Leadership; the OODA Way

A B-25 takes off from Hornet.

Image via Wikipedia

Ok, yesterday we looked at how not to lead. If it rang as true with you as it did with me, you understand the people at your DMV better now, don’t you? That’s pretty much how government, big business and big unions all do it.

Occasionally, it works, I think it’s accidental when it does though. Usually, it leads to things like Fast and Furious and Solyndra, and now you know why it is so hard to figure out whose fault it is.

Old Murphy has a role in it too, and the longer you give him to play with your project; the bigger his role is going to be.

Back in August, I mentioned having met GEN Jimmie Doolittle, it was just something I mentioned in passing, here. A couple of lessons I learned that day though are pertinent.

GEN Doolittle said he was never afraid; I didn’t disbelieve him but if anybody else had said it, I would have. Incidentally, if you have never met a person in uniform wearing their Medal of Honor ribbon you would not believe how far away you can recognize that little pale blue ribbon with stars on it. Also, he was a little guy, about 5′ 4″ to 5′ 7″ or so but, when he entered a room, you wouldn’t have noticed the Green Bay Packers offensive line. He had that much charisma, or whatever one calls it.

I hope none of us ever has to lead another Doolittle raid however, there are applicable lessons to be learned from it.

  1. If you remember they were spotted by a Japanese fishing boat before dawn on 18 April,  it was sunk, but it did get out a radio broadcast.
  2. The raid was planned to be launched at 400 miles range but , because of #1 they launched at 0800 on 18 April, at 600 miles range. This ensured that none of the aircraft would make the prepared bases in China.
  3. Neither the naval force nor the air raid encountered significant opposition.
  4. GEN Doolittle fully expected to be court martialed (if he survived) for failure.

What are the lessons we can draw from this exercise?

  1. Decisive leadership. Doolittle, Halsey, and presumably Mitscher decided and acted. They didn’t send a message to Pearl Harbor or Washington asking what to do.
  2. They continued the mission. They weren’t insensitive to casualties amongst their own men, but the mission came first. Additionally, they undoubtedly realized that if the Japanese caught Hornet and Enterprise out there, the casualties would be far worse.
  3. They led (not from behind, either) Doolittle’s plane was the first off of the Hornet and if you watch the film, it looks like if it had come down another six inches it would have crashed.

No steering committees, no finger-pointing, and most especially no regard for their own fate. One of the few times in history when: When all was said and done, more was Done than Said.

The other thing is, if the Japanese had guessed right about what our task force was doing there, they had maybe six hours to prepare from a standing start, and they didn’t even come close. In other words, the Americans were way inside their decision loop and obtained both strategic and tactical surprise.

Now let’s apply that to running a small business, or a TEA Party, or a church group, or if you don’t mind risking your career, part of a big business.

First, lot of this is instinctual, if you are leader, or an entrepreneurial type, you probably do a lot of this normally. But a few years ago US Air Force Colonel John Boyd developed what he called the OODA loop. OODA stands for observe, orient, decide, and act.

Let’s take these one at a time.

  • Observe: This means mostly that you’ve been paying attention to all sorts of things. You know what’s going on in the world and what your opponent might be up to.
  • Orientation: This is your background, specialized knowledge and genetic make up and all sorts of other things that your mind uses to filter information. For instance, if you tell me on the phone that the light in your kitchen doesn’t work and that there is a burning smell; I’d tell you to turn off your electricity , and if the smoke smell persists, call the fire department. And since that’s my business, I’ll be there as soon as I can. If my specialty was something else, I’d likely tell you something else. A lot of orientation is experience. To use the Air Force again, if memory serves during WW II they found that if you survived 5 missions you were far more likely that the gross statistics showed, to finish your tour.
  • Decide: Make a decision, define the mission or whatever you choose to call it. This is where a lot of problems happen. It seems that it rarely happens that we get to make a decision on our own anymore. We have so much support infrastructure and it cost so damned much, that we think we always need more information or to consult or whatever. In my Doolittle example above; that’s the message to Pearl or Washington or a council of war. Any of these slow you down. One of the problems our opponent’s have (either big businesses or in the military realm) is that they usually have to get permission to act; often at a ridiculously high level.
  • Action: Do it and do it fast and then do something else. Keep doing things so fast that the opposition can’t ever keep up.

Here is a chart from Wikipedia that shows COL Boyd’s OODA Loop.

COL Boyd's OODA Loop Courtesy of Wikipedia

You are aware that I am a great admirer of our military. Part of the reason for that is that the military learned long ago to push decisions down the chain of command. One doesn’t need a colonel to command a squad, a sergeant can do it and almost always do it better, if for no other reason than he is there, where the action is. Lots of the military’s problems in Vietnam were caused by communications links that worked too well and let people in the Pentagon and even the White House micromanage things happening at the front.

The way that I apply this and your mileage may vary is that I pretty much expect my Journeymen to decide how to fix problems with their projects themselves and in a timely manner, too. I always try to be available for advice and guidance but, I always try to guide and not decide for them. Does it always work? Nope, but it does more often than not.

The key to making it work though is this. When you give someone a mission, whether it’s to wire a steel mill or bring cookies to the party, back them up. If they need help, help or find it for them. If they screw up (and they will) chew them out (in private). Do not ever blame them for anything to your superiors (at least until you are ready to fire them), but do praise them in front of your superiors. For this to work, they have to believe, really believe, that come what may, you’ve got their back. If they are spending half their time checking six; you might as well do it yourself, they’re at 35% efficiency, at most.

So there you have it. How to lead like your name is Doolittle. You won’t be that good but, you’ll be better than most.

About NEO
Lineman, Electrician, Industrial Control technician, Staking Engineer, Inspector, Quality Assurance Manager, Chief Operations Officer

4 Responses to Leadership; the OODA Way

  1. Pingback: OODA and Presidential Politics « The Constitution Club

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  4. Pingback: Trump, OODA Loops, and Chaos | nebraskaenergyobserver

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