Building a Culture of “Rapid Leadership”

Hey, welcome to Dose Of Leadership, so happy you tuning in. Solo episode today. I want to talk to you about, how do you create a culture of Rapid Leadership? I love the term "Rapid Leadership"...I came up with it with a client I worked with for 12 months, a software organization out in North Carolina. And we came up with this concept, it's basically all about decentralized control.

How do you create this organization of de-centralization? How do you start breaking the stereotypical, hierarchal pyramid, the command and control style of organization leadership, how do you break that kind of archaic mold and start creating a culture that is nimble, flexible, adaptable to change? Which is, let's face it, the type of environment that we're all faced with.

The type of ... If you're going to survive in today's business, you have to be an organization that adapts, improvises, overcomes the never ending challenges, unexpected, chaotic things that crop up. Business is chaotic, right? And I think in our minds, I know a lot of people think that we need to create these kind of hierarchal command and control. And the more chaotic things are becoming, the more tightly clamped down things need to be. And I would argue that is the exact opposite what we need to do.

We want to create environments where we are fostering initiative, fostering assertiveness, kind of aggressive assertiveness. It's the only way to succeed. I think it's the secret sauce, and it's what most organizations are hungry, for clamoring for. Most organizations are disengaged. You got 33%, or a third of your work force is truly engaged, or less. And so we're in that constant struggle. It's like, how do we do that? How do we create an organization where people aren't leaving, where people are happy, people are satisfied?

I can go pick 10 organizations out there and look at their annual employee survey, and I know what they're going to say...that there's a gap of understanding or perceived understanding between the senior leadership and the frontline folks that's always there.

And so how do we minimize that? How do we start moving the engagement needle so that our workforce is more engaged? Customer service is atrocious in today's environment. And you get low unemployment, virtually zero unemployment out there, and it's hard to find good help. And so it's a constant challenge, it's a constant struggle. So what do we do? Well, to me, I think it's about creating this culture of rapid leadership. Or creating a culture of decentralized decision making.

Of pushing the leadership authority throughout the entire organization. You've heard me talk about this, if you're a listener of the show. It is my most passionate topic. I think it's the secret sauce to creating a kick-butt organization. The culture of rapid leadership. De-centralizing, pushing the decision making authority to the absolute lowest level. Creating an environment where people are asking for forgiveness instead of permission.

And I've got to tell you, that frightens, particularly CEOs in the C-level suite when they hear that. I can't tell you how many times that makes senior leaders uncomfortable. But I think it's an absolute necessity. And the good news is, we've got history on our side. There's plenty of examples of organizations adopting this philosophy of decentralized control and seeing remarkable results.

You've heard me talk about, if you know me, the examples of the Marine Corps. It's a great example to start off with. And what is the Marine Corps? Well, they're in the combat business, right? And what is combat? It's asymmetric. It's chaotic. It's unpredictable. And the only way you're going to thrive and survive in the ultimate in chaotic situations is if you push the decision making authority, the leadership authority, to the absolute lowest level. So those people that are on the front lines who have eyes on opportunities, eyes on the enemy, they see the situation firsthand.

If you create an environment, a leadership culture that is command and control, meaning it's very hierarchal, if I'm on the front line and I see an opportunity, and if I have to ask for permission before I pull the trigger, or go left instead of going right, or whatever the case may be, you can see how that would produce stagnation and mediocrity.

Because if I got to push it up some hierarchal chain and ask for permission, by the time that I get approval, I've lost that opportunity, and it produces mediocre stagnation, possibly even defeat. Because I need to be able to react to that ever-changing situation. Now you're saying, well look, that's all fine and well. But my business is not combat, it's not the ultimate in chaos. I understand that, but it is chaotic.

We're constantly dealing with chaotic and unpredictable situations. And I'm saying, and you look at all the processes, procedures, rules, regulations, we try to squash that chaos, and even eliminate it.

Well, you're never going to eliminate it completely. And so what I'm arguing here, it's just like in the situation with the Marine Corps and the combat, they don't completely get rid of the chaos because it's not possible. So they spend their time, energy, their limited time, energy and resources on learning how to be the composed force within that chaotic environment. Be the confident, composed, consistent and courageous force in that chaotic environment.

And the only way you can do that is if you adopt a de-centralized mindset. A mindset of understanding and implementing what we called in the Marine Corps, commander's intent. And what is that? Well, there's two parts to it. And when you look at an organization, if you cut it in half on a leadership scale, you've got the C-level suite, and the VPs, and baby in the director level. That's kind of the upper level. Then below got the supervisors, the managers, the frontline folks.

