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Home News USAA Tips: Military leadership skills during times of chaotic change

USAA Tips: Military leadership skills during times of chaotic change

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Content provided courtesy of USAA | By Chad Storlie

Chaos exists when there is an enormous difference between what we expect and what we see. Chaos can be a business fighting for its life, a military experience, or a parent taking care of three toddlers by themselves over a long weekend.

The important thing to realize is that just because chaos exists does not mean you have to fall victim or even feel like a victim to a chaotic environment. Military skills help leaders at all levels adapt, adjust, and overcome chaos to achieve success.

Here are 5 ways to use military leadership skills to manage chaos:

  1. Lead by example in all things. Leaders must be their best when the situation is at the worst. Leadership by example is a time honored military tradition where a leader sets a positive example from the lowest level to the highest level of activities. Leadership by example is central during times of chaos because people want to see a leader who is still confident, engaged, working to solve problems, and visible for others to see and interact.

  2. Focus the organization on the top 2-3 greatest dangers. Leaders and organizations need to be incredibly focused on their greatest challenges and ensure the entire organization is focused on how to respond to those dangers. During the Apollo 13 lunar mission, an accident caused a life-threatening explosion that endangered the lives of three astronauts. The NASA command group based in Houston immediately assessed they now had two primary missions: (1) keep the astronauts alive and (2) return them safely to earth. During chaos, organizations need to get to their 2-3 primary missions and no more.

  3. Lead with sharing information in an open, frequent and honest approach. There is a tendency when things start to go wrong to reduce or stop sharing information. This is a natural leadership tendency because leaders do not want to be seen without all the necessary information. However, in times of chaos, leaders need to share more, be more open with information, and be visible and present during the information sharing process.

  4. Use the concept of commander’s intent. Commander’s intent is a military mission planning principle that works well in chaos. Commander’s intent is when a leader spells out precisely what success looks like and what the specific measures of success will be for the organization. Commander’s intent is vital during chaotic times because people want to know what they can do to ensure success even though chaos exists. When a leader talks about what success will be, then people know what they can do to act and initiative to guide their actions towards the organization’s success. Plans often fail, but commander’s intent picks up when plans fail to enable action and initiative towards the final goal.

  5. Focus on people. Continuing to focus on the well-being of people is an easily forgotten aspect of leadership during times of chaos. Leaders often focus solely on the problem and forget to focus on the individuals that will carry out the solution to the problem. In any organization, in any industry, and in any part of the world, it is people, not money, computers, data or resources, that are an organization’s most important resources. Chaos eventually subsides because people and their leaders rise to confront, solve, and overcome the challenges.





Chaos can be an ending or a new beginning to leaders, a team, and an organization. Leaders and organizations that truly adopt and utilize military leadership skills during times of chaos will find themselves successful and better for the harrowing experience.


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Requests should be submitted in writing to the appropriate military service branch division of the NPRC. Standard form (SF 180), available through the VA, is recommended to submit your request. Generally, there is no charge for medal or award replacements. For more information, or for the mailing address of the military branch office to submit your request to, call 1-86-NARA-NARA (1-866-272-6272) or visit the NPRC website at www.archives.gov