Let’s begin with a lesson from the military.
General (retired) James Mattis, former commander of CENTCOM and now Secretary of Defense, explains that role of military leadership “is to be really coaching more than commanding.” In this interview on the program Conversations with History, General Mattis explains the importance of conveying intent to allow a leader to spending much more time coaching vs commanding.
The entire interview is great but you can start at the 10 minute, 40 second mark to hear Gen. Mattis discuss the importance of intent:
“How does that equate to the reality of the job?”
As the leader of a 25,000 person organization, when he was a Division commander, General Mattis spent most of his time ‘coaching’ and very little ‘commanding.’
“I could probably do the commanding aspects of the job in 10-15 minutes a day. The other 23 hours and 45 minutes was spent on coaching young people…” He adds that you are trying to set the conditions so they can be successful.
“The more time I spent thinking about my intent and succinctly describing what I want happening the less time I had to give orders and commands during the fight.”
This is an important insight. General Mattis highlights some of the most important benefits of clearly conveying your vision. The more time you spend thinking succinctly about defining success, the less time you’ve got to give instructions and hinder initiative
The military calls this articulation of success the “commander’s intent.” General explains it well: “Your team is trying to do the right thing. So your job is letting them know what the right thing is and then unleash them.”
This notion of effectively communicating intent transcends the military and legalistic title of commander and applies to all leaders: public and private; for-profit and non-profit; small organizations and multinational enterprises.
Other business leaders convey the same concept. Steven Covey wrote about ‘Beginning with the end in mind’ as part of his 7 Habits of Highly Effective People . Covey wrote that everything is created twice: The first creation is mental and the second creation is physical. This is the area of imagination where the leader begins the mission with a clear vision of direction and desired destination.