As you may imagine, most command structures in the military are fairly vertical. Orders are passed from the top down, with each layer of leadership acknowledging and passing the orders to the necessary action takers.

Like in any organization, not every order or tasking is a popular one. Whether the order forces rework, shifts priorities, or just elongates the work day, it can be a tough pill to swallow.

As a junior officer(the military’s middle management), I learned very early in my career the importance of owning every order, popular or not, that I had to deliver to my team.

All too often, leaders in the middle of the command structure surrender their power in favor of staying popular, themselves. In turn, they become conduits for information and not actual decision makers. Different flavors of “The boss wanted me to tell you guys…”, “This is crazy, the Operations Officer wants us to…”, or “I can’t believe we have to…” all force the surrender of influence from a leader.

Therefore, it is necessary that middle management understands and articulates the orders being entrusted in them to be carried out.

Understand the Order

In the military, sometimes the “why” goes un-descrbed, if you will. When situations get tense and real time situations accelerate, we don’t always have time to elaborate on why something needs to be done.

But, that is not always the case. Oftentimes, we have plenty of time to understand and comprehend the “why” behind the order. Did our unit tasking change? Are we experiencing a shift in operational tempo? Did a piece of vital equipment just shit the bed? Whatever it is, it is imperative to gain clarity of what exactly is going on here.

The reason: your people are also going to want to know. Especially when it creates uneasiness, tension, or frustration — nothing is worse than not knowing the actual source of the issue.

Articulate the Order

Verbiage and delivery matter here. You don’t have to deliver bad news with a smile on your face, but empathy and transparency go a long way to owning the order. Resist the urge to dismiss the order as stupid or ridiculous and instead opt for banding the team together to accomplish the task at hand. Deliver the order clearly as your own and describe the reason for the tasking.

Your team will appreciate your candor and recognize this order as coming from you, even if it is not. To really drive it home, take part and share in the burden of carrying out the tasking to reinforce the importance.

So, instead of simply throwing your hands up and blaming the links in the chain above you, understand and articulate as middle manager. Do not just pass the buck in favor of not taking ownership.

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