How to lead in uncertain times (Part 2) – The power of commander’s intent

Today we bring you another special episode of The For You Leaders Podcast. As we discussed in the last episode about how to lead during uncertain times, today’s world is changing and presenting challenges, globally, at a scale and pace greater than anything any of us has experienced – due to the Coronavirus (COVID-19).

Success leaves footprints. So does failure. Kirk has spent countless hours studying and personally observing how the world’s most effective leaders lead through times of uncertainty. Although the details of today’s crisis are unique, how past leaders have led in times of crisis are shockingly similar. Once you understand this important distinction, you will be able to see beyond the details of this crisis. You will see what you need to do in order to predict, prepare and lead in times of uncertainty. The truth is, we will not be able to manage our way through this crisis, we are going to have to lead our way through it.

Today Kirk is going to share a very simple, yet powerful, tool leaders use during uncertain times called “The Commander’s Intent.” It’s so simple, you can start using it today! Listen in as we discuss how to lead during uncertain times by using the power of Commander’s Intent.

Make sure to subscribe to the For You Leaders Podcast on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts. 


Chip: Hi, I’m Chip Hanna, and this is another very special episode of the For You Leaders podcast with Kirk Dando.

Just like everyone listening here, Kirk and I have been thinking about and consuming a ton of information about what is going on in this world. And looking at different comparisons of what’s happened in the past and , our goal here today is just to help the people listening and to provide some perspective and some real actionable advice around a couple of things that you can do as you’re thinking about leading during these uncertain times.

It’s things that I’ve been thinking about. Personally quite a bit. Even with with my family and Kirk, you’ve got a couple of things that, you know, you’ve been spending time looking at this and reflecting on it you’ve got that you want to share just about what’s going on in this world and , how it compares to things in the past and how, how leaders should be thinking about it.

Kirk: Yeah. Thank you, Chip. I really like what you said is, I really do think that that is our heart’s desires to want to help give perspective during these times. I think that, if we let it, a leadership voice can be louder than the noise that’s going on. That’s what I’ve been spending time doing, I’ve, you know, dedicated a lot of my life to it.

But, a lot of my life over these last days and weeks, really studying and understanding. I believe that success leaves footprints, and so does failure. And so, although the details are uniquely different during this time, we understand that there’s a more than a fair share of pain and suffering that people are experiencing and our prayers are with you.

And we want to walk alongside you in this journey.

And so the details are different. But if you really look at it and you step back and you have to study, you know, great leaders, from presidents to military, to religious leaders, to community leaders, and even in my own life, people that have led well and studied them.

The dynamics and the priorities of how they lead in and through a crisis are very, very similar. In fact, not trying to make this convenient, but it’s just, it’s uncanny. There’s really kind of seven things that I’ve noticed that really great leaders do. In times of crisis, and I want to share a couple of those with you and in the days coming .

There’s really three things that crisises do for us. One is they change the balance of risk and reward. I think that often times there’s certain advantages that can only come from a crisis, and not advantages of taking advantage of people, or being opportunistic. But I think about my own life. There’s times where I just didn’t want to change. I didn’t want to give up habits or behaviors or things that I had outgrown or didn’t need any longer. And until all my options were stripped from me and sometimes in very tragic ways, I just didn’t change.

So that’s one thing that I know that crisis does. Another one is it increases our focus. I know many of you are focusing right now. You’re focusing on how you’re spending your time, how you’re spending your money. And, it’s what Chip and I call kind of “eliminating the rocking horse” factor. A rocking horse has a lot of motion, but no movement.

And so crisis really increases our focus. And the third thing does is that crisis identifies leaders. In a crisis, leaders either show up as their best or show up as their worst, and we’ve all seen it before. We’ve all experienced it. I know, like I said, we’ve had either personal crisises or professional crisises in our past, and all the details of this one are very, very unique.

The dynamics are similar. And in those crisis moments, either the leader shows up in the crisis or the crisis seems to show up the leader. And so I hope to really share some perspective. , I’d love your feedback. We want to get better. We want to be able to share more broadly. We don’t pretend to have all the answers or the right structure or approach to how to dive into this. But what we do is we care and we care about you deeply. And so as we share these things, we sure would appreciate you giving us feedback and helping us get better.

But like I said, there’s really seven things I’ve kind of identified that really great leaders do in and through a crisis and how they show up and one of those thing is that they really are great at unifying everyone, whether it be their family, their teammates, their company, their community. Their platoon, whatever it might be. They’re great at unifying everyone to a singular purpose, what we call commander’s intent. This is something that we have all of our CEOs do, and in a time like this, it’s very powerful.

