# 104 We Already Have the Answers - We Just Don't Listen

As I was looking for source material this week I came across two monologues worth consideration. The first is entitled "C2 for Complex Endeavors - Transitioning From Command and Control to Command and Trust" and the second is "A Behavioral Model of Team Sense-making". Both are from the International Command and Control Research And Technology Symposium. I had downloaded the first awhile back and cannot find the link, but you can find the link to the Command and Control Research Project homepage here:


(If you are interested in a copy of the first, just send me an email and I'll send it to you.)

Consider the following quotes from the "C2 for Complex Endeavors" paper:

"Use your people by allowing everyone to do his job. When a subordinate is free to do his job, he perceives the trust and confidence from his superiors and takes pride in his job, himself and the organizations goals and objectives. Delegation of sufficient authority and proper use of subordinates helps develop future leaders. This is a moral responsibility of every commander."

In army-speak, this equals decentralization and trust.

and from George Patton

"No one is thinking if everyone is thinking alike. In too many organizations, toadyism is buried like a cancer. It must be removed with the sharpest bayonet available. All sorts of suggestions, ideas, concepts, and opinions must be allowed to promote an environment of learning and imagination. A fault of many potentially fine commanders is a lack of the ability to admit that other people have good ideas. If younger Soldiers are not allowed to use and cultivate their imaginations and their abilities for abstract thought, where will we get the next generations of qualified, motivated, and confident commanders? Commanders who never ask for an opinion, never listen to suggestions, and think they have the only correct idea find that their Soldiers will stop communicating altogether. They'll begin to sit on their asses and wait for orders before doing anything. No matter how high in the ranks a man goes, he can't know everything. We can always learn from each other. Juniors must learn not only to be allowed to use their imaginations, but they must be encouraged to do so.”

In Army-speak, this is the recognition of the perils of hierarchical thinking and risk-aversion.

Whenever I spend time looking for quotes or bits of wisdom for the blog, it seems to me that time and again, we already have the answers we are looking for, we just need to heed the advice of those who came before us. Does anyone but me think it strange that from the earliest commanders in the field there has been a recognition that trust up and down any chain of command is essential for unit success? It doesn't matter what your professional field is, successful organizations are built around common goals and a trust that the members of the organization from the lowest to the highest understand and are dedicated to them. I could be managing a grocery store, running a high-tech company, organizing a charitable fund-raiser, or leading troops in the field. It simply does not matter what the function of the organization is, it only matters that its' members share a common understanding of the purpose of the endeavor and trust that those above and below them share that same understanding.

Does your organization work that way? Think about it for a moment. How many of the issues you face as a leader are the result of divergent understandings of the tasks that must be completed, the reason they must be done, and the ultimate end-state desired by the organization itself? Do your people trust your understanding of their present reality? Do they even know how you view it? Do they have a mechanism to bring concerns or ideas to you? Is their input valued as equally as your own? Do they believe that you are working in their best interest? In short, do they trust you? And of equal importance, what mechanisms have you put in place to engender or ensure that trust development is critical to organizational success and effectiveness?

Once I started thinking about that, I came across the second document regarding sense-making. The word alone gave me pause and got me to considering how we make sense of our world and then how we ensure that that sense is commonly shared with others. How does it happen? How can two people look at the same problem and then come to a common understanding of its' requirements and outcomes? Can it be done in a manner that satisfies both parties? And, of course, the more people you introduce to the problem, the greater the possibility for discordant views becomes. My wife and I often have enough trouble coming to a common understanding of our priorities. Once we add in my daughter, the reality of simple problem solving and common understanding goes completely out the window! Now consider your office staff, any large corporation, or an army. No wonder it sometimes seems that change happens too slowly. There are so many divergent viewpoints that have to be brought into a common understanding first. And with 1.5 million people in the military, that's going to take awhile!

So any culture of trust and mutual understanding must first be seen through the idea of collective sense-making. Leaders have to have a vision of the final product, without necessarily knowing the challenges of getting there and then ensure that the folks in their organization share that same understanding. I can visualize the outcome of a project or mission, but then I have to also ensure that everyone else shares the same vision. And since those people have to be met individually to ensure that their piece of the puzzle meshes with the desired outcome, it becomes very time consuming.

As defined in the article, sense-making is:

“The result of a never-ending effort to challenge expectations and to consider alternate possibilities” (Weick and Sutcliffe 2001). Sensemaking is said to exhibit
the following properties (Weick 1995): grounded in identity construction; retrospective; enactive of sensible environments; social; ongoing; focused on and by extracted cues; driven by plausibility rather than accuracy."

I think the key to that definition is "never-ending effort to challenge expectations and consider alternate possibilities". From the top to the bottom of any hierarchical unit, there must be a mechanism to continuously check and re-check assumptions and then be able to adapt responses when they do not bear scrutiny. This brings to mind the idea of mental agility and even more importantly, a willingness to let go of previously held assumptions. For any organization to be successful, there must exist - at every level - a mindset that disabuses any thought of entrenched behavior. A truly successful leader must be willing to discard previously held beliefs when they are no longer effective. And organizationally, there must be a challenge mechanism in place throughout. In the Army this would mean that a large portion of any leaders responsibilities would be to require constant feedback from subordinates and then value that feedback enough to challenge their own belief systems for overall unit success. Too many places in the Army right now do not prize this 'friction' of ideas. Their leaders tend to do one of two things: First, they hold on to models of behavior and action that are outdated because they are comfortable with them, or two, they sit on the fence and wait to see which way the prevailing winds will blow before jumping into the ship at the last minute. Both of these trends are not conducive to competent decision making, mental agility, or the long term health of any organization. When a dynamic human being environment is more affected by its' bureaucratic structure' than by its' people, it will ultimately fail.

