Military leaders agree technology enhances operations, but significant issues still linger and must be addressed.
There appears to be no speed limit for the changes taking place in the military as it enters a new millennium facing operations that involve coalition partners and diversified threats. Leaders look to industry to help with the transition to the latest paradigm, where issues such as bandwidth, information assurance and interoperability are as important as training, tactics and tanks.
Input gathered from high-level military leaders about the most critical challenges in the battlespace was the guiding force in selecting solutions for display at TechNet International 2000. AFCEA’s 54th annual international convention and exposition, held at the Washington, D.C., Convention Center, June 20 to 22, was a compilation of available technologies that specifically address these decision makers’ concerns. Attendees were also privy to a sample of systems that are in the research and development stages and are aimed at meeting the challenges of future joint and coalition operations.
World events of the past several years made this year’s convention theme, Coalition Operations in the New Millennium, particularly appropriate.
Presentations offered by both military and industry leaders highlighted the successes of military operations in Bosnia and Herzegovina and in Kosovo. However, the insights shared also included the valuable lessons learned from these missions. Victory was about more than defeating an enemy or assisting those in need. It was also about learning to work with other nations and identifying the strengths—and weaknesses—that coalition and joint environments pose.
The vice chiefs breakfast series highlighted AFCEA’s core expertise in sharing information about the challenges being addressed by high-ranking military officials. Key figures in the U.S. Army, U.S. Navy and U.S. Air Force offered their insights about where their respective services are today and where they are headed in the future.
Gen. John M. Keane, USA, vice chief of staff, Army, enumerated several of the issues his service faces, including the need to respond faster than ever to changing situations. In addition, the Army seeks the ability to get to the strategic center of gravity quickly during a mission and take the power away from an adversary.
The environment where conflicts occur has also changed, Gen. Keane said. “We must be prepared to operate in more complex and urban campaigns. In the past, we drew a circle around an area and said we wouldn’t fight there. But we can’t do this anymore because the adversaries don’t care. … Inland operations are getting more inland,” he stated.
Gen. Keane also suggested that the U.S. military will fight differently in the future. Because of excellent situational awareness, troops will be more dispersed and will not have to own the space but only control it.
Changes need to occur in equipment and training at every level of the fighting forces, he added. Some of these changes already are taking place. In the weapons arena, for example, the Army could have gone to the next type of tank in designing future equipment. Instead, it is looking at technologies that would increase lethality and survivability of the forces. Kinetic-energy-based, precision-guided missiles would allow the Army to hit targets with some precision when launching from outside the theater of operations.
While coalition operations present certain challenges, the services often make this condition out to be harder than it really is. “We can use technology to bridge gaps. We really use technology even when allies don’t have the technology. We cannot operate at the lowest common denominator. We have to stop wringing our hands and get on with doing it,” the general said.
Adm. Donald L. Pilling, USN, vice chief of naval operations, agreed that the challenges of coalition operations can be met. “Our goal is to create a common standard to field technologies that allows all coalition forces to work together as one force,” he said at the Wednesday breakfast presentation. The Office of Naval Research is conducting programs with other countries to address these types of issues.
Commercial products are enabling the Navy to change at “the speed of business,” the admiral offered. Superiority in the Kosovo operation was enhanced by how fast commanders could acquire information and act on it. Although speed has always been a key factor in battle, it is now increasingly important to pre-planning, he added.
At the Thursday breakfast, Gen. John W. Handy, USAF, vice chief of staff, Air Force, echoed this need for increased speed. During operation Desert Storm, for example, the multilevel command style resulted in a delay in getting questions answered. What is needed, the general stated, is a collapsed system of communications, and it is the technologists and communications specialists that can provide a way to accomplish this. “Every single advance in the future is dependent on advances in information technology,” he offered.
An expeditionary aerospace force also requires faster communications. “We must deploy light, lean and lethal very quickly. So, we have to figure out how to get this done and still have reach-back to the United States,” the general said. Although many solutions are being planned for the future, delivery of these advances must be moved closer to today, he added.
