How Can You Solve A Puzzle Without All The Pieces?

Leaders and Followers that strive for transparency and understanding have the foundational elements of an efficient team. In this episode, I cover the challenges of the “interpretation games”, which is when leadership only provides partial information to a problem and yet you are responsible for providing a full solution. This problem plagues hierarchy-based organizations like the Air Force, and I share my thoughts on how to overcome them both as a leader and a follower.

Additional Notes

Inherent within the military hierarchy, there are usually several layers between yourself and the senior leadership. Each of us has a role to play to get the mission accomplished, but sometimes we get involved in “interpretation games.” By this, I mean we take actions based on what we think leadership wants us to do or we try to answer questions we think leadership will ask us. While critical thinking and anticipating leadership needs are common and a great skill to master, the best leaders can help their teams reduce this friction by striving to be as transparent as possible, and the best followers remain adamant in seeking to understand their leadership as to lead their teams to success. If teammates expend energy towards a solution that has been decided behind closed doors to be disapproved outright, that time can’t be returned. This is why transparency both vertically and horizontally is important to reduce unnecessary energy expenditure and increase team efficiency. 

When leaders publish clearly written guidance, from elaborate campaign plans to simple e-mails or text messages, it removes any confusion and allows everyone to move forward with confidence. Work hard to be transparent with your leadership and your teammates. You may not get it right the first time, but if you feel like you haven’t clearly articulated what you expect, you probably haven’t. Be open to sharing your thoughts, even if they aren’t fully formed. Let them “check your homework” to keep you and the team pointed in the right direction. The discourse you share w/your teammates will make you a stronger team and stronger leader…if you are humble enough to listen, learn, and lead.

As a follower, if you start to second guess yourself after reading guidance handed down from your leadership, you should be able to reach the right level of leadership to get clear guidance so you can return to work. If your immediate supervisor doesn’t have a clear answer, keep asking until you get one. Just ask! Don’t waste time with half-baked information and seek to understand so you can lead effectively. In the absence of written guidance, don’t be afraid to ask for some. Don’t settle for an unknown; you owe it to your leadership and your teammates to know where you are leading everyone. Effective teams have open two-way communication and strive for each other to be successful together.