The Art of Control

This post is part of the discussion begun by @rkranc at his site The Stable of Leadership.

This discussion centers on the issue of control in leadership: how do you delegate authority, what are your concerns when doing so, and how do you mitigate these concerns, or risks?

At this point in the professional development discussion, as a junior officer, I am yawning and wondering what show to watch when this is over. Therefore, let me bring this discussion into terms we can all understand. No, not Star Wars, you miserable ingrates: Firefly.

In that venerable series, Captain Malcom Reynolds is the captain of the smuggling ship, Serenity, with a military background as an NCO from the late civil war between the Browncoats and the Federation. When the Browncoats lost their struggle, Reynolds took his best troop and headed off into the outer reaches of space, there to make a living away from the Federation. As a captain, Reynolds ran a strict ship’s company (pilot, mechanic, enforcer, doctor, and second-in-command) that operated on trust and cooperation, as well as a little bit of chaos theory.

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Therefore, without further ado, here are Malcolm Reynolds’ five keys to control and delegating authority.

1. Chain of Command

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Jayne the Enforcer’s definition aside, Mal Reynolds’ use of his chain of command was done to ensure that everyone knew their roles. While he encouraged proactivity and innovation, he did not take kindly to others undermining his authority. As in when Mal locked Jayne in the airlock and threatened to toss him into space for doing exactly that.

2. Credibility

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Which brings me to the next point: subordinates need to be aware that your will always back up your actions. Mal made it crystal clear that he would support his crew in any situation, while also enforcing all laws that he laid out on his ship. Every member knew that Mal’s word was law on board Serenity. This made it easy for Mal to delegate authority and know that his subordinates would do their utmost for the mission.

3. Leading from the Front

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In order for your subordinates to perform to their full potential, they need to see a model. The leader needs to be that model. Mal always leads from the front, sometimes to the point of absurd danger. He takes point on every raid, and takes responsibility for his mistakes. Conversely, he expects the same from his crew.

4. Sets Expectations

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Mal sets expectations right off the bat, providing the boundaries within which subordinates will operate. Mal expects honesty, trustworthiness, and just a little insanity. He regulates the risk associated with delegating authority by ensuring expectations are fully delineated.

5. Unbreakable Trust

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When admitted to the crew of the Serenity, Mal brings his subordinates into a circle of trust that encompasses all their actions. If his subordinates keep their trust with him, he will keep trust with them, even to the point of lying about their existence to the Federation or undergoing severe torture. Everyone knows that if they do right be the captain, the captain will always back them up.

Malcom Reynolds might not be the perfect leader (he takes more risk than most commanders would accept), but his basic tenets hold true for military leaders. Trust and personal relationships will go a long way when delegating authority.


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