If you look at a lot of the things the Army is publishing these days you come across the word 'attributes' a lot more than you did in my early career. Suddenly, we are all interested in the required 'attributes' of a Soldier. Not skills, not a technical ability, but behavioral attributes. Things like 'judgment' and 'character'. I wonder why that is? Seems to me that there is a recognition now that our earlier emphasis on the technical skills and abilities did not account very well for the development of judgment. In effect, because we were going to fight an all-out battle to be decided in one crushing blow, it was more important that we develop a Soldier's ability to pull the trigger accurately than it was to imbue in him the ability to decide if he should pull the trigger at all. After a decade at war, we have come to the realization that we must develop both skills in concert. It is not a matter of A or B, it must be AB equally, and the argument can be made that judgment and character are ultimately more important than technical skill and ability.

Consider the following models of positive sense-making and negative sense-making as outlined in the article"

Enable Sensemaking (E) - Positive
॰ E1: Challenges assumptions or takes opposite view
॰ E2: Suggests alternatives
॰ E3: Displays self-questioning or doubt
॰ E4: Displays reliance on other team members
॰ E5: Reveals thought process aloud
॰ E6: Pays attention to others’ views
॰ E7: Openly shares info and opinions
॰ E8: Tells stories of past events or future possibilities

Inhibit Sensemaking (I) - Negative
॰ I1: Shows preference for formal process
॰ I2: Pushes for formal discussion
॰ I3: Rejects complex explanations
॰ I4: Affinity for like-minded thinkers
॰ I5: Attacks others’ contributions
॰ I6: Pushes for conclusions
॰ I7: Shows frustration overtly
॰ I8: Shows occasional disinterest

Which one resonates more with you as being prevalent in your organization? Why? If you look closely at the lists above, you will see that just behind the positive attributes mentioned their is a priority on people. An emphasis on collaboration. A willingness to share knowledge and experience and question norms. If you look at the more negative list, you can plainly see the institution. The organization itself acting as a force independent of the people.

For the positive behaviors of successful organizations to take root, some very basic things must occur. First, there must be an explicit value placed on people. They must be treated as the crown jewels of the organization. Second, trust has got to be imbued from the very first day they enter the it. They must believe and be allowed to demonstrate why their particular talents are of value. They cannot be hired under the pretense that they have value and then have that value stripped from them when they report for work. They must be trusted implicitly as being able to contribute immediately. This is critical. I cannot emphasize it enough. They also must be expected to contribute immediately. Third, their must be an understanding of roles and how those roles affect how individuals view their unfolding reality.

To use my organization as an example, when I came in I told my subordinates that I would earn their trust but by virtue of their knowledge of their jobs and their experience in the organization they already had mine. I trusted them 100% sight unseen. They were explicitly allowed to distrust me. I believe that over time, I have now gained their trust to a greater or lesser degree based upon the individual. I then went about dismantling as much of the structure as I could and replaced it with the understanding of roles and collaboration. I intentionally went about team-building by removing as much of the hierarchy as I could. I have consciously emphasized their value as people rather than mere employees. Whenever possible, I have tried to place their needs ahead of the organizations. Giving a guy or gal some time off on their anniversary may create a small problem on the training schedule, but it pays itself back 1000 fold when a more critical need surfaces. And finally, I truly do not see myself as 'better' than them and they are not only allowed, but almost required, to question my judgment when it doesn't make sense. While some are more comfortable with that than others, overall, it has worked well. They do not hesitate to tell me when they think I'm full of shit. I routinely want their feedback and ideas and have created a learning friction that allows us to solve our challenges much more quickly. Reaching a common consensus has become much easier because we are all stakeholders in the outcome. I have also given them their own projects and supported their personal desires as much as possible. They have pride in ownership and that pride drives them to continually push themselves harder to surpass their own expectations. They have not failed our customers yet. We are peers in the sense that we share a common understanding of what we need to accomplish and the obstacles we face. Now each of us plays our part, does our duty, lives up to our expectations and is beholden to the team over their individual priorities.

We know the answers to leader development. They have not changed much over the millennium. Value people over things, trust that given an opportunity to succeed most of people will, and create organizations driven by mutual respect and collaboration and open and candid communication. If the CEO of Microsoft, Apple, General Motors etc can do it. Then certainly the Army can, and your organization can as well.

As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome.

1 comment:

  1. really great blog with real lessons to internalize and use....the enable and inhibit sense making is a great check list for leaders to use....

    you are right...all of these LD lessons have been around for years....and people often read them and teach them. and talk about them....but how often do people CHANGE THEIR BEHAVIOR based on what they have read or been taught....

    normally behavioral change is caused by some significant emotional event....kudos to those who can change/improve their leadership simply by growing, listening, and learning....

    as your blog accurately states...we already have the answers, we just don't listen...

    nicely done! (as usual)