Leading Up and Down the Chain of Command
This was the first chapter that did not describe a SEAL team mission. In fact, this chapter speaks to the team leaving Iraq after its six-month tour. Also, this chapter is based on conversations between the two authors, Jocko Willink, the leader of Task Unit Bruiser, and Lief Babin, Charlie platoon leader. Lief Babin was one of two direct reports to Jocko Willink. Willink was tasked with creating a briefing for the Chief of Naval Operations. Babin, after viewing the presentation, for the first time had a complete picture of all that had been accomplished during the six month mission. He also came to a realization that even though he had been part of almost everything that took place, his focus on his particular responsibilities kept him from seeing the complete picture. Consequently, he then surmised that he was guilty of not sharing the big picture with his platoon and not including them enough in the planning of missions. The same was said for Jocko not sharing the big picture enough with Babin. According to Babin, “Leaders must routinely communicate with their team members to help them understand their role in the overall mission.” He also stated that “the greatest lessons learned for me was that I could have done a far better job of leading down the chain of command. I should have given greater ownership of plans to the troops”. Babin describes leading up the chain of command in a scenario where he was consistently asked to provide additional details in his mission plans by the company commander. Instead of staying frustrated by these seemingly trivial and time-consuming requests, he owned the problem of not initially not giving enough information. He states, “a leader must push situational awareness up the chain of command.” In effect, you are leading your boss by providing a more complete picture so they, in turn, can provide you with what you need making them successful. “One of the most important jobs of any leader is to support your own boss.”
I was frustrated. In a former administrative position many years ago, I felt like I couldn’t get anything accomplished. My immediate supervisor was not much for change. In fact, status quo could be their nickname. Where I saw areas for improvement, they saw “if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it”. I confided my growing frustration with a colleague who I considered my mentor. His exact advice to me was, “Erik, you need to lead up.” Like the author Babin, I had never heard of such a thing. So, I asked my mentor how to go about leading up. He stated that I needed to provide as much information as possible when looking at a potential change. Don’t assume your boss fully understands the situation. Second, consider asking permission to tackle the issue yourself. When finished, give a full accounting to your boss to ensure they agree with your plan and let them take the credit. As I reflect back on that advice, it aligns with this chapter. Leading up means providing more information than you probably believe is necessary so that your boss can do their job better. Always protect/support your boss.
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