Leadership – Getting Buy-In at All Levels

Nine years later I still remember the conversation. “We are going to need your platoon to conduct a 12km dismounted patrol to search the objective.” Not a major obstacle in and of itself. Except that if we did not find what we were looking for, there would be no helicopter extraction and we would be doing another 12km to make our way back out. As one can imagine, 24km later we were an exhausted force, but we had accomplished the task given to us and were proud of our conduct.

11th MEU top dog visits Echo Co. in the fieldLeadership is not just about directing subordinates to accomplish a task. It is about reaching out to those leaders at subordinate levels and getting buy-in for a common vision. This buy-in can come in many forms, from a simple thumbs-up to the more complex joint operational planning. At the end of the day though, the purpose is for them to know that they have a place at the decision-making table to express their thoughts and ideas.

As a Squad Leader at the time, I was responsible for seven personnel. Buy-in at that level is achieved by discussing the plan with the Soldiers, talking with them about what they think they will need for equipment, ammunition, water, extra batteries and so on. It is a two-way discussion which incorporates their ideas and thoughts into the process as well as provides feedback for higher level leaders for follow up questions or concerns.

At the higher level, achieving buy-in is about providing a task and purpose to a subordinate unit and then letting them identify how they will complete their mission in accordance with your overarching guidance. This means not micromanaging. This means giving time for discussion, aligning resources towards priorities at each phase, and supporting your subordinate commanders.

Buy-in is critical because when operations kick off, the ones who are at greatest risk of harm are the individuals in the field. Through their buy-in and discussions, they are afforded the best level of overall awareness on the bigger picture. The fact that they have input makes them care more about aspects besides their own. It helps them to understand adjacent unit coordination, assets that are available but not prioritized to them, who and how to reach out in the event that it is needed, and what to do if their leadership is unable to communicate with them or if they lose someone.

Buy-in helps an organization move towards a common goal by ensuring that individuals both embrace and accept the direction it is going. It is an important aspect to developing an effective and efficient organization, and leadership at all levels should encourage it. While there are many ways to achieve buy-in, some of the simplest are:

  • Inform subordinates early – give them feedback on what will be occurring, when, and why. This is the same as a warning order, but is applicable across both the military and business world.
  • Update often – as refinements are made, provide that feedback in succinct and clear ways to ensure that information is not lost.
  • Seek input – ask subordinate leaders how they want to approach the problem. Give them time to conduct assessments at their level at to give their feedback.
  • Incorporate feedback – take the feedback from subordinate leaders and incorporate into overarching plan.
  • Align organizational energy to support subordinates – assets, resources, and tools are meant to support the mission being accomplished by subordinates. It is not the other way around.
  • Conduct an after action review or evaluation – did it work? What was done correctly? What could have been fixed in the future? How can these aspects be documented, remembered, and improved overall?

Remember that leaders at all levels should look to their subordinates for opportunities to gain organizational buy-in. They should focus on better ways of improving organizational activities and incorporate as much support as possible from the very people who will be performing the activities themselves.

Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.

Kyle Soler

Kyle Soler is an active duty Infantry Officer serving in the US Army. He has served in the military for more than 10 years, working his way from an Infantry Squad Leader to a Company Commander with multiple combat deployments to both Iraq and Afghanistan in between. Kyle earned his bachelor’s degree in History from Willamette University, and three Master degrees from Jones International University in Information Security Management, Health Care Management, and International Business. He also holds certifications in Six Sigma Lean and Six Sigma Lean Black Belt. His primary focus is realigning organizational priorities to get the most out of the time available in terms of training and development. Prior to entering military service, he worked as a fire fighter and an EMT. His areas of knowledge include military, training, leadership, disaster and continuity planning.
Kyle Soler

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