The key to successful leadership today is influence, not authority.
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The key to successful leadership today is influence, not authority.
Many experts, including Ken Blanchard, argue legitimately that managing and leading are all about influencing people to accomplish tasks and objectives. Managing and leading through influence in the context used in this article present some unique challenges due to the absence of direct, hierarchical authority (i.e., not all of the people who need to be influenced work directly for the manager or leader). This type of challenge occurs naturally in a matrix organization, in which project managers are supported by functional-specialty experts (e.g., engineers, logisticians, financiers, etc.) who may or may not be collocated with the project team. The challenge of managing and leading through influence in this type of situation is somewhat mitigated because the head of the organization has directed that the project be carried out, has placed the project manager in charge to lead the effort, and has directed the functional leaders to support the project. Similarly, in a joint environment, the services have to rely on each other, but their component commanders all report to a joint force commander in charge of the campaign.
When the project requires the support not only of inside functional organizations but also of outside organizations with completely different reporting chains, the challenges become especially daunting. That is the environment I address in this article by examining a case study of the B-1B bomber nuclear-certification program that I led in the early 1980s. Managing and leading in this complex environment require the same basic skills as successfully managing and leading in an environment where direct hierarchical authority exists.1 Attaining success without direct, hierarchical authority demands much more time and attention on enlisting commitment and support from both inside and outside the organization. Skills in persuasion and negotiation also become much more important.
First I briefly offer some background on the B-1B and nuclear certification before describing the situation I faced when I arrived at the B-1B System Program Office (SPO) in the summer of 1982. Then, I move on to a discussion of challenges faced and actions taken to address them. The result was one of the proudest achievements of my Air Force career—nuclear certification of the B-1B 30 days before its initial operational capability (IOC) in September 1986, exactly as required and as I had planned four years earlier. Next, I summarize what I consider the “golden nuggets” or best practices, along with keys to success in managing and leading through influence across organization lines and in the absence of hierarchical authority. Finally, I conclude with a few remarks that I hope will prove valuable to today’s leaders facing the challenges of managing and leading in these kinds of complex environments.2
The B-1B Program
Restarting the B-1 program in 1981 was a cornerstone of President Reagan’s campaign to rebuild America’s national defense and to close the vulnerability gap (real or perceived) between the United States’ and Soviet Union’s military capabilities. The B-1B program enjoyed the highest national priority and unprecedented stability. It added modern offensive avionics by Boeing and defensive avionics by AIL Eaton to Rockwell’s B-1 airframe and General Electric’s B-1 engines, which had been developed and flight-tested in the 1970s.3 During 1981 the program’s requirements, cost, and schedule were defined in great detail in a $20.5 billion program baseline that would deliver 100 B-1Bs to the Air Force.4 Ultimately the secretary of defense, president, and Congress approved this baseline before Rockwell, Boeing, General Electric, and AIL Eaton received contracts in early 1982.
Several unique aspects of the B-1B are important to this case study. First, the program’s baseline remained under tight control at the secretary of defense level—that is, he approved all changes to requirements, cost, and schedule. This stability, coupled with leveraging the many years of work on the B-1, resulted in a program of moderate risk that the government and contractors could manage.5 This, in turn, enabled an aggressive schedule that included an IOC of September 1986 and delivery of all 100 bombers by May 1988. The schedule included significant concurrency between development and production. The well-defined baseline and moderate, manageable risk were keys to obtaining congressional approval of a multiyear procurement that saved a significant amount of money by securing government commitment to buy most of the 100 aircraft at the beginning of the program instead of incrementally each year.
Second, the program’s management approach underwent extraordinary streamlining to save time and cost and to reduce oversight. From a program-management standpoint, the B-1B system program director (SPD) reported directly to the secretary of the Air Force and secretary of defense, bypassing the normal oversight levels within Air Force Systems Command, Headquarters US Air Force, and staff offices within the Office of the Secretary of Defense. Because of reduced oversight, the Air Force agreed to staff the B-1B program at about 200 people, about half the normal number for a program of this size and complexity. In 1982 the management model for sizable programs like the B-1B was a large project-management organization that would manage different elements of the program, supported by functional organizations in engineering, budget and program control, logistics, flight testing, safety, and so forth. In contrast the B-1B project office was very small, and the functional organizations were expected not only to support projects managed there, but also to provide management of key elements of the program. Nuclear certification was one of the few aspects managed out of the project office because it required support from almost all SPO functional organizations and a number of outside agencies.
Third, to save cost and streamline contract management, the B-1B SPO assumed responsibility for integrating the work of the four associate contractors, as it had on the original B-1 program. For the most part, the B-1B SPO’s engineering organization managed this effort, using design reviews and a detailed set of interface-control documents as well as associate contractor agreements. Essentially, the government assumed the role usually played by the prime contractor.6 The engineering organization’s leadership role offers a good example of what I mean by functional organizations assuming management responsibility versus just providing engineering support to project management.
