In the late 1990s, Marine General Charles Krulak took a look at how the world and warfare were changing. He saw a world where the operating environment was increasingly volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA). He decided that what the Marine Corps would need to operate successfully was what he called "strategic corporals."
Strategic corporals are front line leaders willing and able to take initiative and make important decisions. That's exactly what we need in business today, except I'd call those people "strategic supervisors."
Creating strategic supervisors is more than "pushing decision making to the front lines." It's not "empowerment," either. To make this happen you need more than the right words and an all-hands email.
You need to select potential strategic supervisors for their attitude. You want people who get joy and satisfaction from helping others succeed. They also need to be willing to talk to other people about performance and behavior and willing to make decisions. My guess is that if you let teams select their own supervisors you wouldn't have to worry much about this.
You need to prepare strategic supervisors for their role. Help them learn how to conduct productive conversations with team members. Help them learn to make good decisions by making lots of decisions.
You need to support strategic supervisors in their roles. This isn't "backing them up." It's providing peer support, mentoring, and self-directed learning opportunities.
You need to give strategic supervisors the resources to do their job. Money and time are resources, but so is information. Too much information in companies is either in silos or sequestered at the top of the org chart.
You need to communicate with your strategic supervisors so that they understand the big picture and where they fit in. Do that without burying them in detail.
You can't let your strategic supervisors be free only some of the time. It's all or nothing. They might take initiative where you wouldn't or not see a need that you do, but on the whole they'll do just fine. So give them the preparation and support and let them go. And don't try to corral them by using software to make decisions for them.
If you want strategic supervisors in your organization you have to support them and help them succeed. And, if they're as good as you think they are, remember that they'll catch on quick if you're just pretending to give them the freedom to act.
Boss's Bottom Line
The future of the successful workplace will have a lot of strategic supervisors.
Thanks to Wally Bock / The Three Star Leadership
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