Even if you have not been in the military, you probably have a good understanding of the command system. If your commander says, “Jump!” You say, “How high?”
I’m sure it has occurred to plenty of managers that their lives and jobs would be a whole lot easier if they had that kind of authority. You wouldn’t have to find a way into the hearts and minds of every team member in order to get him/her to work effectively. You’d just give an order, and it’s executed. No need to phrase things politely or with consideration for the person’s feelings or ego.
Or so you might think. Recently, I saw an HBO movie that reminded me even military leaders have to motivate their team. In fact, there were a lot of examples throughout the movie that I can borrow and apply to daily project management.
One that touched me the most was about a brilliant sergeant, Brad, and his platoon. The men had been preparing to capture a key bridge for a month when, suddenly, the mission was cancelled because of mistakes made by higher level commanders. So now Sergeant Brad and his men found themselves far from other troops, doing nothing while awaiting new orders.
Soon the team started to complain about bad commanders and being left to sit and do nothing. Sergeant Brad sympathized with his men, but he understood that if they were allowed to continue complaining it would not resolve anything. Even worse, it would ruin morale. Sergeant Brad wisely created a reason for his platoon to carry on with less complaining. He called his team together and explained that their staying put was part of the commander’s plan. (Which of course was not true.) He convinced them that it was important to keep working and be patient.
The situation reminded me of many when a development team starts to complain about senior management or client actions. It is tempting to chime in and support them, but our duty as managers is to explain the bigger picture – why things are happening, what is holding things up, etc. We have to keep our team motivated, feeling that what they are doing is important even if some things don’t turn out as planned. This is the way to keep your people sharp so they can resolve problems and come up with good solutions when they matter most.