In one of many books Stephen Ambrose wrote about the Second World War (maybe Citizen Soldiers), he makes a brilliant observation. Whether on his own or with the help of some expert insight, he concluded we won the war because American soldiers were encouraged to make decisions and Germans and Japanese were not. It was the creativity of G.I. Joe and the blessing of his leaders to exercise it that made the difference. From the bottom up, if an American enlisted man saw a solution to a problem, they acted on it. The soldiers and leadership collaborated and trusted each other, literally, with their lives. For the Axis armies, there was only the guy in charge and he demanded blind obedience. And a lot of times, when he bit the dirt or couldn’t hack it, entire units were compromised.

Think about the bottlenecks that occur in organizations both large and small when one individual feels like they gotta make all the decisions. We’ve all experienced the frustration that happens when ideas or actions are killed by anxiety from the “key stakeholders.”

Why not go with the toughest field-tested command and leadership style of all times?

Encouraging creative problem solving and individual decision making at all levels of an organization is essential for growth and success. Here’s why:

  1. Anyone trying to control every aspect or even see the entire field in any operation is going to burn out or hate their life, which will eventually lead to hating their job and everyone at work hating them.
  2. Empowering people amplifies progress. Rather than dealing with the bandwidth of one person, or a small group, you’re allowing everyone to contribute to the goal.
  3. It allows talented people to ascend the ranks. How can anyone within a system grow into a leadership role if they aren’t allowed to make some decisions and, on occasion, fuck up? Seeing whether someone will make a call can give great insight into their style and their fear/passion ratio. You can’t tell who’s gonna be Patton if you don’t give them the tanks.
  4. People who are specialized know more about their particular task than most managers. They will make better, more informed decisions about what they deal with every day than someone who simply provides oversight. Let the mortar guy fire the mortar.

We’re 2 and 0 in World Wars. I think that speaks to the American command and leadership style of that era. It’s about trust and guts from everyone in the trench together, from top to bottom.