If You’re Saying, ‘Because I Said So,’ You’re Doing It Wrong

Leadership
Photo by CSM Concordio Borja, Jr.

A recent column published by The Muse listed three things to say to your team instead of “Because I said so.” Having already established my disdain for the “shut up and color” style of directive leadership in passing, I could not resist clicking through and reading. Unfortunately, of the three techniques for addressing follower dissatisfaction with your decision, two are difficult to apply in a military context and none address the root problem. If this is a frequent issue for you, you’re probably making decisions in a vacuum and should search for ways to increase your participative and consultative leadership. An improvement would be to list four ways to improve your participative leadership and the key benefits from doing so, besides never having to say “because I said so” again.


Ask for opinions and ideas before the plan is made.

Everyone wants to feel like their input is valued; it gives them either the real or perceived notion that they have some level of control over their professional lives. This is even more important in a military setting, where enlistments and service obligations are contractually stronger and longer than contracts typically found in the civilian world. Never underestimate the value of simply asking others on your team for their input or suggestions during the planning process. This sounds conceptually easy and obvious, but there are three threats that prevent leaders at many levels from doing this: time available, overconfidence in their own abilities, and fear of looking lost.

Related: 17 things real leaders never say »

The lost lieutenant stereotype is a vicious feedback loop; everyone has moments when they are unsure of their exact location, especially in unfamiliar terrain. The difference between putting a private and a lieutenant in charge of navigating isn’t experience; it’s the willingness of one to ask for help without the pressure and fear of losing the confidence of followers. Asking for help doesn’t have to be a sign of weakness. Say, “I have an idea about how I’d like to do this, but I want to hear how you’d do it.” It demonstrates respect for and confidence in your team members, as well as humility, a critical leader attribute.

Build short-term wins.

Not everyone on your team is ready to do your job, although more than you think probably could. It is demoralizing to ask someone to solve a problem that is so far outside of his or her knowledge, skills, or abilities, that the solution is unworkable or the process of solving it is exceedingly frustrating. Ensure that you have a solid understanding of the abilities of everyone on your team and tailor their tasks or solicit their feedback, at least in public, in ways that will stretch their comfort zone and improve their abilities without breaking their confidence. As their abilities and confidence improve incrementally, you can solicit increasingly difficult analysis and plans while simultaneously improving leader development within your unit.

Communicate quickly and transparently.

There is a documented tendency to hold information in work settings, especially in more competitive environments. This stems from the very real perception that knowledge is power and those who hold no unique information can be replaced. This leads to a number of bad outcomes, to include the common information effect as well as incomplete analysis of the problem or mission in a team environment. You can hardly expect your team to generate feasible and acceptable courses of action without knowing all of the facts, assumptions, and constraints. This is common sense that is supported by research.

The benefits of such an approach include increased job satisfaction, greater levels of buy-in from team members, increased respect for the leader, the intellectual and professional development of junior leaders, and often, better plans and decisions. The opportunity cost, however, is the increased amount of time required to communicate and analyze the mission and then develop and choose the preferred course of action. Therefore, there is one more important step to effectively improve your participative and consultative leadership.

Establish clear boundaries between decisions for which you want input and decisions that are non-negotiable.

Sometimes, these non-negotiable decisions are simply related to time available. In all of the leadership positions I have served, I have made a deliberate effort to solicit feedback, advice, or plans from others on my team whenever time was available. This not only provided all of the aforementioned benefits, it also gave me the benefit of the doubt when limited time dictated a more directive leadership style. There was little resentment or resistance during those times and no need to say, “Because I said so,” since it was assumed that if I could have asked for input I would have. Other non-negotiable decisions may be related to a moral or ethical line that is separating a disciplined military unit from becoming nothing more than a mob.

Recognizing that the military is not a democratic organization, it should still be a red flag, it should still cause clenched teeth, it should still make good leaders cringe anytime they hear someone justify a decision or rule with, “Because I said so,” even if it’s disguised as something like, “Let’s try it my way first.” It’s a cop out that demonstrates a leader’s unwillingness to trust a subordinate with the information and evaluation criteria that led to the decision or reveals that the leader doesn’t really know why the decision was made. I’m not sure which one is worse.

A UH-60 Black Hawk departs from The Rock while conducting Medevac 101 training with members of the 386th Expeditionary Medical Group, Feb. 16, 2019. (U.S. Air Force Photo/Tech. Sgt. Robert Cloys)

A Minnesota Army National Guard UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter with three Guardsmen aboard crashed south of St. Cloud on Thursday, said National Guard spokeswoman Army Master Sgt. Blair Heusdens.

At this time, the National Guard is not releasing any information about the status of the three people aboard the helicopter, Heusdens told Task & Purpose on Thursday.

Read More Show Less

The Pentagon's latest attempt to twist itself in knots to deny that it is considering sending up to 14,000 troops to the Middle East has a big caveat.

Pentagon spokeswoman Alyssa Farah said there are no plans to send that many troops to the region "at this time."

Farah's statement does not rule out the possibility that the Defense Department could initially announce a smaller deployment to the region and subsequently announce that more troops are headed downrange.

Read More Show Less

The Navy could send a second aircraft carrier to the Middle East if President Donald Trump orders a surge of forces to the region, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday said on Thursday.

Gordon Lubold and Nancy Youssef of the Wall Street Journal first reported the United States is considering sending up to 14,000 troops to the Middle East to deter Iran from attacking U.S. forces and regional allies. The surge forces could include several ships.

Read More Show Less

I didn't think a movie about World War I would, or even could, remind me of Afghanistan.

Somehow 1917 did, and that's probably the highest praise I can give Sam Mendes' newest war drama: It took a century-old conflict and made it relatable.

Read More Show Less

An internal investigation spurred by a nude photo scandal shows just how deep sexism runs in the Marine Corps

"I will still have to work harder to get the perception away from peers and seniors that women can't do the job."

news
(U.S. Marine Corps photo)

Some years ago, a 20-year-old female Marine, a military police officer, was working at a guard shack screening service members and civilians before they entered the base. As a lance corporal, she was new to the job and the duty station, her first in the Marine Corps.

At some point during her shift, a male sergeant on duty drove up. Get in the car, he said, the platoon sergeant needs to see you. She opened the door and got in, believing she was headed to see the enlisted supervisor of her platoon.

Instead, the sergeant drove her to a dark, wooded area on base. It was deserted, no other Marines were around. "Hey, I want a blowjob," the sergeant told her.

"What am I supposed, what do you do as a lance corporal?" she would later recall. "I'm 20 years old ... I'm new at this. You're the only leadership I've ever known, and this is what happens."

She looked at him, then got out of the car and walked away. The sergeant drove up next to her and tried to play it off as a prank. "I'm just fucking with you," he said. "It's not a big deal."

It was one story among hundreds of others shared by Marines for a study initiated in July 2017 by the Marine Corps Center for Advanced Operational Culture Learning (CAOCL). Finalized in March 2018, the center's report was quietly published to its website in September 2019 with little fanfare.

The culture of the Marine Corps is ripe for analysis. A 2015 Rand Corporation study found that women felt far more isolated among men in the Corps, while the Pentagon's Office of People Analytics noted in 2018 that female Marines rated hostility toward them as "significantly higher" than their male counterparts.

But the center's report, Marines' Perspectives on Various Aspects of Marine Corps Organizational Culture, offers a proverbial wakeup call to leaders, particularly when paired alongside previous studies, since it was commissioned by the Marine Corps itself in the wake of a nude photo sharing scandal that rocked the service in 2017.

The scandal, researchers found, was merely a symptom of a much larger problem.

Read More Show Less