Adversaries have changed tactics and will likely mix their military sites with civilian environments and decoys. These circumstances require an improved ability to distinguish between targets in real time across a wide spectrum of targets, the general offered.
Because so many recent operations have involved joint forces, the general said he was not surprised that the vice chiefs of the other services share the same priorities. “In joint missions, operations must be connected. In coalition operations, the overall effectiveness of the forces is dependent on interoperability between systems. We can’t just worry about Air Force or joint issues. We must worry about coalition issues, especially with coalition partners. This is the only way we can assure that we all have the same picture,” Gen. Handy said.
The increased reliance on technology requires continued work in the information assurance arena. The general related how recent viruses that spread through e-mail caused interruptions in Pentagon communications. “In our system today, we have to know how to stop this situation or we can be brought to our knees,” he stated.
At the keynote luncheon on Tuesday, Gen. Dr. Klaus Reinhardt, GEA, commander, Joint Command Centre and former commander of the Kosovo Force, shared his insight into coalition operations, offering specific details about the Kosovo mission.
Even though troops working in Kosovo came from different nations, their shared goal brought them together. “All the soldiers tried to be good soldiers and to show that they were as good as anyone else. It was like a military Olympic game. Without this, we probably wouldn’t have made it,” Gen. Reinhardt said.
Despite the evident cooperation in Kosovo, participants still had their differences. “The key factor in a coalition operation is that every nation has a different idea of the political objectives of what is going on. So, we have to recognize this. This is not something to criticize. We just have to recognize it. If we can understand the differences, we can offset them,” he offered.
Although the fighting is over and the country has begun to rebuild, fundamental differences between the area’s residents still exist. There is no easy solution to this problem, the general said.
Working closely with civilian agencies to provide humanitarian support is important to success in the region, he added. One goal is to move from outsiders providing the resources for residents rebuilding their economy to helping them produce their own materials.
The political future of the region is still a tough question, Gen. Reinhardt said. “The international community has to convince the residents that they will have to live together for a while until the economy is up,” he explained. The younger generation in Kosovo is key to achieving this goal. “They must learn tolerance and that they can learn to work together by looking at how coalition forces worked together.”
After his speech, Gen. Reinhardt was presented with the David Sarnoff Award, AFCEA’s highest honor, for helping promote effective communications during peacetime so nations can have effective communications during war.
Dr. Ralph W. Shrader, chairman and chief executive officer, Booz•Allen & Hamilton Incorporated, presented his ideas about business practices, both industry and military, in light of the pressures of what he called e-time. Shrader pointed to changes in four key areas: risk, control, collaboration and leveraging technology, and touch and talent. Although leaders today must rely more heavily on their personnel, they are still ultimately responsible for making the sometimes tough final decision, he said.
For the first time, this year’s final luncheon of the conference featured a panel presentation from the J-6s. Lt. Gen. John L. Woodward, Jr., USAF, director, J-6, the Joint Staff, and panel moderator, said that this gathering was especially fitting because this team is working together toward success in coalition operations in the new millennium.
In addition to Gen. Woodward, Lt. Gen. William H. Campbell, USA, director of information systems for command, control, communications and computers and chief information officer for the Army; Rear Adm. Richard W. Mayo, USN, director, space, information warfare, command and control for the Navy; and Brig. Gen. Robert M. Shea, USMC, assistant chief of staff for command, control, communications, computers and intelligence and director of intelligence for the Marine Corps, offered their views.
Although technology improvements have excelled during the last few years, Gen. Campbell cautioned against the belief that bandwidth is no longer a problem. Moving data between large command centers has greatly improved; however, that last mile to the field continues to be a challenge, he noted.
One change in a traditional process will take place in the way the Army upgrades its systems. Rather than buying spare parts to replace old ones as systems break down, new parts that include the latest advances will be purchased as needed, Gen. Campbell said.