Extraordinarily successful, the B-1B program reached its IOC and most other major milestones on time and within budget. Rick Mael attributed this success to detailed, up-font cost estimating; firm baselining; multiyear procurement; and the SPO’s role as integrator.7 The B-1B’s programmatic success and rapid deployment provided time for the development and production of the B-2 stealth bomber without further widening the vulnerability gap. Finally, as a key element in the United States’ strategic force-modernization program, it played an important role in bringing about the collapse of the Soviet Union and ending the Cold War. In order to attain IOC, the B-1B needed nuclear certification.
Before a weapon system can be loaded with nuclear weapons, stand alert, and conduct nuclear missions, the secretary of defense must authorize it to do so by signing the nuclear-safety rules recommended by the secretary of the military service that would operate the weapon system. Prior to signing, the secretary of defense also reviews a report certifying the safety and compatibility of the weapon system from the secretary of energy, whose department designs, develops, and produces nuclear warheads. The secretary of defense’s approval of the nuclear-safety rules represents the culmination of many years of analysis and testing to certify that the system is mechanically and electrically compatible with the weapons and can operate with and deliver nuclear weapons safely and accurately.8
Within the Department of Defense, the SPD is responsible for all aspects of system design, development, and production, including nuclear certification. Within the program office, the SPD designates a nuclear-certification program manager, directs SPO functional offices (engineering, safety, test, logistics, etc.) to provide support, and incorporates contractor support for the program in the appropriate contracts. The SPO’s nuclear-certification program manager gets interagency support for the program by forming a Project Officers’ Group (POG), which he chairs and which has representatives from the SPO functional offices, the program contractors, the Department of Energy’s laboratories, the major command that will operate the weapon system, the service’s flight-test organization, the service’s organization for nuclear weapon safety, and the service’s inspector general (IG) organization for nuclear surety. The B-1B POG had over 60 members from a total of 14 organizations, five of which were SPO functional organizations. The other nine included outside agencies: two contractors (Rockwell and Boeing), Strategic Air Command (SAC), Air Force Weapons Laboratory, Air Force Flight Test Center, the Air Force IG’s Directorate of Nuclear Surety (DNS), and three Department of Energy laboratories.9
During the development of weapon systems, POG members work together to complete required analyses and tests. Extensive environmental and mechanical testing assures that the nuclear weapon’s design criteria are never exceeded from the time it leaves the weapons storage area until it reaches a target. Electrical testing certifies that the weapon system’s avionics can communicate with the weapon’s arming system, and dropping dummy weapons during flight testing confirms that the weapon system can safely and effectively deliver the weapon to target. In parallel with these activities, a nuclear-system safety study analyzes all potential hazards and formulates safety rules for the nuclear weapon system. Among other things, this study must prove beyond a shadow of doubt that the aircraft’s avionics cannot inadvertently arm and drop the weapon. Ultimately, the results of these studies, analyses, and tests flow up separate and independent chains leading to the service secretary and secretary of energy, who both must certify that nuclear weapons can be safely and effectively included in the operational capability before the secretary of defense signs the nuclear weapon system’s safety rules.
Situation and Status in the Summer of 1982
I reported to the B-1B SPO in July 1982, about seven months after contract awards restarted the program. After meeting Maj Gen William E. Thurman, the B-1B SPD, I checked in with Col Nick Fritz, the B-1B director of projects and my new boss. He introduced me to Capt Rick Mael, who, until I got there, was a one-man show, trying to work all aspects of the B-1B armament system, including weapon launchers, weapon-loading support equipment, and nuclear certification. In short, he was absolutely swamped and extremely glad to have a boss on board. I noticed the small size of the office that he and I were to share with another officer, so I asked him about the location of the rest of my team. He explained to me the SPO management concept, which involved support from functional-specialty experts in engineering, safety, logistics, and flight testing, who were in the SPO but not collocated with us.
Over the first couple of weeks, I walked around the SPO, meeting all of the functional-support members of the team. They all seemed to have a general grasp of the requirements of nuclear certification and their role in the process. In all cases, they had functional bosses inside the SPO and home-office bosses outside the SPO. None of them had been designated to support nuclear certification full time. For example, the four armament engineers were responsible for overseeing development and integration of the armament system and offensive avionics into the B-1B. Nuclear certification was just a small, but important, aspect of their total job. Although everyone seemed to understand the importance of nuclear certification and what they needed to do, there was no plan with assigned actions and accountability.
