As you know, I don’t usually talk politics in these Leading Thoughts. It follows, then, that I won’t be writing here in any great detail about what happened at our US Capitol building in DC. Yet I don’t mind drawing out an important principle of leadership that will help you.
What I suppose we can all agree on about that troubling episode is that the security response at the Capitol was weak and disorganized. In the broadest, least political terms, let me explain why.
Since I live in Washington, DC, I know something that most folks in our country don’t: there are a huge number of police departments in my city. Consider: there are the Metropolitan Police, the Park Police, the Capitol Police, the District of Columbia Police and even the Mint Police. There is also the Secret Service, the Airport Police, the Housing Police, the Public Schools Police, the Metro Transit Police, the US Marshals, several departments of Protective Services, and even the Columbia Library Police. I could go on. In short, there are more than thirty police departments of various kinds in Washington, DC and I’m not sure that includes the military police departments in the area.
Now, I’m not placing blame, but we are going to learn in the coming months that the violence at the Capitol was exacerbated by confusion and conflicting jurisdictions among some of these departments. I’ll let the Library, Transit, Housing, and Mint police off the hook!
I want you to take a look at what you lead and decide if you have the same problem in your firm. If you have overlapping circles of responsibility, and no one knows with certainty who is in charge at any given time and on any given project, you are heading for expensive messes. Probably a lot of them.
Here’s a tactic for cutting through the confusion. I’ve led several larger organizations in my life. In each of them I insisted that we ask a certain question and ask it constantly: “Who’s on point?” This is a bit of military language. It can mean who is in charge or has final authority for a given event or project. A trade show in Phoenix? Who’s on point? A marketing campaign? Who’s on point? You get the idea.
It is the leader’s job to assure clear lines of authority in their firm and to absolutely ban overlapping responsibility. You have to constantly identify who’s on point. In fact, your organizational chart should do this automatically. Few do, though. So you have to hawk over this issue and proclaim often who is in charge. This doesn’t have to be done haughtily or harshly: “Bob’s on point for that new product initiative. Better ask him about the roll out schedule.”
Now is a good time for you to review some of the messes your firm has experienced in the past. Were they the result of overlapping jurisdiction, unclear lines of authority, or uncertain control? Then you have to make this a constant question in your firm: “Who’s on point?” You also have to protect the boundaries of the authority you set.
In 1980, the US military tried to rescue the American hostages held in Iran. You may have seen the background of this part of our history in the movie Argo. The mission failed miserably. Why? The Army, Air Force, Marines, and Navy had a long tradition of inter-service rivalry and no final authority existed for the mission. The services ended up using incompatible communication equipment, codes, and even intelligence. Then a desert sand storm hit. Men died as a result.
I don’t want to see similar failures happen in your firm. So let me ask, “Who’s on point?”