The quality of your leadership is the single most important factor that will determine the success or failure of your organization.  As the world becomes increasingly complex, success requires effective leaders who cultivate adaptability and drive performance within their team.  Effective layers of leadership throughout your organization will help drive solutions to the complex disruptions we regularly face.  


Friction is the force that makes simple tasks difficult.  As organizations experience friction, senior leaders tend to tighten their grip and micromanage their businesses – a natural response we all fight. This tendency, rather than empowering subordinate leaders to work on the problem, actually limits the adaptability of the organization.

  It also stifles innovation and reduces the problem-solving incentive of lower-level leaders.  When subordinate leaders are trusted to lead their teams and make decisions, it creates “buy-in” to the mission, provides ownership of solutions, and incentivizes innovation and creativity.  This creates immense value for organizations of all sizes.  


If last year’s uncertainty has done anything positive for organizations, it is the revelation that leadership weaknesses have been exposed and gone unnoticed for some time.  Many companies realized that they had people in leadership positions with no leadership capabilities. They lacked the skills that compose a good leader who inspires other people to achieve success. Thus, start by getting the right people in the right positions, and prioritize true leadership attributes over industry experience, so the business can reach that common goal. 

Nearly every combat mission I led in the Marine Corps was riddled with uncertainty and ambiguity.  Although there was always a detailed plan in place and a purpose for our actions, no plan survives first contact with the enemy. 

besides, we were continuously forced to adapt and make decisions on the move under intense pressure.  We were able to do so because of the trust our senior leadership placed in us to problem solve and innovate.  For centuries the U.S. Marine Corps has built elite teams prepared to succeed anywhere by instilling the critical elements below into their organizations.  

Establish and communicate a clear intent 

Instead of telling your team what to do, provide a clear intent and centralized vision of the desired outcome based on your strategic understanding of the situation.  Empower your small unit leaders to develop a course of action around that desired outcome and delegate control as much as comfortable.    

Always listen to the individual on the ground

One of the best commanders I’ve ever worked for lived by this mantra.  It is arguably the most important leadership lesson I learned over hundreds of combat missions.  Our generals and senior commanders were always observing our actions on the battlefield, but they were not always next to us “on the ground” to gain the full picture.  Effective leaders have the wisdom to seek the insight and perspective of the individuals “on the ground” to build a better vision of the task and challenges at hand. 

Trust your subordinate leaders to work the problem

No matter how complex the problem, resist telling your team exactly how to solve it.  Doing so creates an environment full of followers that lack initiative.  Instead, increase their maneuvering space to work the problem, allow them to develop an actionable plan to support the desired outcome, and empower them to execute their plan.  As they execute, create a proper feedback loop and look for ways your staff and others can support their efforts.


Developing a multi-layered network of leaders in your organization creates freedom.  It results in increased “buy-in” at all levels, improved creativity and innovation, and organizational adaptability.  No matter how challenging the situation becomes, resist the urge to control everything, and instead increase your trust and the maneuvering space of your subordinate leaders.  Remember, healthy, well-balanced organizations intentionally prioritize the time and effort into developing leaders who are empowered to thrive in the face of adversity. 

Set the pace, develop your leadership skills.

Joe McNamara is the President of IMPACT, a leadership development, and team-building firm committed to shaping the next generation of leaders. He is a former combat-decorated Marine Corps officer and has led elite teams of all sizes through complex operating environments on multiple combat deployments. 

About the author

Joe McNamara
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Joe is a combat-decorated U.S. Marine Corps infantry officer and the founder of Impact, a premier leadership consulting and team building company. Joe spent eight years in the Marine Corps leading elite teams during multiple combat deployments in Afghanistan. Joe returned from combat and was selected to lead Marine Corps drill instructors at the notorious Marine Corps boot camp at Parris Island. Upon his departure from active duty, Joe founded Impact, a leadership development consultancy that deploys battle-proven leadership solutions forged in combat and proven in business. Joe has partnered with athletes, coaches, and corporate teams around the nation - helping cultivate a championship culture and forge high-performing teams.

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