When the sun rose on the fields near the city of Jena on October 14, 1806, a mist rolled in and obscured the vision of 200,000 nervous soldiers lined up for battle. Combined with the blinding fog of gun and cannon fire, the armies of Napoleon Bonaparte of France and Frederick William III of Prussia created the opportunity for leadership to prevail over command and control. Command and control leadership is – nothing happens without orders or confirmation from the top.
Though significantly outnumbered, Napoleon routed the Prussians and the Kingdom of King Frederick William III was cut in half and subjugated to the French Empire. The leadership lessons learned that day are still used today by military leaders around the world and by leaders in the marketplace with great efficiency and effectiveness.
Both sides observed that the commanders behind the battlefield were unable to see or understand what was happening at the front during the chaos of combat. The people who really knew what was happening were the subordinate officers fighting in the middle of the gun and cannon fire and smoke. The Prussian commanders missed many key opportunities during the fog of battle. Napoleons men, who were faster and more inventive on the battlefield, exploited every opportunity both great and small. The individual genius of front line leaders won the day. Why?
They concluded that the French leaders on the battlefield were reacting much faster to the situation at hand and took the initiative independently without consulting high command. Thus, they quickly exploited any unexpected favorable situation or responded immediately to an unfavorable development without “permission.”
The Prussians knew they had to find a new system of command, one that would enable their field commanders to deliver the same results with a greater degree of flexibility. It would be very different from the rigid and hierarchical command and control philosophy of the time, as much of the leadership is today in many organizations.
The new battle/leadership philosophy was that strict rules and rigid commanders have no place when fighting forces whose field commanders are empowered to make real leadership decisions at the point of live fire. Field commanders must be flexible, innovative, and improvised as long as they stay within the commander’s intent.
Once the vision and goals of the senior commander’s intent are understood, decisions made in the field no longer have to run up and down the chain of command. Field commanders only maintain the competitive advantage when they are able to exploit positive opportunities that evolve during the heat of battle.
Leadership is not about what your team does when you are around – but how they produce wins when you are not around. If you have to constantly give directives and control the action, you are not leading. If you do not trust the people on your team, then you need to select, teach, train, and coach them better.
If team members do not have all the information they need, know how to perform the “talk” with confidence and understand the expected results, then you as their leader have set them up for failure when they must be at their very best. If you want to “create Leaders everywhere” that maintain a competitive edge, don’t ask them to run every decision up and down the chain of command, especially during the “fog of battle.”
Success at every level depends on having leaders at every level. Leaders that are able to identify, qualify, and deal quickly and efficiently with difficult and/or unforeseen circumstances. They must be able to take the initiative, while not losing sight of their leader’s intent and the goals of the mission.
Top leaders may define success, but it is your leaders on the front lines, with a leadership mindset, that determines it. The leaders in the trenches, not the corner office, win most of the battles. You need both. Let them ignore each other and see how much is accomplished. Everyone in your organization is a leader. They are leading others either closer to the vision or further away by their daily attitude and actions. You can manage actions but never attitudes. That requires resonant leadership!
Next month: “The Seven Priorities for Creating Leaders Everywhere”