Prize Winner, Vincent Astor Memorial Leadership Essay Contest
Massive information exchange is fine, but leaders must establish clear guidelines for operators like these Royal Australian Navy sailors serving on exchange duty onboard the USS Antietam (CG-54) in the Persian Gulf.
Development of a truly network-centric Navy requires leaders to establish an environment of trust within their individual organization, but trust is neither easily earned nor easily keptand it must be constantly monitored. In a world that demands tangible items, construction of the intangible element of trust in an organization can be difficult. We must remember, however, that people are the delicate framework that holds together the Navy-and people, not computers, sense trust. Because information is the tool that today's Navy most heavily relies on to complete assigned missions, it is up to leaders to create the trust necessary to facilitate the smooth flow of information in a network-centric environment.
Military leaders have long relied on hierarchical command structures to provide formal channels of communication and clear paths of accountability. Hierarchies strongly depend on complex "bureaucratic rules of behavior"1 to govern individuals within the organization. Individuals within the structure rely on one another because of positional authority rather than on the quality and utility of information that is passed between them. In this Information Age, however, the quality of the information is more important than the hierarchical position of the provider. The practice of stovepiping the flow of information that was common to the Navy in the Industrial Age is no longer feasible because it "creates seams that prevent information from being brought to bear."2 An alternative organizational tool, therefore, is necessary if the Navy is to gain competitive advantage against an enemy using the available technology to disperse, use, and process information at a faster rate.
Networks, on the other hand, connect everyone to everyone.3 Leaders in a network-centric Navy are faced with the challenge of making sense of an immense amount of information that comes from a variety of sources, often outside the boundaries of their respective command. Technology has, also, "eliminated much of the supervision and control once possessed by managers"4 requiring that today's leaders develop an innovative method for governing behavior that will not hinder the rapid processes of a network. This method must enhance the connectivity between individuals and work to increase the number of interactions between information-sharing individuals and enhance the quality of information that is shared. Individuals within the network are required to rely on one another for information and trust that the information received is relevant and timely. The most efficient way to lead individuals in a network-centric Navy is to develop a trust-based organization.
Trust is nothing new to seagoing professionals. Each time the ship leaves port, all on board depend on one another for the safety and security of the ship. In the context of network-centric operations, however, trust expands past the basic necessity for safety, and into the realm of knowledge and understanding. Trust does not flow from organizational charts; rather it is dependent on the relationships between individuals. Trust is a resource that can help to increase the agility of a command and gain the competitive advantage over the enemy.5
Building a trust-based organization relies on three imperatives; "achieving results, acting with integrity, and demonstrating concern."6 A balanced combination of these three imperatives is necessary to develop an environment where trust can flourish. An imbalance of these three imperatives will result in dysfunction. An organization that is highly focused on achieving results, for example, but which lacks integrity or a concern for its people, will break down over time as people become disillusioned. A results-based organization will produce for a time, but it will not be able to withstand the continually changing environment.7
Leaders must clearly communicate their own philosophy about their expectations for what is to be accomplished. A mission statement or a command philosophy can set the tone. Diligently designed mission statements give individuals a sense of commitment, and must clearly "outline the difference between success and failure"8 otherwise they will "breed cynicism, not trust."9 Effective mission statements also help to develop a sense of community, because individuals can easily identify the goals and expectations of the commander. Additionally, as "we flatten hierarchies . . . empower people . . . it's vital that there be a shared commitment to the same mission and values," so that each sailor feels like an integral part of the organization.
To succeed in an operational environment, leaders must have a clear set of rules and guidelines. Establishment of rules is particularly important in a network-centric environment because of the amount of information available to individuals and the emphasis on resolving problems at the lowest possible level. Without well-established rules, or a well-understood commander's intent, the situation could produce total confusion for the commander. By training to established rules, however, leaders can reinforce desired outcomes and discourage mistakes before entering into a realworld operational environment. Only by conducting repetitive and realistic training scenarios can leaders observe how their subordinates reach decisions in various circumstances. A leader with confidence in a subordinate's decisionmaking process may then feel comfortable with delegating authority to act within the confines of the established rules.
Although understanding how subordinates react in training is important, it is equally important that the leader establish just how much authority can be delegated. The concept of a trust threshold is the "balance between trust and risk"10 that each individual has based "on their own characteristics and experiences."11 Granted, "some situations require a higher trust threshold than others because the risk involved in them is bigger."12 Leaders who wish to build a trust-based organization must constantly analyze their own willingness to place trust in others.
Trust is a two-way street. Leaders will quickly lose the trust of their subordinates if they say one thing and do another. "Leaders must understand that trust flows from values-based ethical behavior."13 Leaders who do not practice sound ethics will fail to gain the trust of their subordinates, and are particularly vulnerable to scrutiny because of the speed at which information passes. A leader who fails to permit individuals to voice their concerns regarding problems within the system is headed for trouble. Conflicts must be expected. Although unresolved conflict can harm an organization, confronting conflict can lead to new opportunities and creative thought.14 Typically, "inconsistencies among responsibility, authority and accountability are major sources of conflict in organizations,"15 particularly in a networked environment where paths of accountability may become blurred. "Leaders should realize that conflict is inevitable and should learn to value those that challenge the status quo."16 In a constantly changing environment, the status quo is only good for a period of time. Leaders with integrity must expect conflict and channel the energy created into "innovation and increased efficiency."17
Leaders are expected to be good at what they do. The idea behind competence relating to trust is "I can trust you if I believe you are good at what you do, and cannot trust you if I doubt your skill."18 Competence can be further divided into three categories "interpersonal, technical, and conceptual."19 Interpersonal competencies involve the ability of a leader to communicate effectively. Clearly defined rules and expectations for subordinates will enable the leader to gain credibility and a basis of trust. Technical competency is based on professional education and training. Conceptual competency implies that a leader has vision. Aristotle believed that intellectual development enabled a leader to understand and formulate the idea of the end state.20 Professional competence is reinforced by an ability to see and comprehend the big picture. Although the concept of vision may seem vague in the constantly changing environment of the Information Age, it is more important than ever because it provides a path for subordinates in an otherwise fuzzy environment. "Quite simply, people will follow the person who knows best what ought to be done and can communicate that intention in a practical and meaningful way to each member of an organization."21
Concern for Others
Demonstrating concern for others is the third pillar in building a trust-based organization. It is here that the desired characteristics of a network-centric leader significantly deviate from leaders of the past: Today's leader must act as a filter, recognize signs of information overload, and be highly organized.
