The Powell Doctrine lays out five keys to using all the force necessary to achieve a decisive and successful ongoing result. The same approach works for you as leaders rebooting after COVID-19:
- Get to the ground truth.
- Set a decisive objective.
- Concentrate decisive force at the decisive place and time.
- Prepare your troops for success.
- Be personally present at the point of decisions.
1) Get to the ground truth
Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and U.S. Secretary of State, Colin Powell, describes the need for leaders to know “ground truth.” This is unvarnished, unfiltered truth about the harsh reality. Powell got his from chaplains, sergeants major, inspectors general and normal soldiers.
Get your ground truth from data, facts, and first line supervisors. They are close enough to the front lines to know the truth, one step back so they can see the forest and not just the trees, and far enough away from you not to be afraid of you.
2) Set a decisive objective
A decisive objective at a decisive place and time is one which, if you gain it, you win – what Clausewitz called the “strategic center of gravity.”
Ask the first two BRAVE questions, “What matters and why?” and “Where to play?” to inform your objective and first strategy choice respectively. Recent research by Marakon confirmed, yet again, that, “The path to superior performance is determined by management’s decisions about where to focus the firm’s strategic resources (time, people and capital).”
3) Concentrate decisive force at the decisive place and time
Powell says, “Concentrate combat power at the decisive place and time,” directing “every military operation towards a clearly defined, decisive, and obtainable objective” – mass, objective, offensive, surprise, economy of force, maneuver, unity of command, security, simplicity.
In the first Gulf War, the US General, Schwarzkopf asked for one aircraft carrier battle group. Powell gave him two because he felt it “added to the insurance policy that would give us ultimate victory.”
Jimmy Carter failed to rescue the US hostages in Iran and later said, “If I’d sent two helicopters, I would have been reelected president.”
Countries that moved faster and more decisively on COVID-19 had better results. Taiwan, Iceland, South Korea and Germany were better prepared, quicker and more aggressive.
Ask “How to win?” The essence of strategy is the creation and allocation of resources to the right place at the right time over time. This is about concentrating your efforts to create a decisive advantage over your opponent – whether it’s a business competitor or virus.
Identify your key resources and deploy more than you think you need when and where it really matters.
4) Prepare your troops for success
“Soldiers given a task they haven’t been prepared for lose confidence in themselves and, fatally, in their leaders.” Prepare them and take the necessary time to get them ready to win.
This is about clear direction, bounded authority, resources, and accountability. Make sure your people:
- Know what’s expected of them – the clearly defined, decisive, and obtainable objective.
- Understand what tactical decisions they can make on the way to achieving that objective.
- Have the financial, technical, operational and human resources they need to succeed.
- Accept their accountability to achieve that objective with those resources.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has done this particularly well, giving us a masterclass in how to connect through crisis leadership and communication.
Be personally present at the point of decision
The point of decision is the place where key decisions can make the difference between success and failure. Following through and being personally present there will allow you to adjust your plans in real time as “no plan survives first contact with an enemy.” Strategy and planning are useless intellectual exercises until they are turned into decisive impact.
Darwin told us it’s not the strongest that survive, but those best able to adapt. This is why, even if you’ve delegated accountability, you must follow through and be fully engaged at the critical moments. Ideally, you’ll ask your subordinates, “How can I help?” You’ve put them in charge of achieving their objectives – until you need to change. When you do, don’t hesitate to take back control and redirect resources.