Adm. Mayo explained some of the operations the Navy is involved in with other nations that would increase effectiveness during future coalition missions. Several steps have been taken to ensure interoperability between U.S. and other nations’ fleets for smooth communications. “The more information we get, the greater our combat power is going to be,” the admiral emphasized.
Information security is an area of special concern, according to Gen. Shea. “Information assurance keeps me up at night. One area that everyone is interested in is information operations. We all recognize that information technology is a force multiplier. But the nation that has the most to gain from technology also has the most to lose. There must be defense in depth when it comes to information warfare. No matter how much you protect your system, if your whole area is not defense-in-depth [oriented], then you’re vulnerable. If you can’t secure these networks, then the whole pyramid comes down. I’m not convinced we’re there yet,” the general shared.
At the end of the panel presentation, the audience welcomed AFCEA’s new chairman of the board, Mary Jane McKeever, president, AT&T Government Markets, and senior vice president for AT&T. In accepting the gavel from Computer Sciences Corporation’s Milton E. Cooper, AFCEA’s previous chairman of the board, McKeever said she is looking forward to leading the association toward offering value-added services, making it the association of choice for information technology professionals, and exploring opportunities for growth.
Information-Sharing Forums Shed Light on Coalition Issues
In addition to the Solutions Showcase filled with demonstrations of the latest technologies, TechNet International 2000 offered attendees insight into the various challenges that are at the forefront of military operations. Panel discussions allowed military, government and industry personnel to share knowledge about the topics of chief concern to today’s military leaders.
This year’s attendees also gathered information about technical solutions from industry representatives during presentations in TechNet’s new Tech-Talk Theatres, which focused on information security, knowledge management and tools for the cyberwarrior. AFCEA’s Professional Development Center introduced a new offering this year with five mini-courses based on the full-length classes the center offers throughout the year. Information—one of the hottest commodities in today’s marketplace—was also readily available.
A panel discussion about architecture and interoperability examined the implementation of the U.S. Defense Department information network known as the global information grid (GIG). Panelists outlined steps the armed forces are taking to integrate their telecommunications systems into this network.
According to Maj. Gen. Peter M. Cuviello, USA, commanding general, the U.S. Army Signal Center and Fort Gordon, the Army’s primary goal is to provide seamless information and data-handling efficiencies to increase combat power. This is being accomplished by developing connectivity at the tactical level under the umbrella of the warfighter information network.
The U.S. Navy’s efforts to fit into the GIG architecture have involved creating information superiority for combat operations and reaching a critical mass of compatible systems within the service. Enhancing sailors’ quality of life through shipboard e-mail and telephone networks is another aspect of the Navy’s efforts.
Rear Adm. John A. Gauss, USN, commander, Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command, noted that 65 percent of the Navy’s ships are now secure Internet protocol router network and nonsecure Internet protocol router network compatible. This capability is already showing promise. Recent battle experiments demonstrated that information could move faster across these Internet channels than sensor data could move through Link 16.
Brig. Gen. Charles E. Croom, Jr., USAF, vice director, command, control, communications and computers (C4) for the Joint Staff (J-6), presented the U.S. Air Force’s experiences in using parts of the GIG architecture under combat conditions in the Kosovo air war. The general said he believes that the communications support for the operation was a tremendous success. One achievement was the ability to move very large amounts of bandwidth.
Members of a panel examining command and control also focused on interoperability issues with a multinational twist. In an effort to maximize command interoperability between forces on the global battlefield, the U.S. Joint Forces Command and other U.S. defense organizations are examining ways to enhance the effectiveness and efficiency of communications coordination in support of the international warfighter.
“As military technology becomes more sophisticated, there is a growing need to re-evaluate the method by which allied nations at war stay physically connected,” panel moderator Lt. Gen. John L. Woodward, USAF, director for C4 systems for the Joint Staff, stated. “Through use of the global information grid and today’s technology, we can create seamless end-to-end capabilities that will allow us to establish an uninterrupted flow of situational information.”
