PUSH THE POWER DOWN!
Be “hands-on” enough to keep control, but recognize and train subordinates who can take the ball and run with it. In battle, decision-making is decentralized, so select subordinates who can function independently and empower them to take action. Select good people for your immediate staff and make sure they know your policies. Instruct them not to hold back when they genuinely believe you are about to make a wrong decision. Make every team member, including yourself, replaceable. A leader must realize subordinate leaders will be killed or wounded. Leaders must prepare and train other leaders to step up and take over.
Most importantly, they must train their next line to take command if they are killed or wounded and evacuated. In any field of endeavor, it’s a vital responsibility of the leader to ensure their organization’s successful continuity or ability to carry on should they die or become incapacitated. They must plan for such a contingency out of loyalty to their people and commitment to their customers or clients if in a business endeavor.
I made sure my Company Commanders and Leaders down the line were prepared for that by designating appropriate men under them to step up and take charge on a field exercise. I would often shout to a Company Commander or Platoon Leader, “You’ve just been shot. You’re DEAD! Now keep your mouth shut and watch what your men do – until I declare you back from the dead and back in action. Also, I was in Cambodia, June 2000, visiting Angkor Wat and those other impressive temples. Men who had an average life span of 37 YEARS constructed them in the 9th through the 12th Centuries! The Civil, Hydraulic, Mechanical, Celestial, and other Engineering challenges must have been awesome. But they were all conquered. As the top engineers died, others—WHO HAD BEEN CAREFULLY MENTORED, INSTRUCTED, AND TESTED—took over without a hitch.
General Kinnard, my Division Commander in the First Cavalry, was a great believer in POWER DOWN. A veteran of two combat jumps into Europe, he wanted and selected imaginative, aggressive commanders who thought quickly and acted quickly under pressure. On an airmobile, air assault battlefield or after a parachute assault into enemy territory, units would be scattered. Small unit leaders would be on their own.
I was sent to “E” Co, 187th Airborne Infantry Regiment, a rifle company in Japan. We were in a former Japanese Army camp outside the city of Sendai in northern Honshu, the principal island of Japan. The Company was woefully under strength, and the draftees in the ranks and Reserve Officers who’d fought the war were frequently leaving for discharge in the United States. We did receive a few replacement officers but not many. Some companies had less than a hundred men. That’s when I learned first-hand the worth, the requirement, the need for good intermediate leaders/supervisors/trainers over the troops in the ranks. In the military, these men are the Non-Commissioned Officers (NCOs). They were the leaders with “street-smarts”; men who had spent years down with the troops while commissioned officers were moving between duties on staffs, in schools, in Higher Hqs., and if lucky in command positions. During my entire career, I consulted with, learned from NCOs.