Friday, May 25, 2018

Advice to USNA Class of 2018: Be Decisive

Today's USNA '18 Graduation: Those covers (hats) fly high.

Advice to USNA Class of 2015
Advice to USNA Class of 2016
Advice to USNA Class of 2017

The Basic School (TBS), in Quantico, VA, is where second lieutenant Marines are trained to be "Officers of Marines." The key principles I was taught there were leadership and decisiveness. Leadership in the military is, in many ways, similar to leadership in the corporate world in that your authority comes from your job position. Obviously, rank, in the military, also reinforces a person's standing.

Decisiveness is the ability to make timely choices and take action. The challenge with decisiveness, especially in the military, is learning how to make decisions with incomplete information. At TBS, we were taught that a good decision, made now, is better than waiting for ideal information, that may never come, in order to make a perfect decision, later. This tenet taught me how to prioritize tasks by repeatedly focusing on my choices before and after, it until it became second nature.


When to make a decision?

I believe it's important to make a decision as late as you can, if the delay has no penalties. It's OK to decide not to make a choice, now, if a decision isn't necessary. Sometimes, I would explicitly state why I was putting off a decision. As an oversimplified example, "Tonight, I don't need to decide what I'm going to have for lunch, tomorrow, because we won't order lunch for another 15 hours."

But, in the military... especially in combat... we were taught to make the best possible decision, right now. All too frequently, when we were faced with an important tactical decision, our senior officers (captains), who were training us, would yell at the leader, who was taking too long, "Make a decision, lieutenant. Right now. Make a decision."

When I was the lieutenant in charge and I heard this, it put a tremendous amount of pressure one me as I was forced to make an immediate decision in front of those I was leading. My solution to avoid this in the future was by staying one step ahead of the situationat hand. (An important skill that was reinforced when I was training to become a pilot.) More and more training that's as realistic as possible (rehearsals) helps, tremendously. But that's not always possible. My backup was to instantly recognize what choice I could make, now, that would further our mission while maintaining a responsibility to the long term.

A colonel once told me he kept his decision skills sharp by always planning for many possible scenarios. For example, he said that, when he's driving, he always made sure he had a way out. Specifically, the colonel told me that would not pull up too close to the car in front of him, at a traffic light. If the car in front of him stalled at the traffic light, he still had enough room to turn out of his lane while continuing to move forward. (Why retreat when that's not the direction you want to go?)

Getting into a good habit is called self-discipline. Discipline is to the Marines what innovation is to Apple, except, in the Marines, discipline will literally save your life, both in combat and training.

When to change a decision, without being indecisive?

Indecisiveness is a pet peeve of mine. Indecisiveness is changing one's mind when no new information has presented itself.

Simple decisions can be made and reversed if there's no cost or penalty, "I know that I wanted to have a tuna salad sandwich for lunch, earlier, but I've decided to place my order for the chicken club." There's nothing wrong with that since I hadn't yet placed my order. But, I wouldn't call back, after ordering my lunch, to change my decision once I've finalized it. That would be indecisive. I would rather live with my decision to eat something I didn't fully enjoy rather than flip-flop. That's how I live with my decisions.

Putting off a decision, as long as possible, keeps your options open. But, in a life and death situation, that delay to consider your options might only be seconds.


Decision-Making Principles

My key principals in figuring out when to change a decision are:

1. Has new information come to light that wasn't available, before; and, if I don't change my decision, will my mission fail or will my earlier decision violate a key principle, policy, or law?
To maintain integrity, I take this one step further. New information doesn't mean information that was available six months ago, but I was too lazy to research; new information means there's no way I could have/should have known about it before making my decision. A person's judgement is only as good as the information it's based on.

2. Will changing my decision significantly simplify the task at hand, while still accomplishing my mission; and can the change be promulgated to all parties in a very timely manner?

Good decisions, based on principles, make for strong leaders.

No comments: