Decentralized Command

Decentralized Command

After visiting numerous large campus recreation facilities, I have been blown away be the number of student staff they employ. For example, The Ohio State University Recreation and Physical Activity Center employs upwards of 800 student staff. With such an enormous number of employees, it is essential to develop a strong leadership structure.

In their book, “Extreme Ownership”, U.S. Navy SEAL Officers Jocko Willink and Leif Babin, discuss the notion of decentralized command. They explain, “Human beings are generally not capable of managing more than six to ten people, particularly when things go sideways and inevitable contingencies arise. No one senior leader can be expected to manage dozens of individuals, much less hundreds. Teams must be broken down into manageable elements of four to five operators with a clearly designated leader.”

Chances are your recreation facility is broken down in to smaller departments like marketing, programing, fitness, aquatics, intramural sports, etc. But within these departments is the mission clear? Do the leaders of the department understand how they impact the larger mission of the facility?

Willink and Babin continue, “Those leaders must understand the overall mission, and the ultimate goal of that mission. Junior leaders must be empowered to make decisions on key tasks necessary to accomplish that mission in the most effective and efficient manner possible. Teams within team are organized for maximum effectiveness for a particular mission, with leaders who have clearly delineated responsibilities.”

A critical element here is that leaders must understand not just want to do, what why they are doing it. If your staff clearly understand the mission and goal of their work, then they will be more empowered to make decisions.

“To be effectively empowered to make decisions, it is imperative that frontline leaders execute with confidence. Tactical leaders must be confident that they clearly understand the strategic mission. They must have implicit trust that their senior leaders will back their decisions. Without this trust, junior leaders cannot confidently execute.”

Willink and Babin add that in order to have effective decentralized command, senior leaders must communicate and push information to their subordinate leaders. But at the same time, junior leaders, must push situational awareness up the chain to their senior leaders to keep them informed.

How is the leadership structure within your facility? Is it well organized? Are leaders empowered to make decisions? Does everyone understand the mission of the department? And most importantly, are there places where communication could be improved?

Emily Harbourne was a previous editor for Campus Rec Magazine.

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