Reflecting on my military career, I was reminded of a key leadership skill that helped me get better results faster; that is making decisions in context.
It’s easy for leaders to make decisions out of “context.” Context means the nature of the situation. In the military, there is something called a SITREP (situation report) that is reported by the man on the ground. The man on the ground means the person at ground level where implementation is taking place. You see, the man on the ground has a perspective that the “decision-makers” don’t always have. He or she has first-hand interaction with dynamics such as who is involved, what are the immediate results, where are the gaps, what are the strengths and weaknesses, what is working well, why isn’t something working, how can it be done better, and so on. A SITREP basically reports the who, what, when, where, how, and why of a situation.
Current and up to date SITREPS (from the man on the ground) are critical in order for leaders to make quality decisions that are in the context of the situation. Sometimes leaders make hasty decisions without taking into account how that decision will effect the people or systems that are involved. Often times, leaders will simply compare actual results with desired results and jump right to decision-making. This is called making decisions without “context.”
How to make decisions in context:
1. Know the man on the ground. Leaders must know who is in the best position to provide accurate information in the FULL context of the situation. The person with context (not theory or even experience) should always be the primary source of information.
2. Gather facts and ask questions. Get the intel you need. Knowledge and experience does not mean you know everything about a situation. Ask yourself, what are the dynamics at play? Leaders must find out from the man on the ground how a particular course of action will effect the people and systems in place. (Note: Depending on the level of decision, there may be multiple systems and many people effected by one decision.)
3. Listen with an open-mind. Leaders often have a preconceived notion or idea of what they think will work and which course of action should be taken. Sometimes this is a hit, sometimes a miss. However, the further we are removed from implementation the more likely we are to make a decision out of context. Listening with an open mind means considering possibilities and courses of action that you haven’t thought of; or better yet, that you might not have experience with. Just because you haven’t seen it work, doesn’t mean it won’t. Listen to those who are close enough to see, smell, taste, hear and touch the situation.
4. Allow decisions to be made at the appropriate level. It’s very difficult for a General to make a battlefield decision when he is 200 miles away looking at a report or computer screen. Some decisions need to be made by those on the ground who are in the best position to respond to the context of the situation.
What say you?