Value Shift


Initiative and Obedience: conflicting, complementary, or dualistic? What is one without the other?

What do others say? There is a group that teaches outcomes engineering that states that, if everybody does what he is told, everybody is motivated, and if he sees everybody as his friend then we will have a fantastic organization. But people are not knowledgeable and cannot be planned. In social engineering people still behave poorly despite good structure, laws, and regulations hence, mindlessness.

You start with background discipline good laws, regulations, and you conform to it. But how do you allow initiative and creativity? It may depend on who presents it first.

Commander’s Intent is the context within which you are independent. Who does it first must be technically competent. This is Commander’s Intent. Dogma is equivalent to obedience. As with nature vs. nurture it is not one or the other but a balance. The US Navy does not officially present Commander’s Intent which is more for land warfare. Commander’s Intent is large in the Marine Corps. If it is not presented then the commander may be overwhelmed with circumstances. Subordinates can use Commander’s Intent to follow initiative.

Mostly people act poorly because we did not outline expectations and rules of action. If you hear or see something stupid do not act, ask. If it seems wrong it probably is.

There is also shared ethos, values, and experience which results in the Strategic Corporal paper used by the Marine Corps.

There is obedience to the integrity or the technical task. This allows shift from obedience to initiative.

Teams created by shared objective are more likely to use initiative. Commonly, we use teams created by hierarchy.

There is tension between mindfulness and control. For French firefighters, the French culture has a cultural hierarchical organization. In American culture there is Commander’s Intent with distributed decision making. When the situation becomes too complex for centralized decision making the French firefighters are forced to make decisions.

Query – What are they doing to change?

Response – Simulations and exercises are used.

When do you let people use initiative? Figure out their level of competency. Mentoring by senior members with evaluation; small tasks initially then evaluate performance; let them make mistakes then debrief them.

On the first day on the job, work with them closest regarding initiative as they will be in over their head at first. When the rookie sees danger what do you want him to do? Communicate is an item of initiative. Safety over-rides initial orders, even by communication. This is in the affective domain of knowledge. How do I teach initiative? Technical competency integrative or adaptive competency may be more important than technical competency.

Action-oriented behavior may be good or bad. How do you teach a person who does not have the characteristics of action oriented behavior? Initiative is a complex decision making tool. As a leader you can empower them or constrain them.

You talk about leader all the way down to middle management. But the most effective mentoring is being careful about lining the new person up with someone who was recently in that situation. For initiative, there is limited interaction from on high; the most effective influence is further down the chain of command.

In the Naval Training Command you take the raw student with minimal flight time in civilian aircraft. Then you expect them to obediently follow the technical tasks to move them to flying alone. You train them to be obedient, give them small tasks, and then move to initiative.

The leader has to set the tone for the employee to take initiative.

You could develop a followership to leadership program. There is a common voice from the beginning. Think of leadership from the follower’s position. Develop common values and beliefs so leadership stars on the first day.

What you can do? vs. What you cannot do? as opposing philosophies.

Everything you cannot do is listed, an approach used by the Navy and Marine Corps.

Anything you can do is listed, an approach used by the Air Force.

How does this affect initiative? Initiative is a form of authority migration.

There are standards for compliance you are prohibited from these things; anything within those limits allows flexibility.

Teach in the positive.

The way to make things safe is to limit decision making rules. There are various degrees of right with various consequences so you must choose base on that.

To define the balance between initiative and obedience is more like describing course corrections as you move between too restrictive and too slack. Place emphasis on What are we learning? vs. fault and blame. Course correction then becomes part of maturity.

You have a dynamic balancing and rebalancing between adaptive competency and technical competency.

It is a bad sign if the boss or someone high up is killing initiative. For the new-hire the guy he respects most is the guy he works with; if he is slam-dunked then you kill initiative. How far down do you push this oversight and training? It is a full time job keeping the lines of communication open at all times.

We need continual balance between initiative and obedience; either extreme produces negative consequences. Acknowledge the legitimacy of those who choose rules but say we have gone too far.

Consider the bias for action vs. the bias for inaction.

Another form of initiative: If you have a problem it is your problem until it is solved (this is accountability).


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