Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Mask of Command

Not everyone who is placed in a situation where leadership is required is able to command a sense of control.  Some people may even struggle with the thought that others are following them and are relying on them to blaze the way ahead.
When leading people it is important that someone takes charge.  At least one person has to take on the role of responsibility and accountability.  What is needed in the heat of the moment is that the leader at least appears to be in control.
In the book "The Mask of Command" John Keegan looks at this whole area by examining great leaders of history.
As modern leaders it is also important that when we are in charge we also work hard to at least appear to be in control.  So how do we do that?  Here are my thoughts -
  1. Start planning and implementing early.  In any situation the best way to exert control is to be the person with the plan.  By having a plan then you lead the way and others follow.  You decide what you want the final product to look like and start coordinating  everyone towards that goal.  Then get the plan rolling. 
  2. Get a consensus.  If you are going in a direction and no one is following you - then you are merely going for a walk.
  3. Double check your plan.  No plan is fool proof or 100% ready to roll when you start out.  When you are wearing the mask of command it is important that you get started on a path first, and then recheck your plan and path once you are rolling.  The idea is to create momentum and then the task of changing track is so much easier. More complex issues will arise if you have to complete a u-turn. 
  4. Public supporters count.  Let your closest supporters know that you expect a combined front of support from them in public.  Even if they vehemently oppose what you are trying to do or the methods you are undertaking.  When you are in charge it is vital that you have a support group that will be vocal in their support of you (at least in public).  One great saying I remember is 'praise publicly, criticise privately'.  That is if someone has an issue with the leader or the plan then they should agree with you in front of the entire group but have the ability to discuss it openly and frankly behind closed doors.
We have a saying at our Toastmasters club which I think is entirely appropriate for these situations - 'fake it until you make it'.  Check out this video which demonstrates this fact in a funny way -

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