Well, to have an effective, de-centralized culture where the middle and below is empowered and trusted with making decisions, asking for forgiveness instead of permission, they have to know where the ship is going and why. They have to understand the intent.

So there's two parts of it. The middle and below have to be courageous enough to make those decisions without asking for permission, which is, I think, the biggest challenge in organizations today. When I coach and go into organizations, that is where I spend most of my time, is getting that middle and below to become comfortable and courageous enough. Because it's scary to make those decisions while they're asking for permission. But to do that effectively, I have to know, what is the intent of the senior leadership? And so that really is the number one role of the senior leaders. Where are we taking this organization, and why are we going that way?

So, two parts. Senior leaders have to be focused on what outcomes we need, and communicating that maniacally. That's where I spend a lot of time and energy too, when I'm coaching organizations and executives, is they don't fully appreciate, understand how consistently and how maniacal you have to be about communicating where we're going and why.

You cannot, it's impossible to over-communicate the intent of the organization. That is the number one role of senior leaders. And I'll take you to task on that. That is your primary function and primary responsibility as a senior leader in-organization, to communicate where we're going and why. Absent that, you can't have effective decision making at the lowest levels. And if you don't have effective decision making at the lowest levels, you do have uncontrolled chaos and people making the wrong decisions that aren't in alignment with where you potentially want to take the organization.

So two parts. Senior leaders focused on the what? The outcomes that we need, and the middle and below focus on how we're going to do it, how it's up to them. The simple example I like to give, let's say that I am your commanding officer, and you're one of my lieutenants. As a commanding officer, I've got more time, I've got more experience, I've earned this role, I'm in this position for a reason. And I'm in the war room, and I have the big picture, and I care about you as a lieutenant, and I'm stressed about all the things you had to deal with. So I am going to try to make your job as easy as possible.

And we're in the face of a zombie apocalypse, and I need you to help me stop the zombie apocalypse. Well, I need you to take Hill XYZ for me. In the command and control style, in the typical what we think of when we think about the military, is I'm going to come up with an order for you to follow, and I might even put it in a nice binder with a lot of steps to make it easy for you to go take Hill XYZ.

What I want you to do is to take Hill XYZ, and I want you to be there by midnight. And I'm going to make it easy for you. I'm going to come up with this detailed plan, this detailed order. I said, I might even put it in a binder, I might even laminate the pages, and I might give you step-by-steps what I want you to do. And in my mindset, the more detailed, the better. Because I don't want you to have to stress or even think about it. I just want you to follow my orders.

And so that's what I do. I come up with this detailed plan, this binder, it's got 124 steps in it for you to go follow. Because I know best, I've got the experience, the education, and the big picture for you to go to take Hill XYZ and be there by midnight.

And that's what I do. I say, "Here you go, Lieutenant, I made it easy for you. Here's your binder, here's your checklist. Go take Hill XYZ and be there by midnight. It's got 124 or whatever steps in there for you to follow. Just tick them off as you go, and you should have no problem being on Hill XYZ by midnight."

And off you go. And what happens? Because combat is asymmetric, it's chaotic. You're following the checklist, you're following the order that I gave you. And you're halfway through the steps, say you're on step 62 of step 124, and that is to cross the bridge over this river. And by the time that you get there, you realize that the bridge is gone. There's a much larger enemy force on the other side of the river, and now you're stuck. The plan has essentially become worthless.

So what do you do? You regroup, and you call me back, and you say, "Sir, I'm stuck at the bridge that was in step 62, and the bridge is no longer there. And there's a much larger enemy force on the other side that wasn't in the plan. What would you like me to do?"

"Oh, hold on, Lieutenant, let me get back to you." And what do I do? I've increased the burden, I've inserted myself lower in the organization. I come up with a new plan for you. And 30 minutes to an hour later, I give you a new plan. And meanwhile, you've spent 30 minutes to an hour just sitting there, idle, because you're waiting for my orders from my brilliant strategic mind in my ivory tower, because I know all. Right? So that's kind of a silly example, a simple example, but you can see how that has introduced mediocrity and stagnation.

So what should I have done? Well, what I should have done, is I should have brought you into my war room with all the big picture, with all the intelligence, with the big map and the bigger picture, and provide you my intent instead of a plan. So instead, the scenario should have gone like this.

