forces has the strength?"
Sun Tzu's The Art of War 1:2:7

Situation: In controlled environments such as an assembly line, success depends on people simply following directions.  Decisions are made in a planning environment where we have the luxury of both good information and time. Competitive environments are different. Wen we are on the front lines, our success depends on the decisions that we make about conditions in our environment. We make those decisions in an instant, with a minimum of information. In the real world, many of these decisions are subconscious and automatic responses to conditions (see Automatic Decisions). If we waste time before we act, we are going to get into trouble.

The first problem that we must address is the one of our personal responsibility. Where must we follow group decisions end and  our individual responsibility begin? How does the "wisdom of crowds" relate to making good decisions? The second challenge is understand which characteristics make a good leader. Does leadership depend on one key characteristic or is it a complex array of characteristics. What characteristics allow us to predict which leaders will succeed and which will fail?

Opportunity:  Trained front-line leaders can recognized the key characteristics of a situation and respond instantly with a response that is the most likely to be successful. When we have a clear understanding of leadership, we can be more not only pick better leaders but know what is required to provide leadership for ourselves and others. When we understand how leadership really works, we can make the correct decisions more quickly without having to worry about having our decisions overridden by others.

The second challenge is understand which characteristics make a good leader. Does leadership depend on one key characteristic or is it a complex array of characteristics. What characteristics allow us to predict which leaders will succeed and which will fail?

Strategy:  The following principles apply to the element of leadership command:

  1. Command is the responsibility of the individual. Leaders must make their decisions alone, and individuals must assume command within their own lives. There is not such thing as a group decision. Groups can only concur with a decision made by an individual. The individuals within a group each make their own decisions about whether to agree or battle with a suggested decision.
  2. We are in command when we are making decisions for ourselves. Even when we are following the command decisions of others, we usually find ourselves making decisions for ourselves through the course of the day. Even when following an organization's rules about how those decisions are to be made, we are using our own judgment in each moment.
  3. The more successful we are at making decisions, the more people turn to us as a leader. The decisions of command with many followers may have a broader impact that the decisions of an individual, but every individual has to take command responsibility if only for the course of their own lives.  The skills of decision-making is the same for a leader of millions and for each of us leading our own lives.
  4. As leaders, we must make decisions whether we want to or not. When we are in command, we are making a decision even when we choose to avoid or delay a decision. The decision not to decide is also a decision. The decision to continue doing what we have been doing is a decision as well.
  5. Command makes decisions to respond to events. While we tend to think of "events" as the actions of others, more broadly "events" simply represent the discovery of new information about conditions in our environment. Our senses are constantly picking up information from the environment, but not all of it is new. It is the new information that triggers the leader's decision-making machinery.  Some new information is generated by change. This as information from the climate. However, other information has been there all the time, but it is new to us because we discover it for the first time. This is information from the ground, specifically information from learning more about the ground.
  6. Leaders must know which strategic areas require foresight and analysis. The most basic command activities require working at building up a strategic picture of the situations. While many command decisions require snap, gut decisions, those decisions are based on a carefully cultivated strategic picture. Other decisions, such as the use of surprises, require preparation beforehand.
  7. Leaders must train their subconscious minds for snap decision-making. Our senses are exposed to a flood of information during the events of the day, and we are not necessarily consciously aware of it all. Our minds work on the subconscious level filtering that information and "deciding" what information is important enough to penetrate our awareness. Our subconscious minds are continually making low-level decisions about what information is important enough to bring to the attention of the higher-level decision-making processes of our conscious minds. 
  8. Small command decisions have the biggest impact on our lives over time. Success is less about individual decisions as it is about the general course of our decisions and the quality of the decision that we are making over time. No matter how well we analyze and train, we are going to make plenty of mistakes. These key is to learn from them. If we do,  many individual decisions, even those that seem very insignificant at the time, can have a huge impact on the course of our lives over large spans of time. To stay in command, we must decide what is the best use of our time at every moment of every day.
  9. Leadership requires five qualities of character. Since leaders are continuously making both subconscious and conscious decisions in an instant, command is a product of our character. The five qualifies of leadership character are tied closely to the five key factors that define a strategic position:
    1. Caring means devotion to the mission or goals.
    2. Courage means confronting the uncontrollable conditions of a changing climate.
    3. Knowledge means understanding the rules of winning of resources from the  conditions of the ground.
    4. Trustworthiness means honoring commitments to others in the realm of methods.
    5. Discipline means executing the decisions required of leadership.
  10. A lack of character qualities in a leader, show up in five different ways. A leader who lacks these skills is unable to make improve his or her position because: 
    1. A lack of caring loses sight of the mission in dealing with events.
    2. A lack of courage cannot discover opportunities in adversity.
    3. A lack of knowledge fails to harvest the resources in the environment.
    4. A lack of trustworthiness cannot depend on others in executing decisions.
    5. A lack of discipline fails to persist in executing decisions.
  11. A leader who has an excess of these characteristics also runs into problems.
    1. An excess of caring is too rigid in ideology to join with others.
    2. An excess of courage results in foolhardy decision making.
    3. An excess of knowledge creates paralysis from analysis.
    4. An excess of trustworthiness makes us too particular about satisfying others.
    5. An excess of discipline loses flexibility in responding to events.

Illustration: The following principles apply to the element of leadership command:

  1. Command is the responsibility of the individual. Any organization, such as the UN, which has no clear leader cannot be effective.
  2. We are in command when we are making decisions for ourselves. The less free people are to make their own decisions, the less productive their lives will be.
  3. The more successful we are at making decisions, the more people turn to us as a leader. President Obama was elected because he was able to make better decisions than his opponents through the course of the campaign, winning more and more support as time went on. 
  4. As leaders, we must make decisions whether we want to or not.  When a leader tries to delegate the hard decisions, as we are seeing with President Obama on healthcare, he is increasingly seen as ineffective and weak and loses support.
  5. Command makes decisions to respond to events. When a leader flounders in the face of events, as John McCain did in the face of the financial crisis at the end of the campaign, they lose support.
  6. Leaders must know which strategic areas require foresight and analysis. When a leader cannot produce a cohesive picture of a situation, as President Bush failed to do in Iraq, they lose support.
  7. Leaders must train their subconscious minds for snap decision-making. On September, 11, 2001, when Rudy Guiliani was faced with dealing with the attack on the World Trade Center, he made a number of good decisions without good information, saving thousands of lives.
  8. Small command decisions have the biggest impact on our lives over time. While it is the dramatic public events that get all the media, people such as Norman Borlaug, the promoter of high-yield crops in the developing world saved more lives than any single man in history, winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 for his contributions.

Be sure to visit Gary’s web-site www.scienceofstrategy.com