Aside from the challenge of maintaining connectivity between allied units, other factors are preventing the optimization of interoperability among friendly forces. Panelists agreed that two major hurdles will be finding a common language by which to operate and constructing a standard for the type of encryption coding used to control access to vital information. Re-creating a communications architecture that can effectively encompass these needs in a multiple-nation theater of operations is one goal of today’s global North Atlantic Treaty Organization community, they concurred.
“The keys to interoperability are leadership and operational discipline,” Dawn Hartley, chief technology officer for the Defense Information Systems Agency, offered. “Taking full advantage of our global information grid capabilities to articulate a battle plan using secure and scalable commercial off-the-shelf products will only happen with the right people in charge.” The emphasis has been on training personnel to meet the challenges of maintaining a more globally oriented battle picture, she added.
“Achieving operational flexibility through a dynamic versatility in mission communications is what we are trying to achieve,” Brig. Gen. Jerry W. McElwee, USA, U.S. Joint Forces Command J-6, explained. “With sound tactical datalink management, an effective system of data sharing between forces can occur, allowing for more efficient message transfer and processing.”
While these two panels explored the ability to share information, information assurance panel members discussed the state of the Defense Department’s current and future threats to information systems. Maj. Gen. John H. Campbell, USAF, the Central Intelligence Agency’s associate director of central intelligence for military support, described computer network defense as a partnership between the services. “If we are going to fight together, we’re going to have to learn to protect our systems together,” he said. Gen. Campbell also noted that 90 percent of last year’s Defense Department computer intrusions could have been prevented if proper security procedures had been in place.
Although the United States has made strides in public key infrastructure, much work still must be done, Dr. Linton Wells II, principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for command, control, communications and intelligence, explained. He described the need to establish a global security management system with U.S. allies. Another issue is the differences between the United States and the European Union on encryption policies, Wells observed.
Richard Hale, chief executive engineer for information assurance with the Defense Information Systems Agency, said he believes that the government must recast the way it handles information assurance. One step would be to create assured mission execution or business assurance for daily operations. Another change would include developing a firewall policy regarding Defense Department networks with an emphasis on working out the architecture before implementing any system, Hale explained.
Panel member Brian T. Witten, program manager for autonomic information assurance at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s information systems office, described new information security techniques and technologies under development. He noted that the agency is developing computer systems that are inherently survivable if compromised, thus providing a defense in depth. However, he cautioned that defensive software must not be viewed as a silver bullet because all such programs have holes and bugs in them.
While interoperability and information assurance address what may be called the internal operations of military missions, the services are facing more tangible challenges with the nuts and bolts of moving people and products along the supply chain. Information technology also is playing an important role in this area.
As military deployments become more logistically complex, ensuring that the right personnel get the right information is a greater challenge. For this reason, transporting troops and equipment from one site to another has become an increasingly centralized responsibility within the ranks of the U.S. armed forces.
“Today’s operational readiness can only be achieved through strong centralized planning,” Vice Adm. James F. Amerault, USN, deputy chief of naval operations–logistics, stated during a group discussion on logistics support. “Data sharing between allied commands requires a high level of coordination to be executed efficiently and effectively. The chain of information comprising the logistical elements of an operation is dependent on an open communications link connecting all the commands involved.”
In establishing a network for data exchange as close to real time as possible, the use of innovative World Wide Web-based programs is essential for prioritizing, transferring and maintaining important statistics on the state of operational preparedness, panelists agreed. “Modern logistical support draws its power from its immediate accessibility to all the units that need it,” Adm. Amerault added. “By the same token, the true measure of its effectiveness is how well that same data is made equally inaccessible to the enemy.”
The experts concurred that the quality of logistics support provided to the warfighter is directly proportionate to the degree of situational awareness that a command has over a given theater of operations.
“Optimizing our awareness of the specific requirements dictated by our operational surroundings through enhanced mission interoperability is one of the goals we are trying to achieve,” Rear Adm. Raymond A. Archer III, USN, vice director of the Defense Logistics Agency, commented. “The key to maximizing a platform for strong logistics support between nations is advanced planning and increased supply chain flexibility to handle changes in the tactical or environmental picture.”
