Empowering The Front Lines To Lead: Krulak’s Law

Krulak’s Law says that the life of an organization is in the hands of the people on the front lines, not the managers at the top.

Charles C. Krulak is a retired Marine who does a lot of critical thinking and writing about strategy. In “The Strategic Corporal: Leadership in the Three Block War,” he explains how Marines should be prepared to manage an area no bigger than three city blocks where there’s a full-on military conflict, a peacekeeping operation, and a humanitarian effort all at the same time (with international media coverage!). In a space that tight with such diverse situations, you can’t realistically control everything from the top down.

Krulak’s observation is that people need to be able to lead at the lowest level. Trained people in each area who understand the broader mission can get the job in front of them done. It’s leadership’s job, especially in these tight situations, to empower them to do so. It works in business too. If the person at the cash register can’t solve a simple problem to improve the customer’s experience, a business is missing an opportunity. They could benefit from putting Krulak’s Law into practice. And yet most organizations’ default response is to tighten the reigns and lead heavier from the top. “Let me get my manager” becomes the response instead of, “Let me take care if that for you.”

One of those most valuable skills we can build into our organizations is an attitude of encouraging and empowering others to lead. We still need to communicate the mission. We still need to make sure we‘re all pointed in the same direction. But, the right people will do the right work for the right reasons. Giving people more power can feel scary at first, but if the Marine Corp can learn to embrace it, so can we.

h/t Seth Godin

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