Creating an Environment for Success

One of my New Year’s Resolutions was to get back into the habit of reading books. For some reason, I got distracted from this important habit and reduced my consumption of printed materials to magazines, newsfeeds and the like. Personally, it was a unique sports year for me. As a Chicago native living in Cleveland for almost twenty years, I was treated to the Cavs World Championship and the Cubs versus Indians World Series. My Bleacher Report app saw a lot of action this year!

I missed reading books though. The depth and context you can only get into when reading a book is more thought-provoking than a 5000-word magazine article. Considering this, a book I recently finished and strongly recommend is General Stanley McChrystal’s, Team of Teams. The baseline for the book is McChrystal’s success at turning the military’s top-down chain of command protocol upside-down.

His realization was that Al Qaeda was not a typical top-down military structure. Rather, it was a loosely assembled network that had the flexibility and fluidity to enable it to stay a step ahead of the more rigid decision process that featured silos of information from the NSA, CIA, FBI, Embassies and the Pentagon. McChrystal broke down barriers and created a communications center, where daily briefings would occur with all agencies in attendance. It created a shared consciousness amongst all stake holders.

Further, with the shared consciousness, McChrystal found that he needed to let go of making day-to-day operational decisions. He established a framework for the guidelines for decisions to be made – as long as he was informed of the decisions in the daily briefings. As a result, they found that the outcome of the decisions made improved. Those at the ground level, with the most contextual awareness of the situation, were empowered with decision-making authority if it fell within the basic parameters of fundamental guidelines. Decisions were not only correct, they were timely and attained the result desired.

So, this brings me to the ongoing essays, studies, TED Talks, and articles published daily on the generational problems between the Baby Boomer and Millennial generations. I find amazing parallels here: top-down organizational cultures dealing with a networked and fluid generation that is often stereotyped as wanting more input and authority than has traditionally been given – no, earned – through years of work and dedication.

How does one find a successful path here? McChrystal’s epiphany was found in his mother’s garden. His realization was that he needs to “Lead Like a Gardener” – the title of his second to last chapter. His reference is that a gardener, to be successful, prepares, plants, prunes, fertilizes, etc. But in the end, the gardener doesn’t grow the plants – the plants grow themselves. The gardener only creates the environment for the plants to be successful.

So, an effective leader creates the environment. The environment includes a shared consciousness of the mission and conditions required for success. It includes a search for the contextual awareness of what is required and delegates authority to the level appropriate for the most effective decision. And always pays attention to the decision process and structure. If the decision is wrong, what was wrong with the decision process and logic?

Frustrated with generational issues? Having trouble delegating authority down? McChrystal was working through this while fighting a war. There are some great lessons for all of us to learn here.

“As you travel down a traditional org chart, motivation and contextual awareness become more limited and specific, and more removed from the organization’s strategic aims.”

Gen Stanley McChrystal

“Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.“

Henry Ford

“Making good decisions is a crucial skill at every level.”

Peter Drucker