What commander’s intent is it’s fairly simple, and the concept is essentially the president of the United States may have a directive. But the President of the United States isn’t going to be going out into the battlefields and figuring out where the tanks are going, and if somebody needs to be repaired, or isn’t going to be necessarily in all the details, but what we find is, is that an extraordinary amount of planning goes into anytime that there’s a wartime or a crisis, there’s a tremendous amount of unknown. But because of that, there’s a tremendous amount of planning. But we can’t be in all the details. As leaders, we, it just, it slows us down. It creates too much friction in the system. And so, the President of United States hands down what’s called a commander’s intent. And commanders intent essentially says, “if we do nothing else within the next week or the next month, or the next three months, pick an appropriate timeframe… if we do nothing else, we must,” and then finish that sentence. So, “if we do nothing else in the next month, we must…”

He hands that down to his chief of staff. And they hand it down to the generals, and they hand it down to the appropriate people that need to have the information and that they’re able to make decisions and increase decision velocity because they have a singular purpose of what they’re trying to accomplish. And if you go back in history and you believe that success leaves footprints, go back and study any great leaders that you know, and you will see that they were exceptional communicators, but even the ones that weren’t great communicators were great at unifying people to a singular purpose.

Now, let me point out what this does, and this creates a unique chain of events that are critical to the success inside of a crisis. One is, is when you have a commander’s intent, you create an environment of informed decisions. You don’t just rely on the path of least resistance. In most organizations that haven’t done a great job of elevating leaders and elevating managers, the path of least resistance is back to their bosses’ office to find out what they need to do next. However, when we elevate our leaders and we elevate our managers, and we give them a commander’s intent; and we empower them. Now, they’re able to make informed decisions. That is critical because that helps create what is next, alignment. When you have informed decisions, you create alignment inside of your organization, inside of your family, inside of anything that you are leading, and everyone that’s listening to this is leading something, I promise you that.

Think about alignment for a second. So, if you’ve ever watched or been part of little league soccer, let’s say six and seven year olds that are playing soccer. And they roll the ball out there and there’s just like this beehive of chaos of chasing the ball. Some are picking dandelions, some are looking at the sky because they noticed the cloud looks like a plane, and you can just picture this in your mind.

Well, often times, that’s what the communication looks like inside of our organizations. We go off, we have an executive discussion maybe we’re meeting daily, or weekly. We feel well-understood, we feel aligned, and then we go out into the organization because of our communication patterns and because of how we are not completing the feedback loop, we’re communicating like a six and seven year old soccer game.

But instead when you have alignment, and you’re able to use this commander’s intent to get people rallied around this unifying cause of what we need to be doing, you’re much more like a rowing team. In the water, they barely make a wave and they are in unison and it’s just a thing of beauty. They just glide through the water with ease.

So, when we have a commander’s intent, we’re going to create informed decisions. The path of least resistance is no longer back to their boss, but they can make informed decisions. They may not make every decision right. And you’ve got to be wise about who you’re putting in an authority to make those decisions.

But when they make mistakes, just iterate and make another decision. I had someone wants to tell me, “Kirk, you can’t make a wrong decision, you just need to be smart enough to make another one quickly.” That’s very true. So, you may have informed decisions, you create alignment. Now, here’s the thing of beauty.

When you have alignment, this leads to decision velocity and that is critical in this time and really any times when we’re tying to accomplish something of greatness.

We’re trying to lead our way through crisis. You will not manage your way through crisis. You have to lead your way through crisis. And I see too many people trying to manage their way through crisis tactics and exhausting amounts of meetings and discussions and to do lists.

And that’s the rocking horse. Lots of motion. Not a lot of movement.

But when we have informed decisions, we create alignment. When we have alignment, we create decision velocity inside the organization because we put wise, capable people in there and we’re iterating fast. So when we have decision velocity, we actually accelerate towards stability and success.

We get the drama out of the business. We get the drama out of the business. As leaders, we’ve got to do that. No doubt. There is a lot of real drama that is occurring during this time, and I don’t want to minimize it, but I also don’t want to minimize the impact of a leader during this time. You can do this.

It’s not hard, but it takes commitment. It may mean you’ve set your alarm an hour earlier in the morning and getting quiet and thinking about what you’re going to do and the things that you’re going to communicate and the people that are depending upon you to show up well.

So, what Chip and I would like you to do, what we’d like to challenge you to do is think about, “What is your commander’s intent?” If you do nothing over the next week or month, you must…

And could I walk into your organization and ask anybody, walk up to anybody and ask them to finish that sentence? , “if we do nothing else in the next month, we must…”

You’re going to have to empower your teams during these times. The traditional kind of top-down approach to our handful of people who are making the key decisions and disseminating it out of the organization. Often times, the signal strength is poor. It’s like that sixth grade soccer team I’ll talk about, but beyond that, I want you to think about empowering your teams, creating a network effect. Setting up, you see it if you watch the news at all, in our local governments and in the military, they’re setting up committees and they’re putting people that are heads of those committees to accomplish a task. It’s very clear they’ve got a commander’s intent on what that committee is supposed to be accomplishing, and they’re letting them do that.

