Adopting the Mission Command Mindset

A few weeks ago, the Washington Post ran an article about some of the latest developments in military leadership, and, as part of it, they shared the idea of the Mission Command Mindset.

At its simplest, Mission Command dictates that senior leaders provide guidance and intent — the what and the why — and that subordinate leaders have maximum latitude to design the how. It embodies deep trust between senior and subordinate.

In other words, senior leadership sets the vision, and all the details about how that vision is executed are pushed down to those closest to where the activity is taking place, like so:

Mission Command graphic

All I can say to this is: YES!

Associations NEED this approach, because far too often, we go the opposite way, with senior staff micromanaging every detail of every thing.

Our Executive Directors/Chief Staff Officers are supposed to be the bridge to the Board. Like the Board, they should be focused on the 30,000 foot vision and strategic direction, but often they don’t, and they end up dans la merde, losing their focus on where the association is trying to go overall, and in the process, working a million hours a week.

“But I can’t trust my people to do a good job if I don’t insist that they let me review every single marketing email before it goes out!”

(That’s an actual recent example from a $100M annual revenue association client.)

Look, if that’s really the case, then you either:

  • didn’t hire the right people
  • didn’t get them the right training
  • don’t understand that just because someone does something a little differently than you might doesn’t mean that they’re wrong

I’ve written about this before around the concept of being willing to unplug, but the point is that your staff members know things you don’t by virtue of being close to the situations they’re dealing with on a daily basis. Which the US military apparently understands, and their situations are often life-and-death. Don’t you think you can trust your staff to send out a marketing email without getting five layers of approval first?

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One thought on “Adopting the Mission Command Mindset”

  • Elizabeth, great article. I couldn’t agree more. It brings to mind my theory on delegating: You should delegate everything that someone else can do or can learn to do. To do otherwise is a disservice to the employee and to the organization.

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