If Patton Had an iPad

It’s pretty clear that the world is rapidly changing around us. Technology has enabled us all to work with mobility and connectivity that was unimaginable just a few years ago. Raise your hand if you’re reading this on your phone or tablet!

Unfortunately many managers and leaders have responded to this unprecedented freedom by implementing stricter controls and supervision over their team members. Instead of allowing individuals to maximize their time, effort and creativity to benefit the team; some leaders bind remote or traveling team members to the “office schedule”, demand more and more frequent status updates and review and correct products over and over again with little impact on the actual success of the project. This restrictive environment not only hinders the team member’s ability to get the job done, but prevents the leader from focusing on the overall vision of the organization. It also keeps the leader from thinking about ways to grow and expand into new areas.

But this post isn’t about what other people are doing wrong. It’s about what we as leaders can do RIGHT! As a leader you want to be focused on achieving results that further the vision and goals of your organization. This is true at every level, not just at the very top. Even if you don’t sit in the corner office, it’s still a good idea to be thinking about how what you and your team do achieves the vision of the organization.

Most leaders have heard the advice offered by George S. Patton decades ago: “Don’t tell people how to do things, tell them what to do and let them surprise you with their results.” As a general officer, Patton had such huge responsibilities and span of control that there was no way he could interact in real-time with every subordinate unit at every level under his command. He achieved victory by telling his immediate subordinates what he wanted done and expecting them to achieve it. And they did. People have differing opinions about if Patton was a great leader or not, but I think his advice here provides a great model to take advantage of the freedom and mobility today’s technology offers.

Three things leaders can start doing today to use Patton’s advice to their advantage:

1) Clearly define the goals and objectives that you want your team to achieve. Having a clear definition of what success looks like will help you stay focused on achieving that end-state and avoid getting wrapped up in minutiae.

2) Clearly communicate the end-states of those goals to your team. Once they understand what you want as a final product, they’ll get the work done to get there, no matter where they are working from or what schedule they are on. (Team members who aren’t pulling their own weight or meeting deadlines is a topic for another day)

3) Mentor your team through the effort. Provide guidance, support and the tools they need to achieve the end-state. Don’t dictate how they should get it done, but if they are struggling, provide alternate perspectives and possible solutions to their challenges. Be available, but not over their shoulder.

These three ideas may sound obvious and not be new to any of you reading this. That’s the point. By remembering a few traditional leadership tenets, your team can be achieving results for you from home, the coffee shop around the corner or on the other side of the world.

Do you have any success stories where you took advantage of the freedom and mobility provided by new technology? Has Patton’s advice worked for you as a leader in the 21st Century?