Leadership principle for clarity in uncertain times

The pandemic uncovered among the greatest and worst administration practices at among the world’s most storied enterprise organizations. Virtually no firm had plans to pivot to a distant work surroundings in the blink of a watch, however that’s precisely what most corporations, together with Verizon, needed to do. Those that put fast transitions into motion got here out stronger, whereas others struggled in the brand new norm, placing their staff and clients at a drawback. 

How did some corporations get this proper when others have been too sluggish and in the end misplaced market place? After talking to dozens of executives during the last 18 months, there’s a widespread thread: Those that rapidly and clearly outlined success for their staff thrived, whereas those that over-managed and tried to prescribe each transfer struggled.  

We’ve got come to understand a quite simple reality about management: Efficient leaders empower their individuals. Too many leaders fail to understand the nuance that management calls for, overemphasizing authority and management as an alternative of autonomy and assist.


We’re very lucky at Verizon to have a major variety of navy veterans who’ve taught me a couple of related idea used in the navy referred to as “Commander’s Intent.” It’s an exceptionally efficient software for establishing the edges of a mission, empowering your staff to take the initiative inside these limits and by no means lose sight of the mission purpose. Crucially, it locations worth on initiative and supplies individuals with autonomy. 

Now, we all know what you’re considering. The explanation this works so successfully in the navy is that they make life or loss of life selections each day. Whereas true, we will apply the identical philosophy to enterprise. At its core, the Commander’s Intent helps groups with speedy decision-making, streamlined processes, and taking the initiative. It’s a bias for motion, a bias to sure.

The Commander’s Intent has guided among the greatest navy leaders in U.S. historical past. Whether or not knowingly or unknowingly, this philosophy additionally supplies a management framework serving to many enterprise executives efficiently lead their corporations by way of the pandemic.

Let’s take a better have a look at the Commander’s Intent in motion. 

Aligning management by way of intent

To assist clarify this philosophy, a colleague from Verizon shared with me an instance. In 2007, Lauren was serving in Iraq with the U.S. Marine Corps. She was a younger officer in cost of coordinating all air operations all through Al Anbar Province. The burden of the duty was nice—particularly given she was just some years into her profession. At stake have been pricey airplanes, political and worldwide implications, and, most vital, the lives of women and men who had additionally bravely raised their fingers to guard and defend. On daily basis, there have been radio calls to assist troops engaged in firefights, requests to airlift the wounded, calls for provides, and ever-changing, stress-filled selections that wanted to be made. There have been additionally protocols, checklists, oversight, chain-of-command, and clearly outlined Commander’s Intent. 

One evening, Lauren and her staff have been on watch and operating the airspace when a firefight lit up. A service member was wounded and the air middle was referred to as, however the closest medical evacuation (medevac) was too distant. Lauren and her staff needed to make the split-second determination to divert one other mission to choose up the wounded service member.  


Lauren and her staff have been in a position to do that as a result of they understood what their Commander’s Intent was. Everybody on her staff knew precisely what they wanted to do and by no means second-guessed the pivot. This is only one small instance of many on how Commander’s Intent drives success in the navy.

Commander’s Intent in enterprise management

Quick ahead a decade-plus, and in a really totally different state of affairs, employers giant and small needed to make some fast selections. For Verizon Enterprise, a largely in-person workplace tradition in which working remotely was frowned upon, 98% of individuals needed to transfer out of the workplace right into a distant surroundings in a matter of days. This included staff in over 40 international locations. Failure was not an possibility. 

We did it by empowering groups at each stage to make selections round safety, controls, entry to gear, and serving clients. The mission was easy: Serving the shopper can not cease. Do what is required.

We defined the aim of the mission and outlined the top state upfront. We didn’t distract staff with how one can get there—in any other case referred to as ways—however quite we defined the target. Having everybody perceive our definition of success was essential as a result of in any other case, we couldn’t anticipate staff to grab alternatives as they seem. Workers can not reap the benefits of the surprising in the event that they don’t know the place they’re going. 

Placing Commander’s Intent to work

I typically see leaders who imagine in shielding their staff from the endgame. In my expertise, this strategy doesn’t work. In actuality, bringing in groups early and explaining the overarching targets empowers staff to behave with higher confidence and conviction. 

Do that by being clear and concise. Set the parameters of your mission. Bear in mind, you may nonetheless present construction. The secret’s that you just’re establishing clear, outlined boundaries that permit your staff to work with the utmost flexibility that their stage permits for. It’s your job, as a pacesetter, to make sure that they really feel capable of take the initiative, whereas additionally having fun with your full assist and steering. 

After we replicate on the previous 18 months and the appreciable challenges now we have all confronted, there are plenty of classes we will study and apply utilizing the Commander’s Intent framework as our information.

Classes to study and apply:

Clarify the “what”: This will likely appear fundamental, however in many corporations, company and administration jargon makes it a problem to obviously perceive the core mission. 

Clarify why: When the aim is clearly outlined, your staff understands why they’ll act. Whenever you ultimately divert from the plan (and belief me, you’ll), motion isn’t stalled. 

Empower your staff: One of many greatest causes for attrition and dissatisfaction in center administration is lack of empowerment. Belief your individuals, give them instruments, and allow them to lead.


Have a bias for motion: Alignment and planning will all the time be crucial for giant corporations to function, however that doesn’t imply you may align and plan with a bias for motion. Once more, it’s the mindset shift. Plan, align, act. 

Consider in shared success: Bear in mind, you’re all on the identical staff. Act prefer it and acknowledge the affect of everybody once you obtain your targets. 

For some leaders, the method of attempting to do higher could make or break a company, particularly in times of disaster or uncertainty. It’s straightforward to retreat to legacy protocols, and to revert to the follow of the “tried and examined” when issues get onerous. However that isn’t the place alternative awaits, and people behaviors are precisely what led you astray in the primary place. 

Utilizing the Commander’s Intent philosophy takes follow, each for the chief and people being led. Not solely do leaders want to speak typically, and redefine and refine their Commanders’ Intent, however these being led additionally have to be educated. However the effort is value it, and the philosophy is sound. The outcomes can be value it if achieved nicely. 

Bear in mind: Don’t do what you’ve all the time achieved. Do higher.

Lauren Schulz is the director of Company Communications for Verizon Enterprise and a Marine Corps Reserve Lieutenant Colonel having served for 20 years together with excursions of responsibility in the Center East, Asia, Europe, Africa, and Washington DC.

Sampath Sowmyanarayan is the chief income officer at Verizon Enterprise with prior expertise in administration consulting on the Boston Consulting Group.