Monday, April 11, 2011

The Strategic Corporal

Here's an interesting HBR post about something the U.S. Marines call the "strategic corporal."

One of the first concepts to which I was exposed in the Marines was the idea of the "strategic corporal." The lowest ranking non-commissioned officer in the Marine Corps, a corporal typically has at least two years of service and leads small teams of three to nine Marines. When deployed overseas, corporals often lead their teams and squads on patrols in dangerous places that are at times far from direct supervision. Corporals have to make quick decisions, some of which can carry strategic implications.

Does this describe the staff people in your association? If they’re anything like the people in my organization, they’re making decisions every day that carry strategic implications. Have you ever thought about the context in which those decisions are being made?

As young lieutenants, we learned that we needed to set the example, communicate the commander's intent, and then empower our corporals and sergeants to operate in places where they may not be able to ask, "What do I do next?"

This is absolutely how I try to lead the people in my organization--and it is often a challenge to communicate that "commander's intent" because the way forward is not always clear and there are plenty of unanticipated obstacles. But the goal is always for them to feel confident in making the decision on what to do next, rather than feeling they have to check back with headquarters every time the landscape changes.

How else will we be nimble enough to innovate?

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