In a rapidly changing environment, individuals experience an additional level of stress caused by constant change.22 Sailors have always had to be flexible to accommodate the unpredictable nature of their calling. Although most sailors in today's Navy do not experience direct hand-to-hand combat, they can experience "future shock," which can lead to feelings of helplessness and inadequacy.23 Leaders need to look for signs of building or excessive stress from information overload that can manifest itself as "anxiety, poor decision-making, difficulties in memorizing and remembering, and reduced attention span."24 Today's 'user friendly' technology makes passing information easier than ever. Data filters are often not in place or non-existent and "the overabundance of low quality information [can result in] 'data smog.'"25 Leaders should be aware that information overload can seriously affect the mental and physical health of their subordinates, as well as themselves, and should be open to ways to help alleviate these Stressors.
Leaders can help decrease the stress associated with information overload by acting as filters. Once again, rules come into play; clear and understandable rules that outline expectations and goals will help guide subordinates on a specific path rather than leaving them stranded in an ocean of information. But leaders must exercise caution by not placing excessively restrictive filters on information that might prove vital. There is a fine line between information overload and information deprivation. Filtering involves more than restricting the passage of information; it must also enable the effective routing of information to the correct individuals. The leader as a router is not a new concept, but it is a thought-provoking idea in the context of a network-centric environment. Although technology provides routers to get information to individuals, it is the leader's responsibility to determine which individuals can use the information most effectively and to match the task to the individual most suited for the job.
Finally, a leader should be able to store information and to avoid the tendency to act on every piece of information the instant it is known. Setting priorities enables subordinates to plan and helps alleviate the stress associated with information overload.
Paradoxically, the same network-centric environment that by definition distributes information widely to encourage decision making at the lowest possible level also enables micromanagement by commanders far distant from the scene of the action. Micromanagement, a sign of leadership failure, defeats the whole purpose of developing the environment in the first place because it slows reaction times, quickly destroying any basis of trust within an organization by undermining the ability of subordinates to make independent decisions. Worse, the practice does a significant disservice to the Navy as an institution, because it fails to give individuals a chance to learn. Unlike many organizations in the civilian sector, where outsiders are hired as chief executive officers, the Navy grows its own by promoting from within, training and molding the junior officers who will one day rise to command. Rampant micromanagement over time will produce a generation of officers unpracticed at making independent decisions.
Network-centric warfare opens many doors leading to challenges for leaders today and in the future.
1 Stewart, Thomas A. "Trust Me On This: Organizational Support for Trust in a World Without Hierarchies." The Future of Leadership, edited Warren Bennis, Gretchen M. Spreitzer and Thomas G Cummings, (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 2001), p. 69.
2 Alberts, David S. and Richard E. Hayes. Power to the Edge: Command and Control in the Information Age. CCRP, p. 5.
3 Stewart, p. 68.
4 Losey, Michael R. "The Dawning of the High-Performance Workplace." Managing Office Technology, Cleveland: March 1995. Vol. 40, Issue 3; p. 25.
5 Shaw, p. 4.
6 Shaw. p. 29.
7 Shaw, p. 34.
8 Stewart, p. 74.
9 Stewart, p. 74.
10 Iivonen, Mirja. "Trust Building as a Management Strategy." Trust in Knowledge Management and Systems in Organizations, edited Maija-Leena Huotari and Mirija livonen, (Hershey: Idea Publishing Group, 2004), p. 33.
11 Iivonen, p. 33.
12 Iivonen, p. 33.
13 Kemp, Christopher R. "Trust-The Key to Leadership in Network Centric Environments," (Thesis, Army War College, Carlisle Barracks, PA: 2003), p. 16.
14 Bragg, Terry. "Ten Ways to Deal with Conflict." IIE Solutions, October 1999, p. 36.
15 Bragg, p. 36.
16 Kemp, p. 9.
17 Kemp, p. 9.
18 Stewart, p. 70.
19 Kemp, p. 14.
20 Kolanda, Christopher D. "What is Leadership? Some Classical Ideas." Leadership: The Warrior's Art, (Carlisle Barracks, PA: Army War College Foundation Press, 2001), p. 15.
21 Kolanda, p. 19.
22 Heylighen, Francis. "Change and Information Overload: Negative Effects." PrincipiaCybernetica Web. February 19, 1999. http://pespmcl.vub.ac.e/CHIN-NEG.html [11 February 2004 Heylighen, website
Lieutenant Free, a surface warfare officer, is studying systems engineering and analysis at the Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey, California. She has served on board the USS John S. McCain (DDG-56) and with Amphibious Squadron Seven.