*Editor's Note: The following is a guest post by my friend Cameron Schaefer, Air Force pilot and author of Schaefer's Blog. Cameron and I enjoy playing Madden and solving the world's problems.
Many believe that great leadership is the ability to have the right answer to every question, the correct response to every situation, or a detailed plan for how each subordinate should conduct their affairs. The term “micromanage” is often abhorred, but in practice many leaders are forced into this corner by their own inabilities to develop other leaders around them.
By creating a clear commander’s intent or focal point (Schwerpunkt), developing your followers into leaders and decentralizing control, you can create a powerful organizational culture that in turn will help you reach your objectives.
The term “blitzkrieg” comes from the swift and seemingly chaotic method of maneuver warfare the Germans used in WWII to overwhelm the enemy on the battlefield. Blitzkrieg, which literally means, “lightening war” was effective because of its ability to disguise perfect harmony in chaos. The rapid movement and scattering of the German tanks went completely against the sluggish, line-on-line, trench warfare to which the world’s militaries had grown accustomed.
Years later, Col John Boyd, USAF, studied what made blitzkrieg so effective. Here are some of his thoughts from, “Boyd: The Fighter Pilot That Changed the Art of War,” by Robert Coram:
How does a commander harmonize the numerous individual thrusts of a blitzkrieg attack and maintain the cohesion of his larger effort?…In a blitzkrieg situation, the commander is able to maintain a high operational tempo and rapidly exploit opportunity because he makes sure his subordinates know his intent, his Schwerpunkt. They are not micromanaged, that is, they are not told to seize and hold a certain hill; instead they are given ‘mission orders.’ This means that they understand their commander’s overall intent…The subordinate and the commander share a common outlook. They trust each other, and this trust is the glue that holds the apparently formless effort together…This gives the subordinate great freedom of action (Coram 336, emphasis mine).
While, these ideas changed the art of war they can be utilized effectively in any organization. The following statement comes from an executive summary explaining the culture of Toyota:
“Have a philosophical sense of purpose that supersedes any short-term decision making. Work, grow and align the whole organization toward a common purpose bigger than making money” (The Toyota Way pg 37).
The German military leadership made a very intentional decision to allow their ground-level commanders to make their own decisions based on real-time information. In war, as well as business, the situation is so complex and dynamic that by the time information is passed up the chain of command and back down, the situation has already changed and opportunities are lost. Schwerpunkt is a focal point that all members of an organization understand and base their decisions around. As I surveyed the idea of leading with Schwerpunkt, the following three themes emerged:
1) Speed – Blitzkrieg worked because of its speed. Had the German tanks slowed down they would have been destroyed. They were effective because their decision-making cycle was much faster than that of the Allied forces. It was this rapidity that made the whole process seem chaotic to Allied commanders. The speed factor is just as important in war as in business. With the rise of free markets barriers to entry and change have nearly vanished, making the business environment one of constant change, and one requiring speed to successfully play the game.
2) Decentralization – having all of the power hoarded by one person at the top may have worked several centuries ago when the pace of life was much slower, but the increased velocity of today’s wars, business environments and geopolitical arenas makes decentralization a must. Ground-level leaders are the ones closest to the situation with access to the most current information, so it makes sense for them to have authority to make decisions and act immediately.
3) Leader Development – If you’re going to lead this way you must have reliable leaders underneath you who understand the heart of the organization’s culture and objectives. The German tank commander's were well-trained and understood the overall strategy set forth by their superiors. This does not happen magically, it takes intentional effort to train and develop followers into leaders. This must be a top priority of any organization that hopes to be successful and money and resources should align accordingly.
Implementing these three ideas requires a special type of leader. A leader who is secure in their own abilities and willing to relinquish control and trust their subordinates. Also, many leaders are not equipped to develop their subordinates.
In thinking about these ideas on leadership I couldn’t help but wonder if this is why we sometimes struggle with God’s will for our lives.
Frustration often stems from my desire to have God micromanage me -- lay out a detailed map of my life, an answer to every question and coordinates for each location. Maybe this isn't how God wants to lead.
Could it be that He wants to lead us with Schwerpunkt, giving us His overall intent, then allowing us to do what is necessary to accomplish it rather than telling us how to walk out each individual step? Is God looking to develop us so that we can make the right decisions based on a deep understanding of His overall plan and a common outlook? Does God actually trust us to help accomplish His objectives?
There are some aspects that don’t think necessarily translate into our spiritual lives and I’m definitely not claiming to know the right answers to these questions, but it seems like something that should be considered. I’m not calling for a life lived independently of God, only to reconsider the reason behind the paralysis that often shows up in our lives as Christians when we find ourselves afraid to take a step in any direction without hearing clearly from God.
This is not the safest way to do business, allowing your subordinates to make their own decisions, trusting that you’ve developed in them a good understanding of your commander’s intent. But then again, as I’ve learned so well lately, He isn’t a safe God, but He is good...and given His willingness to relinquish control, develop His followers and trust them to carry out His plans, He is the ultimate leader in Schwerpunkt.