During my 34-year military career, I led organizations varying in size from hundreds of people all the way to my final job where I was privileged to serve as the Commander of thousands of men and women in the historic 9th Air Force. During these leadership opportunities, I learned how important it was to be knowledgeable in the business at hand and to have a dependable leadership style. Based on feedback from senior people who worked for me, my style was open and collaborative and they appreciated my attempts to keep things relaxed and professional so they could discuss things honestly with me during strategy and planning meetings. During these sessions, I tried to develop a consensus but still welcomed differing opinions in order to avoid group think. However – and this is important - once the time came to make a decision, I would politely say the discussion was over, make the decision, and give guidance so everyone could get on with their own particular job. Your subordinates will likely find this leadership quality energizing since it will add efficiency to your operations. I also recommend writing guidance down - clearly and concisely - to communicate decisions to people who aren’t in the room for the discussion.
But it’s never really that simple, is it, since one person shouldn’t try to make all the decisions in an organization. High-performing teams need a process for delegating authority to subordinate levels, and this is also an important component of your leadership style. In each of my leadership opportunities through the years, I had varying levels of experience below me in the line of decision-makers and managers. Accordingly, I settled on a simple way of looking at the experience level in the unit by dividing junior executives into two groups – high-performing up-and-coming leaders who were ready to conduct independent operations, and more junior, less experienced people who needed regular and repetitive mentoring to get things done in line with the organization’s plan. For the first group, I was comfortable running collaborative planning sessions, giving broad guidance, and routinely delegating authority to lower levels to do things efficiently using our people’s experience and common sense. I also used private mentoring sessions with these gifted leaders to assure them they could count on my support in their decision-making process as long as they avoided redlines I laid out during planning meetings. This allowed the first group of leaders to quickly build confidence in their own specific operating environment. Now, for those subordinates who weren’t ready for so much responsibility, I still gave broad guidance during our planning sessions but told them to get in touch with me before taking action to prevent negative impacts caused by flawed analysis or risky assumptions.
To succeed in today’s business world, competent leaders must be confident in their own leadership style and adapt their decision-making process to the experience level of middle managers in their organization. Decisions should be made efficiently for the good of everyone in the organization or the company might get lapped by the competition. Your leadership style will be a key component of your company’s success and thus you need to be very comfortable with the style you choose. Confident leaders don’t waver and are always accountable for their decisions. Take time early on to determine how you’re going to delegate authority since this leadership trait is an important element of high-performing teams and will enable your business and people to thrive. And remember, as a leader, you’re always accountable for your own leadership style and your subordinate’s actions and decisions...choose wisely in each area.
"Success is determined by more than one person in a company."
Jake Polumbo is a retired Major General, who served as the 9th Air Force Commander prior to his retirement in 2015. A Founding Partner and Senior Associate of Two Blue Aces, LLC.