So thinking about kind of two pools of activity. You have the normal business activity, the action of what you need to get done. You know, whether it be external communications, whether it be, you know, kind of your workforce protection, what is going on there, not just, physical protection, but mental and emotional protection, kind of what’s going on with your supply chain stabilization and what are you doing to make sure that you’re able to stay productive. Your customer engagement. Critical customer empathy, what’s going on with them, what are they experiencing? And then the financial stress testing that you need to be doing. Those are the activities that create action and drive the business forward.

And there’s nothing like leveling up your leadership. Like I said, you’re not going to manage your way through this. You’re going to lead your way through this. There’s nothing like leveling up your leaders in a time like this and trusting them. It’s one of the other critical priorities. If you go back and study what great leaders have done is they have leveled up leaders in times of crisis and trusted them.

Doesn’t mean they’re going to make every decision right. But you empower them to make decisions by giving them the right commander’s intent. So this is one of the things that I wanted to share. Chip, I really appreciate you as we go through this. I shared this with you, Chip, there’s really no one other than you than I would have wanted to have gone through something like this.

You and I have not been through a crisis together. , even though I like to act like sometimes things are crisises that aren’t, because I think it creates focus. But this is really true. And I just wanted to tell you how much I admire you, how much I appreciate your help, the way that you’re leading your family, the way you’re helping lean in and caring about the people that we’re working with, the CEOs, the venture capitalists, the investors, and the leaders.

So, thank you for that.

Chip: Yeah, of course. , So, one thing that comes to mind is as you’re talking about that is, what are some of the commanders intents that we’re seeing? We have one company where they do a lot of in-person events, and so they’ve got a whole team that their commander’s intent is how do we move some of these virtual, and that’s what they’re focusing on for the next, you know, a couple of weeks here.

Other ones are focused on just retention of employees. If we do nothing else in the next couple of weeks, we have to retain these customers that we have. What are some other good examples of commander’s intent that you’re seeing as we talk to people?

Kirk: Yeah. Like I said, one of the things that the advantage of a crisis is that it forces you to focus and kind of get that rocking horse mentality out of things where a bunch of movement, I mean a bunch of motion, it doesn’t create much movement. And then the commander’s intent with some of the things that we’re seeing are people are getting back to really what are the values of the business.

And like you, you kinda hinted or said, this is, if we do nothing else in the next month, we must do this for our customers. If we do nothing else, and everything is kind of relating back to how do we help others. I think in these times, and others, and often times as customers, but in these times, I think it’s so easy for us to…

And it’s, it’s human nature.

We’re doing it. I’m doing it. Everybody’s doing.

Is, am I going to be safe? Am I going to be okay? Is my family gonna be safe? Am I going to be okay? But I think that, like I said, leaders show up in a crisis and the commander’s intents that we’re seeing all have some kind of theme around how do I help others, customers, employees, those that have been impacted by the shutting down of restaurants and other hospitality things and other things that are happening. But as a leader, it’s our job to communicate. I’ve read a bunch of articles about communicating constantly. Well, if you’re communicating the wrong thing constantly, that’s probably not super helpful. You’ve got to use good judgment and getting to the core of what matters and what you value is going to be the essence of what your commander’s intent needs to be.

Chip: Yeah. I think it’s really awesome that people are taking this time to focus on others, and that’s really when you, when you can go farther, is because you aren’t focused on yourself. You’re focused on how you can take others someplace where they can’t take themselves, which is the very definition of leadership.

So, I’d encourage people listening just to think about what is their commander’s intent for their team, for their family, for their church, for their community, whatever it is that they’re leading. What is your commander’s intent?

Kirk: Yeah, Chip. And in addition to that, also, be thinking about how are you gonna organize your team? How are you going to elevate leadership? How are you going to be intentional? Because as we always have spoken and pointed out as, as you are, you’re being watched and you have a unique opportunity to be training up.

I think we will see it at time, far into the future that will extend beyond this crisis, where there’s a new breed of leaders who really understand that you’ve got to put people first and how to lead from that direction.

So, I really want to thank our listeners for taking the time to join us here on the For You Leaders podcast.

I want you to know, once again that, Chip and I are people that care deeply about you and are spending time trying to think of ways to help you. And if you’ve got ideas and you’ve got questions or you think there’s things that you want us to speak into or gather from our network, we’ve been very fortunate to have a vast network.

Please reach out and ask us questions and we’ll go to work in helping you and trying to add value to you, your family and your businesses.

Thank you for listening. Have a blessed day.

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