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System leadership: how to use management skills to adjust the work of a military unit
21.02.2023
2851
10min
System leadership: how to use management skills to adjust the work of a military unit
People. Leadership and management. Culture
In his civilian life, Oleksandr Kostyuk managed the IT department of the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, and in his military life, he headed a platoon of territorial defense forces. He is being treated in one of the Kyiv hospitals after being injured, or more precisely, a mine detonation. We spoke with Oleksandr, a graduate of the Executive MBA course, about applying management and leadership practices in a leadership position in the military.

From the shooter to the commander

Oleksandr's path as a military man began with the military department of the university. Realizing that he would have to defend the country sooner or later, he and like-minded reservists began to train systematically. On February 24, 2022, as part of the territorial defense unit, he stood up for the defense of Kyiv. But Alexander's service was not limited to Kyiv. Next came the liberation of Irpen, Kharkiv Oblast, and Donbas because unexpectedly, for many, TRO began to be used not as planned, and the IT manager ended up in a rifle unit.

According to Oleksandr, everything happened very quickly. He started as a shooter in a team with people with whom he trained for a long time. He went to Irpin as the detachment commander and had eight people under his command. After leaving Irpen, he replaced the deceased platoon commander with 28 personnel. He even had to temporarily perform the duties of a 90-person rifle company commander while a replacement was being sought for his dead predecessor. And if, in the beginning, in a small group, it was possible to rely on previously formed informal connections, then in the future, the skills acquired during training at kmbs were needed. The most important thing, Oleksandr notes, is that a person without management experience in the army can set up the unit's work by having the necessary management knowledge. And he proved this by his example.

Internal culture and provision are the basis of dignity.

First, the division requires forming an internal culture - this is the base without which no further activity is possible. It provides a transparent system of rules accepted by the entire team, forming the backbone of a group of people who share common values and approaches and adequate provision in the military and the household. So, besides food, electricity, and the Internet, an organized place for sleeping and resting, an opportunity to wash and wash things and prepare for the next task should be available in the unit. It is from these things that military dignity begins and endurance in critical situations begin. If all this is ensured, there are usually no questions in combat positions.

Given that the TRO was formed almost from scratch at the beginning of the war, the platoon under Alexander had to organize and provide for itself and its activities to a large extent on its own. They had only the clothes they wore and automatic weapons but also an unlimited human resource - "ordinary, but extraordinary," as Oleksandr calls his brothers. Volunteers, cars, fuel, and food began to appear, thanks to them. A kind of chieftaincy that played its role at first.

For example, Oleksandr says that when the platoon separated from the company in Kharkiv Oblast for dispersal, the question of organizing and providing food arose: find, collect funds, purchase, bring, ensure storage, and rational use. For example, someone agreed on cheese, arrived, and 80 kg of cheese was waiting on a pallet. Such volume must be somehow stored, distributed, appointed a person to manage the warehouse, etc. That is, the issue of provision, or more correctly to say self-sufficiency, only at first glance looks simple or one that can be neglected or left to its own devices. Provision is the base.

As for the effectiveness of the system of rules implemented by the commander, it is tested in an extreme situation, that is, by a battle test. If people have done a decent job - completed their tasks, saved the personnel, helped to take away the dead, weapons, and equipment - it means that the processes and, in particular, the culture has been rebuilt correctly and are working.

Photo of kmbs dean Oleksandr Savruk

 

Bureaucracy, but correct

Oleksandr believes the army should be bureaucratic, "blue," according to the terminology of integral spiral dynamics. But at the same time, it is to be a correct bureaucracy in which there is a place for critical thinking and intelligent use of human resources. These things are the key to preventing losses and maintaining morale. For example, you should not put a person, although motivated but older, in a position where he will burn out or lose health in two days when he can be used where will be helpful, according to his experience, condition, etc. The departure of even one person from the unit must be compensated, and it isn't easy to do this to someone from the outside. Just as it is necessary from the beginning to clean the ranks of the mobilized from, so to speak, nefarious elements that abuse various substances. That is, to work with the management structure.

Given that the unit commander has to direct the battle, namely, give orders, monitor, and coordinate where and what is happening, he needs people on the ground. These should be leaders, most of whom show themselves in the process. In addition to the standard assistants - a chief sergeant, a combat medic, and a driver - department commanders must be appointed. This does not happen in all units, but Oleksandr considers this approach the most effective, so he built his team according to his understanding of the army and good bureaucracy.

This approach also facilitates communication, which in the army is subordinated. It is pretty challenging to accept for people who just yesterday sat at the computer in their workplaces in cozy offices. Soldiers can live in the same room, eat together, joke, and communicate informally, but all work information, planning, trips, and tasks occur between the platoon and unit commanders. There is a task it was discussed with the commander, and everyone must perform it. If this happens, it means that the vertical is working, there is trust in the commanders, and there is an understanding of the need to perform this or that task.

Critical thinking and flexibility

Of course, depending on the situation, there is room for flexibility. But the key depends on the situation. This is where the commander will need critical thinking and the ability to analyze. For example, an order comes from the headquarters to take a particular position, and it turns out to be in a clear field, which means a significant risk for personnel. The head of the company checks the information received and reports it to the top management. Or according to the rules, the tourniquet should be applied at the highest point, but if the injury is at the lowest point, you can reduce blood loss and save part of the limb by applying the tourniquet below. Similarly, delivery to the stabilization point involves specific rules, which entail a long wait and, accordingly, a loss of time, which can cost the life of the wounded. At the same time, if there is transport, you can get the soldier to the doctor faster.

Oleksandr calls himself a system leader and believes that a transparent system of rules, adjustment of processes, and flexibility depending on the situation most contribute to the effective functioning of the unit. Just like the leader's ability to adapt, change roles, and feel the moment. Thus, in addition to performing his direct duties, Oleksandr and his subordinates had to organize fundraising campaigns, attract people, conduct the "marketing" process, and appropriate communication with companies of various profiles to provide his unit with either Starlink or chainsaws. The entrepreneurial approach works well in contrast to the bureaucratic army system, which is sometimes inefficient and even traumatic for non-professional soldiers.

What's out

Summing up, Oleksandr notes that the first person in the unit needs to understand the different levels of interaction and work correctly with the organizational structure. It would be best to be flexible about the challenges ahead but firm and moral about the rules that shape the unit's culture. It is necessary to be able to delegate and educate capable commanders-leaders, but at the same time, do not forget about subordination and correct bureaucracy. It must be remembered that the pre-laid foundation of support allows the army to work more reliably and avoid resistance when carrying out orders. Thus, a properly constructed management structure enables the commander to effectively perform the assigned tasks.

And, probably, one of the best markers of the correctness of the applied management approach is sustainability. "People united by a common, clear goal do not need to be motivated or, on the contrary, limited by clear boundaries," says Oleksandr. And already in a different role, on a hospital bed, he states with pleasure that his men continue to fight with dignity and efficiency, even for another commander.

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