"Hey Lieutenant, here's the deal. We're faced with a zombie apocalypse, and things are looking dire. I need you on Hill XYZ by midnight. That is my intent, to have you there. And here's why I need you on Hill XYZ by midnight; lieutenant Jones over here, I got him on Hill ABC. He is my focus of effort, he is the main thrust against the zombies to stop these zombies. This is a last ditch effort. If we don't stop the zombies tonight, the world's going to collapse into chaos."

"So he's on Hill ABC, he's my focus of effort. You on the other hand, I need you and Hill XYZ, because you're going to protect Lieutenant Jones' left flank. And it's critical that you protect his left flank, because I can't have him worried about his left flank. I need him focused on his front and to his right, because that's where the bulk of the zombies are coming from. So I need you to protect his left flank at all costs, so you can support the focus of effort of Lieutenant Jones. The fate of the free world rests on you, my friend. Do you understand how you fit in the picture?"

Hopefully you say yes. And then I would say, "Great. Here's your resources. Here's all the things that you can use at your disposal. Come back to me in 12 hours with a plan on how you're going to get to Hill XYZ by midnight. You think you can do that?"

And so what have I done? I've brought you into the fold, I've showed you the big picture. I showed them why I wanted you on Hill XYZ. I showed the importance of Hill ABC and Lieutenant Jones in the focus of effort. And I've introduced accountability to you, I've given you the empowerment to come up with a plan, so now it's yours.

So now you come back to me 12 hours later, and it's your plan. You present me your plan. And you and I talk about it, we hash it out. Maybe I add some pointers, some insights, maybe we take, we add, we subtract, we modify, what have we do. But at the end of it, our discussion, you walk out of there with your plan. Now, when you get to that bridge that you initially thought would have been good to cross, and you see that it's missing, and you see that there's a larger enemy force and the other side, you don't call me.

Because you know what the intent is. You know that the intent is to get the Hill XYZ by midnight because you've got to be there to support Lieutenant Jones, because the fate of the free world rests on Lieutenant Jones' main focus of effort of destroying the zombie apocalypse, and that you need to protect his left flank. And so you're going to do whatever it takes within that context of all the resources, the intent, everything that I gave you, and you're going to come up with your own adaptable plan to get to Hill XYZ. You don't even call me, you don't even bother me with that problem. Do you see the difference?

The previous example, the command and control, the hierarchal where I'm the smart one in my ivory tower coming up with the best strategic decisions, and providing you with a detailed plan that you're ordered to follow because you're my subordinate leads to stagnation and mediocrity when the plan doesn't go according to plan. Which it 100% always will happen. That will always happen.

The second example where I brought you in, I empowered you, I showed you the big picture, I showed you my thought process, I showed you what was important to me, I showed the intent, the bigger picture and why it was important, and how you fit into that equation. And I took that time and that effort to do that.

And then I sent you away, basically defining a sandbox for you to play in, and then you came back to me telling me what you're going to do to get there. And again, give and take. You and I, we come up with a plan, and then it's your plan and you go out and you execute it. And then when things don't go according to plan, you improvise, you adapt, you overcome, and you don't bother me with those minute details. The next call that you give me is that, "Sir, I'm in position on Hill XYZ, and I'm here 30 minutes early."

That is flexibility, adaptability, empowering you, spreading the leadership responsibility at your level so you're empowered to make decisions without asking for permission. But if you didn't know the big picture, if I didn't take that time to show you my intent, and show you how you fit into that equation, and how you fit in the overall scheme of things, then plan or no plan, you don't know what to do. You're going to make decisions what you think is best, and it may be incomplete misalignment from what I want you to do.

I know it's a simple example, but it drives the point. Picture any business, any organization that has a customer-facing role. And you've all experienced it, I love giving hotel examples. That front line desk clerk, the check-in person at the hotel, the first touch point with the brand, we've all been there. Things didn't go as planned, room sold out, computer malfunction, whatever the case may be.

And those great hotels who've empowered their frontline folks to a myriad of ... Giving them the freedom, the empowerment to take care of that customer, whatever it takes, and they're not bound by some rule or regulation, or some process manual. Because the intent has been communicated to that front line folks, is to do anything possible to take care of this valued customer. As opposed to one that doesn't, and they say, "Hey, just follow what's in the rule book. I can only give you an Applebee's gift card. That's all I'm empowered to give you. Sorry for the canceled room, Mr Rierson."

As opposed to the empowered front desk clerk who says, "You know what? I'm going to take care of Mr Rierson, I'm going to send him to that hotel across the street, even though it's a competitor." That's the power of empowerment. That's how you create a rapid leadership culture. It's not easy, trust me.

