Week 3- Leading Up The Chain Of Command

Adriel Fong
5 min readOct 2, 2020

Have you ever felt like your bosses or clients ask way too many questions? It’s almost as if they don’t trust you to do the job that they hired you to do!

Here’s the cold hard truth … they don’t trust you.

Well, before you get defensive and indignant, think about it for a second. The questions that they grilled you on, are they valid?

If they aren’t “valid” from your point of view, why the hell are they asking these questions for?

Well, it’s because they can’t see things from your perspective! Four people can witness a car accident from four different angles and each of them can give different accounts to the accident.

The key is in leading up the chain of command. We’re always looking to lead down the chain of command and our fellow colleagues, but what we sometimes miss out is that we too have a responsibility to lead up the chain of command.

When you fail to lead up the chain of command, you begin to see a great divide between top brass and the men and women on the ground. This friction between these groups of people in an organisation is unnecessary and at times, fractious.

Just think about it for a second.

As bosses, do you want your subordinates to fail? I don’t think so. So, everything you strategise has the end goal of setting your subordinates up for success but also to accomplish the overall objective of the company.

As a result, it is crucial to understand that there must be trust and synergy up and down the ladder. A us-against-them mentality is toxic and creates factions in a team which makes it difficult to accomplish the overall objective.

How do we create this trust and synergy? Jocko Willinick details the solution in his best-selling book: Extreme Ownership

As a Navy Seal officer, he has had his fair share of frustrations with the bureaucratic nature of the military, especially when the time spent answering stupid questions (from his point of view of course) was taking away precious time from planning an operation that could result in the loss of the lives of his operators in the battlefield.

When he finally realised what the real issue was, that’s when he began to understand why his bosses made all sorts of ridiculous requests.

It was because they didn’t understand the unique battlefield that they were fighting in. They were sitting in their offices thousands of kilometers away from the conflict ground.

There was an incongruency between the understanding, perception and reality of the situation. That was when Jocko realised that he didn’t just need to command and control his men on the battlefield, he too needed to learn to lead his superiors to the same epiphanies that he had on the battlefield and get them to understand what was truly needed for them to successfully and safely carry out the missions given to them.

There isn’t anything fancy about the principles Jocko teaches, but it is paramount to understand that these are principles that when applied masterfully, can create massive synergy that pushes a team or organisation forward.

  1. Trust and Relationships

Trust is built on clarity. On the flip side, distrust is built on the lack of clarity. Do you have a clear understanding of what’s the overall mission? If you’re struggling to understand why a certain decision is being taken, it’s your job to to ask.

Obviously, you will need to exercise large amounts of tact and self-awareness. If you’re racing against the clock to get something done, the best decision to make is to get the immediate task done without questioning first.

However, if it is a crucial thing to address, go ahead and make it clear with your superiors. The fact that you’re taking the time to clarify the task with them will show them where their explanations are lacking and allow them to know that you understand the task at hand.

When you fully understand the full picture, you can then lay out the whole plan to the people under your command, making everything more transparent.

If they’re getting a wrong perception about the situation, it’s your job to guide them to the right path through detailed analyses.

At the same time, relationships need to be built alongside trust. When you get to know your superiors better, you can get a feel for what shifts their decision-making needle. Then you can start providing the appropriate information for them.

If you find it difficult to navigate the relationships, what you can start doing is to invite them down to the ground level and to see how things are getting done. If you’re sending out your sales team to meet with prospects, invite leaders to come along as well to better understand the landscape on the ground.

They will get a better insight on the challenges face by you and your team members and in return they can account their decision making with your people in mind.

2. Patience and persistence

The overall strategy is simple, but it isn’t easy. You’re probably going to face rejection and resistance. But that’s to be expected.

If you find that they are doing things based on “tradition” and you are trying to effect change throughout the organisation, it’s going to take time.

How do you then break down the wall of “tradition”?

You need to spot cracks in tradition that you can exploit to get a foot into their minds. The reason why people stick to “tradition” is not because it doesn’t work, but the fact it has been proven to win!

So, if when you start to spot the crack in the armour as Jocko describes it to be, you can start to exploit that crack.

Our “tradition” works because we win, we dominate our competitors. And you know what winners do? The Michael Jordans’ in this world adapt, and because the best don’t stagnate, we need to evolve, to improve and then dominate our competition even more. Here’s one way we can do it.

At the same time, you need to remember that you can’t just start spouting all of this nonsense to them out of your own ego or your need to shine in front of your bosses. Because you’ll rile up your bosses egos’ and when you do that, all the work that you’ve done backfires. The process is slow, the process can be painful, but the goal is there.

At the end of the day, what matters most is that you take ownership for everything that happens, even communicating with your bosses. Whether you’re a big company or a one man army, the onus is on you to build up that relationship and a tight understanding so that you can become an effective leader for your own people and the people that you come into contact with.