Like munitions, medical support is dependent on the free flow of information between command headquarters and the operational theater. “Finding ways of extending a command’s medical arm to the battlefield by maximizing the speed and accuracy of information flow to the care providers is a primary objective.” Brig. Gen. Kevin C. Kiley, USA, commander, Army Medical Department Center and School, offered.
In a coalition environment, a free flow of information also is required to establish the level of trust needed to conduct operations successfully, according to panelists discussing military intelligence.
Lt. Gen. Patrick M. Hughes, USA (Ret.), panel moderator and president of PMH Enterprises LLC, introduced the group’s topic by proposing that not all alliances are good. “The key is to have a goal that all partners can support equally, one that has some noble purpose, and one that is enabled by the insight of a source. This requires good intelligence. It’s all about trust,” Gen. Hughes said.
Two additional items are important to successful coalition operations, according to the general. “The key is language and, like it or not, English is the language of the tactical world and the virtual world. Another key is money—who brings what monetary resources to the table. We have no choice. We’re not going to go it alone 99 out of 100 times. A military coalition is a business partnership that costs lives and treasures to run and never makes a material profit,” he explained.
Providing a real-world example of how nations have worked together with great success and many lessons learned, Col. Richard Atchison, USAF (Ret.), former deputy director for intelligence, U.S. Central Command, operation Desert Storm, discussed how the intelligence mission was conducted during that operation.
This initial endeavor exposed several issues that have subsequently reappeared in other coalition operations, the panelists agreed. “Communications are our biggest problem. What’s classified to one partner is not necessarily classified to you. Foreign-area officers are gold, and a coalition partner may have the answer to the question you’re asking,” the colonel offered.
Not all of the intelligence required to run an operation must be collected covertly. In fact, according to Dr. Mark M. Lowenthal, senior principal, intelligence directorate, SRA International, open source intelligence is the best collection of information the United States has at its disposal. “We share intelligence for our mutual safety, but in a coalition there are allies—and then there are allies,” he said.
Dr. William Nolte, chief, legislative affairs, National Security Agency, agreed that open sources are helpful, but warned that they should be used to confirm information from other sources. He also concurred that the Internet has had an impact that we must deal with, deal on and deal against, and today the question has become whether the United States still needs 14 intelligence agencies. “We have a lot of issues in the coalition environment, but we also have a lot of U.S. issues to solve,” Nolte stated.
Panelist Col. Gordon Shipley, British Army, head of command, control, communications and intelligence, U.K. Ministry of Defence, provided an international view about intelligence operations in a coalition environment. Although the United States is capable of operating against all adversaries on its own, a need exists for burden-sharing politically, he offered. Successful coalition activities will depend on good peacetime relationships between allies, he added.
No Crystal Ball for Decision Makers in E-Time
By Dr. Ralph W. Shrader
This article is an edited version of the speech given by Dr. Ralph W. Shrader at the TechNet International 2000 advanced technology luncheon.
The beginning of the 21st century is a particularly hard time for decision makers. The pressures of today’s world complicate and can even pre-empt decision making.
First, there is the pressure of e-time—as in e-business or e-government (I know a lot of us have had e-nough). But, time is of the essence today in a way that it has never been before. The premium on speed is tremendous. And this places great pressure on us as decision makers.
Decision makers also have the promise and peril of being deluged by information and trying to keep up with continual advancements in technology. Leadership models are also changing. The time-tested concept of command and control has come into question, and this can make it harder to carry out decisions.
In talking to leaders in corporations, in government and in the military, I have found some common themes in decision making today. They are risk, control, collaboration and leverage points.
In the corporate world today, decision makers need a higher tolerance and comfort level for risk. Time was, when faced with a decision, the chief executive officer and board of directors could set up a task force to look at the options for a matter of months. Today, failure to decide and act quickly can pre-empt options altogether.
