[September 7, 2016] Strategy is the purview of senior leaders. They have the training, relevant experience, and authority to establish ends, ways, and means to accomplish the organization’s strategy. Yet, when senior leaders make tactical decisions, things can go unexpectedly wrong.
During the Vietnam War, to use just one example, U.S. President Lyndon Johnson and members of his White House staff regularly chose individual targets for the Air Force bombers to attack. There were many successes and failures in that war but it is historically recognized that one of the biggest mistakes was Johnson’s meddling in the war’s details. This gave new meaning to the concept “micromanagement.”
The error of a senior leader that makes tactical decisions is, however, greater than simple micromanagement since it occurs at a much higher level organizationally. The affects are magnified and the consequences are even harder to predict. I have summarized what it does to organizations generally:
- It shows a lack of confidence in subordinates; driving down morale, motivation, team spirit, enthusiasm, creativity, and trust.
- It can send the wrong message to subordinates about mid-level and higher-level leaders.
- It interferes with organizational plans and operational efforts.
- It distracts from the senior leader’s credibility, ability to communicate, and authority.
- It puts a strain on the senior leaders’ resources; especially time and effort.
- It generates animosity and shows the leader does not care.
- It disrupts work tempo.
The keyword here is trust. At the end of the day, all organizations run on trust among those who are part of it. When senior leaders are doing things that lower-level leaders have responsibility for, then a clear message is being sent that senior leaders do not trust those junior. It is also a trait of a leader who cannot be trusted to do those tasks necessary to make them a senior leader.
The Vietnam War ended badly for the South. Communist forces took over the country, introduced re-education camps, and slaughtered many (it pales in comparison to the My Lai massacre that I covered yesterday, see link here). Several decades later the people of Vietnam are only now recovering from the effects of Johnson’s efforts and the abandonment of their government by the U.S. Congress.
Also, senior leaders should not make comments on tactical issues. It has the same force and a directive to do it their way; it can also be misinterpreted. Recently U.S. president Barack Obama defended San Francisco 49ers football Colin Kaepernick’s right to protect against the U.S. National Anthem.1 Several have said that Obama disrespecting the United States, its values, and its history. This is simply another example why senior leaders need to stick with strategic issues.
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