If you're a middle and below, if you're listening to this and you're one of those middle and below, the supervisors, those frontline employees, what can you do to help create that organization? First and foremost, have the courage to make the decision without asking for permission. But, to do that you have to know why. And so have the courage to stop and take the time to say, "Yes, sir, I will go do this, but why am I doing this?" If you understand why.

If you're in the senior leadership role, if you're listening to this, focus on communicating what it is you want to accomplish, and why. Resist the temptation to insert yourself lower and lower into the organization, dispensing the efforts of those front line folks who should be doing the work, the experts, the customer-facing roles.

Yes, you've earned the role and you've got a brilliant strategic mind. But that is not your primary role. Your primary role is to communicate it. Yes, it's to come up with where this is going and why, and that is strategy. But your number one goal is to maniacally communicate it. "This is where we're going, and this is why. And this is my expectations of you."

Build sandboxes for people to play in and then turn them loose. And if you're playing in the sandbox, play to your heart's content, push it to the edge of the sandbox, and don't bother anybody above you as long as you're playing in the sandbox.

The only calls you should be making is if you need more tools, or you're on the edge of the sandbox, you need more sand, whatever the case may be. But if you're inside the sandbox and you've got all you need, start building sand castles and don't bother the senior leadership. Make decisions.

It takes a tremendous amount of courage throughout every level, from the senior leaders to be intentional about communicating, maniacally communicating, to the middle and below having the courage to not only ask why, but to make decisions with partial information.

I get it, it's tough. But if you can do it, if you can embrace it, you're well on your way to creating a kick-butt organization, a one of rapid leadership, and that's what it's all about.

Let me know what you think about this show, let me know what we think about this content. If you're getting some value out of it, I'd love to hear from you. Go to, there's a contact form you can fill out. It goes right to my email. Or you can send me an email directly, Either way, it will get to me.

Let me know what you think about this show, let me know where you're at in your leadership journey. If you need someone in your organization to help guide you through this, this is my expertise. This is what I love to do. I love to be that arrow in your quiver in your organization, helping you create this rapid leadership culture.

If you need a speaker, same thing. I'd love to do a keynote. If you need group training, check out You can find out all this information at Subscribe, rate, and review on your favorite podcast application, and thank you for continuing to let this show grow. I appreciate all your feedback, all your support, and thank you for being a Dose Of Leadership drive. Thanks for tuning in, and we'll see you next time.

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For decades Leaders & Managers have lamented that one of their most frustrating issue is the inability to successfully execute their most important initiatives.

The challenge of execution is not a new problem.  In fact, it is probably one of the most documented and enduring problems that organizations face.

When we don’t reach our goals we usually attribute the failure to a lack of detailed planning.  As leaders, we get “suckered” into thinking that if we created more detailed plans our vision would be clearly communicated.  To get the results we want, we erroneously exert more detail & control believing this is the only answer for not meeting our objectives.

What we miss, however, is that specifying too much detail actually shakes confidence and creates uncertainty if things don’t go as anticipated (which the most assuredly will).  The more detailed the instructions or plan, the less likely it will fit into a real situation.  And when this happens you actually create more friction.

So what we end doing is exerting even more control; more planning; more detail and begin taking charge of things at lower levels.  We begin taking over tasks that other people are supposed to be doing, more or less dispensing them of their efforts.  In return, we multiply our own tasks to the point we can no longer carry them out.  It becomes a vicious cycle.

It is critical for us as leaders that we retain a clear big picture of what it is we want to accomplish; not if some particular thing is done this way or that.

In this podcast I talk about how to obtain & maintain a strategic mindset; a mindset that isn’t focused on developing a strategic detailed plan but instead is focused on developing a strategic “intent”.

Highlights of this podcast:

  • Detail is not the same as Clarity…in fact it is the enemy.
  • The higher up the leadership chain we are, the more general our instructions should be.
  • As leaders should be completely focused on what we want to accomplish & why.
  • Once we communicate what we want to achieve & why we can introduce accountability into the mix by delegating the “how” to our subordinates.
  • Instead of focusing on creating detailed plans, we focus on clarity & alignment.
  • The more alignment you create, the more autonomy you can grant.
  • Instead of trying to manage chaos by controlling the “how” you instead exploit chaos by commanding the what & why.

The end result is an organization that isn’t dependent upon being led by a leadership genius; instead, the entire organization becomes an “intelligent organization” with no dependency on exceptional individuals.

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