At Booz•Allen & Hamilton, we have seen the duration of a typical management consulting assignment cut dramatically. Michael Wolf, who heads our global media and entertainment practice, says, “A lot of what we do as consultants today is to help clients make decisions faster and with imperfect data. It used to be that a client came to us and said, ‘I want a new strategy in six months.’ Now the client says, ‘I need a strategy in four weeks.’” The same is true in technology assignments. When clients call with an information assurance problem, they need a solution now.
The concept of managing risk at a portfolio level, which is something financial services companies have been doing for decades, is taking hold in other industries. If one product line or venture does not pan out, it is OK as long as the sum of business decisions yields success at the portfolio level. In military terms, it is winning the war rather than each individual battle.
Clearly the concept of risk has greater implications for the military decision maker who deals not just in capital assets but also in lives and national credibility. Bet-the-company decisions like those being made every day now in the Internet industry would be totally inappropriate on the battlefield. But, the broader principle of risk taking as an essential element of decision making still applies.
Colin Powell warns that procrastination in the hope of reducing risk actually increases risk. He recommends a 40 to 70 formula and advises, “Don’t take action if you have only enough information to give you less than a 40 percent chance of being right. But, don’t wait until you have enough facts to be 100 percent sure because, by then, it is almost always too late. Once the information is in the 40 to 70 range, go with your gut.”
Leaders need to heed this advice and become comfortable making decisions with imperfect data. We need to step up and make—not shirk—important decisions. At the same time, we need to be sure we create a fault-tolerant culture for those below us in the organization so they can take appropriate risks and make courageous decisions with less fear of failure.
The second key element affecting decision making today is control. While we need to be comfortable dealing with a higher degree of risk, we also need to be willing to have less personal control. The complexity of issues, operations and situations today makes it impossible for one person to have a handle on all the relevant facts.
We have to become more comfortable not knowing it all and being able to carry out decisions through participative leadership rather than through strict command and control. This does not mean losing control over the situation nor giving up responsibility for the decisions.
For decision makers to stay in control while sharing control, it is essential that they delegate and empower others. But what, how and to whom the decision makers delegate make all the difference. We need to give up control of doing it our way in terms of process. The focus must be on setting the vision and driving the desired outcome.
Mark Herman, a Booz•Allen & Hamilton partner who specializes in wargaming, explains it this way. “The commander has to maintain top sight—to set the vision and watch that the mission [objective] is being met but not focus on the tactical details about which fighter is going after which target. There isn’t time for vertical command and control; there isn’t time to direct operations at that level of detail. And, the fact is, pilots and navigators are usually in a better position to make those decisions.”
Corporate decision makers need to rely on soldiers in their organization in a similar way. The best leaders empower and listen to their people; but they take full responsibility for making decisions and for the consequences of those decisions.
Max DePree, the former chief executive officer of Herman Miller Company who wrote the book, “Leadership is an Art,” explains it this way: “Participative management guarantees that decisions will not be arbitrary, will not be secret or will not be closed to questioning. But, participative management is not democratic. Having a say differs from having a vote.”
While good leaders empower and listen to their people, they do not put decisions up for popular vote. That is not sharing control; it is abdicating responsibility.
Decisions to expand are easy, and decisions to contract are hard. It doesn’t matter whether the topic is staffing or product lines or military bases, obtaining support to add always seems to be a piece of cake. It should not be. We often end up in a difficult place because expansion is so popular.
Contraction, such as reducing staff, cutting out a product line or closing a military base, is always hard. Even when it is clear that it is the right thing to do, cut-back decisions are notoriously unpopular. So, they provide a good example of the paradox of sharing control over the tactics but staying in control of the strategy and taking full responsibility for hard decisions.
Back in January, I had a tough decision to make about our business in Asia. Over the past decade, Booz•Allen had opened more than a dozen offices across the Asian continent. Doing our own business case analysis, we found that our consulting business in China could be managed as well and more profitably from a hub operation in Hong Kong rather than from small offices in Shanghai and Beijing.
