blog articlesWord & Deed

Leadership and Delegation: When Navy SEALs Lose Momentum

17072_tac Delegation Mind Map

Scal­ing is impos­si­ble with­out del­e­ga­tion. On the oth­er hand, del­e­gat­ing to smart, capa­ble peo­ple can be intim­i­dat­ing and make you feel out of con­trol. But if you can ignore the details while focus­ing on the goal of every busi­ness func­tion, you can effec­tive­ly del­e­gate. As an added bonus, you’ll be able to learn from them, even as you’re chal­leng­ing them to help you meet your goals.

How do you lead peo­ple who want to push hard­er than you’re able to push in any sin­gle area?

Your Job is to Focus on Your Goal

The first step is the real­iza­tion that your job isn’t to man­age people’s deci­sions, but to focus on your goal.

Lead­ers strug­gle with this, because they put heavy expec­ta­tions on them­selves to tell every­one how to do every­thing. And that’s the wrong way to look at it. As George Pat­ton said, “Don’t tell peo­ple how to do it. Tell them what to do, and let them amaze you with the results.”

Pat­ton was sum­ma­riz­ing the dif­fer­ence between lead­er­ship and micro­man­age­ment.

The leader’s job is to con­stant­ly keep peo­ple focused on the goal and the “why.” They don’t care about the “how.”

Action Steps

  • Do your employ­ees ask you too many ques­tions? Make sure to make them come up with the answer. Talk them through it, while refus­ing to give them the answer. If they ask you a ques­tion, insist that they come to you with a hypoth­e­sis as well.
  • Do your employ­ees not talk to you enough? Ask for reg­u­lar pre­sen­ta­tions with them, where they show you their sta­tus, what they’ve been up to and where they need help. In oth­er words, have them sum­ma­rize how they’re doing, and you’re just there to help. But beware: If you’re too focused on them, they’ll feel under the micro­scope, adding unnec­es­sary stress. So make sure to make it about the work, not about the per­son.

Find Your Level of Delegation

That’s the spot every leader needs to find: Your lev­el of del­e­ga­tion.

This is a much-neglect­ed area of focus. It might be sim­ple, but it doesn’t mean it’s not impor­ta­tion. So what’s your lev­el? This depends on where your orga­ni­za­tion is at skill-wise and how much you want to grow.

Action Steps

Grow fast: You hire peo­ple smarter than you in a cer­tain area…

  1. Who can explain what they’re doing, so you grow in under­stand­ing each time they do some­thing.
  2. Who have enough expe­ri­ence to know a few dif­fer­ent ways to solve a mar­ket­ing prob­lem.
  3. Who can man­age the exe­cu­tion.
  4. Who can talk about num­bers and goals.

Grow slow:

Hire peo­ple you need to train. This is less threat­en­ing, and most peo­ple can han­dle this. Change hap­pens very slow­ly, and you’re allowed to stay in your com­fort zone until the mar­ket doesn’t need you any more.

A Few Exam­ples of Lev­el Set­ting:

Micro­man­age­ment isn’t about the boss being involved in details, but rather the boss chang­ing the rules through­out the job. To put it sim­ply, if you want some­one to achieve a goal, give them the goal, ask them how they want to do it, and chal­lenge them by ask­ing them ques­tions. Don’t tell them how to do it.

If you have a burg­er flip­per, tell them how to flip the burg­er, and con­stant­ly tell them how to flip the burg­er. Let them know that they don’t have to decide how the burg­er should be flipped. That’s your job. This isn’t micro­man­age­ment, since the expec­ta­tions are clear. They don’t have to read your mind.

A few examples from real life…

Anne del­e­gat­ed Ian to build a team of engi­neers to solve a prob­lem. Ian start­ed build­ing a team that includ­ed some­one Anne didn’t like. So she told Ian that per­son couldn’t be on the team. This is micro­man­age­ment, since Ian now feels that Anne will not only give him an assign­ment, but will want to be involved in how it’s exe­cut­ed. In this case, the lev­el was ini­tial­ly set at “get this job done,” then changed to “get this job done, but when I want to, I’ll tell you how to do it, and when I don’t want to, I expect you to make the deci­sions, and you’ll nev­er know which is which.”

Ted asked cre­ative direc­tor Mark to build the team for an assign­ment. Ted hint­ed that he want­ed to be the writer on the project. In this case, Ted both del­e­gat­ed and then cre­at­ed a poten­tial expec­ta­tion, which mud­died the waters. So, does he expect Mark to build the team the way Mark thinks it should be built? Or does he expect to med­dle in the writ­ing por­tion?

Navy SEALs Move with Decision…Normally

So the big ques­tion is: how do you lead well, with clar­i­ty of com­mu­ni­ca­tion across all for­mats?

A Navy SEAL told me about a time in Iraq when they found out about some bad guys, doing bad things. They had ISR (a drone, giv­ing them spe­cif­ic info about where they were and what they were doing), and were dri­ving as fast as their Humvees could car­ry them to the tar­get when they got a radio call from a com­man­der who had respon­si­bil­i­ty for the area, and they were under orders to stop.

And it didn’t mat­ter that they were out in the open, where the bad guys could now see them and would now have time to react. It didn’t mat­ter that, had they known they weren’t sup­posed to engage the bad guys, they would have stayed hid­den. They were under new orders. So they stopped, out there in the open.

And by the time they were able to move, most of the bad guys had escaped, pos­si­bly to take more Amer­i­can lives.

The SEALs were doing what they do, mov­ing with speed, with no hes­i­ta­tion and with over­whelm­ing force. But the order to stop killed their advan­tage.

Momentum Depends on Clarity and Discipline

You see, all this scal­ing and del­e­gat­ing talk isn’t about cre­at­ing warm, fuzzy feel­ings. It’s real­ly about cre­at­ing the strong move­ments that only come when each mem­ber of the team is work­ing with con­fi­dence. And this isn’t about being intense. It’s real­ly about dis­ci­pline and process. It’s only then that you can orga­nize in a way where your team can be decisive…when they can feel the pow­er of momen­tum.

And, as always, dis­cuss this with me on Slack.