Bureaucracies are slow to change, and few may be more anemic than the military services. With a foundational and personnel structure optimized for the Cold War and the industrial age, this unfortunate reality is acutely evident as the information age accelerates into ever more complex manifestations.
While some leadership principles remain constant regardless of the era, quite a few must be adapted to the realities of their time. Some of the characteristics already have defined, and will continue to define, effective 21st century military leadership.
One such characteristic is the ability to look outside traditional vertical hierarchies. The world is becoming increasingly interconnected, and relational networks are being fostered from Internet-based social networks that span ages and ranks. Technology is replacing itself at an increasing rate, so traditional definitions of expertise that rely on seniority are less relevant.
Very often, younger generations have a better ability to interact with technology than their more experienced senior leadership. These digital natives often will recognize capabilities and new avenues of application more quickly than their older leaders. However, traditional hierarchical structures with numerous levels of interference between the deckplate operator and senior decision maker stifle solutions that could transform an operation.
More than ever, senior commanders need to embrace crowdsourcing options and direct engagement with creative, entrepreneurial, lower-level subordinates. This could be accomplished by establishing command innovation cells characterized by open dialogue with no fear of reprisal, followed by action taken on recommendations. These are great ways to empower more junior personnel to take ownership and make an impact.