Despite the mounting losses from too many subscale offices in Asia and the clear imperative that something needed to be done, redrawing our geographic footprint was a difficult situation to assess and an even more difficult and unpopular decision to make.
I needed to share control and rely upon trusted leaders on the ground—on the chief financial officer, on the chief personnel officer and on the head of commercial business, Dan Lewis. They could provide objective and thorough analysis and advice about the Asia situation. But, then it was up to Dan and me to make the hard call that we needed to close some offices and restructure into a hub network to serve Asia clients.
Clearly, these decisions are hard because they dislocate people and can be misunderstood by employees, clients and others. So far, the Asia decision looks right. Our Asia business is strong; the firm’s financial picture in the region is much brighter; and we retained most of our people.
The third element of decision making in e-time is collaboration. We are truly living in the age of collaboration. Beyond formal mergers, we are seeing global alliances, teaming arrangements and supplier networks on a scale that would have been unheard of a decade ago. Many of these alliances are e-enabled such as the consortia announced this year by four aerospace competitors and more recently by the big auto makers.
The term co-opetition has been used to describe these arrangements in which competitors collaborate for mutual advantage. In the military arena, the theme of TechNet International 2000, “Coalition Operations in the New Millennium,” shows the importance of collaboration.
At an operational level, we are wrestling with the question of how coalition forces can interoperate after the United States moves forward with advanced command, control and communications systems that are a generation or more ahead of those of its North Atlantic Treaty Organization partners.
The lesson for decision makers is that going it alone—whether in commerce, government or conflict—is unlikely to be successful today. Organizations such as AFCEA provide an excellent opportunity for collaboration—on a personal level, on a corporate level and for our industry.
The last principle of decision making in e-time is the importance of leverage points. The top three leverage points today are the three Ts—technology, touch and talent.
Technology can help us manage risk, collaborate better and communicate with those with whom we need to share control. The flip side is that enemies can use technology to try to disrupt our decision-making ability.
Staying in touch with people is crucial. We need to listen to troops at the front line and out in the market. We need to talk directly to our people, our customers and our competitors. E-mail is great for this, and chief executive officers do read and reply to their own e-mails. So do generals and department heads.
The last, but most certainly not the least, of our leverage points is human talent. People make it happen: people you can delegate to, brainstorm with, confide in, and learn from … people you can trust to tell you the straight scoop and carry out your decisions.
I believe the value of the principles of take risk, share control, collaborate and leverage technology is that they help adjust for the complications of e-time.
After adjusting to e-time, decision making is pretty old-fashioned. It comes down to our inner convictions, to our gut. Colin Powell said, “Command is lonely.” I would like to paraphrase that to say, “Decision making is lonely.” After we have shared, listened and collaborated with others, it is time to go it alone. If we have done everything reasonable to be informed, and if we choose a course we believe is right, then by definition, we have made a good decision.
If the decision has unintended consequences, or if a different path looks better down the road—and we acknowledge it—people will respect that. But, I have found that people do not respect—and will not follow—someone who hesitates to make a decision in the first place or who will not admit a mistake in the second place.
Colin Powell also related in a leadership primer, “Good leadership involves responsibility to the welfare of the group, which means that some people will get angry at your actions and decisions.”
To me, the hardest decisions we have to make are the decisions that anger people or, even harder, the decisions that hurt people—their careers, their self-esteem or, for those in the military, even their lives. This comes with the territory, and, if these kinds of decisions did not hang in our hearts and our minds and our gut, we would not be worthy of the trust that people place in us.
There are no perfect decisions. If all the factors lined up perfectly and pointed to the right answers, then a computer could be a decision maker. Because there are no perfect decisions, it takes imperfect people, people like us, to make important decisions. This is not because we have the answers—we don’t—but because we strive to do the right thing, and we care deeply about the outcome. That is what makes a good decision maker, not just in e-time, but in any time.
Dr. Ralph W. Shrader is chairman and chief executive officer, Booz•Allen & Hamilton Incorporated; past chairman of the board of directors of AFCEA International; and now serves on the association’s executive committee.