The Army General Who Battled Command and Control Leadership

By Ryan Spence

I just finished reading the book Team of Teams.

It stunned me.

I’m not a huge proponent of business books. I have read many of them and they seem to fall into 3 categories.

The first category is the business owner or executive who, for ego reasons, needs to also see their face on the bookshelf, thereby cementing their legacy. Because these books are about the successful leaders legacy and not about any particular question, these titles rarely have anything of value in them other than making sure you know the name of the leader and why they are better at being awesome than most people. (example: The Enron Story) These are the least helpful business books.

The second type I consider a resume builder. I understand the compelling need for this business book category. The number of great ideas that never make it to the boardroom are astronomical. If you are not already considered a leader or the progeny of a leader, then the likeliness that you will find a leader paying attention to your amazing thought is nearly zero.

In order to get their great business ideas out to the world some authors gather up their gumption and endure the slings and arrows of the uninitiated with the dream of entering the conversation. (example: Die Empty)

These are incredibly passionate books, and as such, usually challenge old ways of thinking. This can be extremely helpful when trying to create breakthroughs. However, if you have any specific area of business you are struggling with (contracts, scaling, public relations, employee performance…etc…) they are not going to help you solve those problems.

The third type of business book is, in my estimation, the greatest jewel of the business book world. From these titles great depth and selfless engagement open up insights and solutions. Much of this kind of material is written by university professors. (example: Scaling Up Excellence).

However, when you find a particularly insightful master, who for the sake of the world takes the time to share, in detail, how they were able to accomplish their work, then you have stumbled upon a true teacher. You should plan to read that piece repeatedly, always attending to the spirit with which the book was written. (Another example: Zero to One)

I have a couple that fall into this category. I did not expect it recently when I first began to read General Stanley McChrystal and team’s new title Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World.

Here’s what shocked me: It’s a detailed analysis of classic command and control and how, in the contemporary context of war and business, command and control leadership is a recipe for failure. What? Yep. That’s right. Failure.

Here’s why:

1) Speed: Data upon which decisions are made moves too quickly.

2) Volume: There is too much data to rely on command and control decision making.

3) Change: The rate of change to the global environment is too much for a single person or small group of people to know how to make winning decisions.

The corporate standard of command and control decision making is the result of the West’s age of industrial manufacturing. As manufacturing has moved to the East, and the global structures have decentralized, leadership in the West must adapt to these changes by creating new, fluid, muti-nodal pockets of decision-making that are more nimble and quick reacting. This will require not just a restructuring of the organization chart, but will also require an awareness of previously unexplored resources.

To that end, I could not be more in tune with someone I thought I would regret giving my time to. The sense of team and team effort McChrystal infuses in the book is breathtaking. His ability to see the roadblocks and address them without fear is a clear enough call. I can not imagine how difficult it was to do this kind of critical self-analysis inside of the US military.

Although this book deserves a long-form review, I will end my adoration with a modicum of pride. Interestingly, there are great tools coming to the front that allow for the kind of exploration so profound in Team of Teams.

My own company takes McChrystal’s perspective seriously and we are developing a lively internal conversation through the use of the tool 15Five. We also attempt to organize our teams around the profound insights of Clayton Christensen’s Jobs-to-be-Done theory. Check them out!

Ryan Spence is the Director of EMM Services for Mobi, cloud-based software that centralizes the management of mobile devices by integrating with wireless carriers, MDMs, corporate IT systems, and more. Ryan is an expert in the strategic implementation, design, and deployment of mobility platforms, and he excels at understanding and bringing together the power of people, process and technology.

Know the pulse of your team each week and improve employee engagement with 15Five.

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