With the help of engineering, Rick had organized a POG and held a couple of meetings, but not much more had happened. I touched base with all of the non-SPO members from outside agencies, including the contractors, and found much the same situation (i.e., awareness of requirements but little or no action). Our Rockwell and Boeing contractor members told me that nuclear certification was not under contract. That troubled me because certification was absolutely essential, so I found it hard to believe it could have been left out of the B-1B’s $20.5 billion baseline contracts. I would spend a great deal of time over the next few months sorting out exactly what the contracts did and did not include and fixing the disconnects.
About a month after I arrived, I briefed General Thurman on nuclear certification, my requirements for obtaining it, and my approach and strategy. I took Rick with me to the general’s office for the briefing and found that his staff had invited some of the SPO’s chief functional experts. I told General Thurman that to succeed, I needed to have his support and commitment, sort out the contractual disconnects, get our contractors on board, develop a plan, and use the contractors and rest of the POG to execute the plan. I told him that the process normally takes six to 10 years, but I could complete it in four years to support the B-1B’s IOC of September 1986 by leveraging work done on the original B-1 program, accelerating some activities, and executing some efforts in parallel rather than serially.
When I finished, I got a big thumbs-up from General Thurman and his direction to the functional experts to support me. It could not have gone better until the very end when the chief of program control (the program’s financial manager) told the general that nuclear certification had been scrubbed from the $20.5 billion baseline because its $50 million price tag was too expensive. I told General Thurman that the contractors had told me the same thing but had not mentioned the cost. I then reiterated my briefing points that nuclear certification was not optional, that contractor support was essential, and that I would sort out the contractual disconnects. I pledged to get back to him in a month or so with the cost and needed contractual changes.
A few weeks later, I held my first POG meeting, in which I introduced myself, presented the same briefing I had given General Thurman, and challenged the members to move beyond talking about what they needed to do and actually do something. I told them that business as usual would not be good enough to nuclear-certify the B-1B in time to support the IOC of September 1986; therefore, we would operate in a different mode. Finally, I told them that we needed to develop a plan with all actions identified and assigned to someone, as well as a schedule with which to monitor and manage progress. We had three POG subgroups in place for safety, aircraft compatibility, and logistics. Moreover, a SPO functional expert served as chairman of the subgroups, but the groups had not yet met. I broke the POG into the subgroups, directed them to spend the rest of the day organizing, and told them to plan a meeting within the next few weeks, after which they would lay out all of the actions in their area that needed to happen (and when) over the next four years in order to win nuclear certification not later than August 1986, 30 days before the IOC date. I scheduled the next POG meeting for about a month later, telling them that we would put together a comprehensive, integrated plan at that meeting.
Challenges and Responses
I faced seven challenges critical to success. In one form or another, leaders in “manage-and-lead-through-influence” situations will face similar problems. For each one, I describe my response in terms of the actions I took to meet it. Although these challenges and my responses were not necessarily caused by the lack of hierarchical authority, the need to exert influence without direct authority certainly shaped both.
Challenge No. 1: Securing Commitment
From the beginning, I knew I had to obtain commitment to the goal of a nuclear-certified B-1B weapon system from all 14 organizations comprising the POG, as well as its 60 members. Securing that commitment was the key to attaining the cooperation needed to complete the work and reach the goal. Without that commitment, I knew we would fail, so I put a great deal of focus and priority into getting and maintaining it.
I had a great deal in my favor because the B-1B program enjoyed the highest national priority. People inside the SPO were excited to be working on it, as were the people from outside organizations. I built on that excitement with a campaign to educate POG members on nuclear certification as well as their leadership inside and outside the SPO. However, I intended that my campaign go well beyond education by designing it to persuade everyone involved that, for the B-1B to reach IOC, nuclear certification was not an option but an imperative. I began that campaign with General Thurman and the leadership in the B-1B SPO, carried it to the POG, and then engaged the management chains in the nine outside agencies. Thus, I successfully sold the requirement and obtained the needed commitment. But I did not simply declare success and go on to something else. Instead, I worked continually to maintain the commitment. For example, about a year after we started, I persuaded General Thurman to chair a one-day review by senior leadership of the plan, status, issues, and key ongoing actions. Leaders from the SPO and all nine outside agencies participated, approved the POG’s agenda, and recommitted their agencies’ support to the program and plan.
Challenge No. 2: Taking Charge
The need for a leader to step forward and take charge becomes even more important in the absence of hierarchical authority. Without leadership to drive the team, there will be no teamwork or coordinated, cohesive effort by individuals leading to real progress toward the goal.
Although I lacked hierarchical authority, General Thurman gave me all the authority I needed within the SPO by designating me the project leader and by directing the functional offices to support me and the project. Similarly, the B-1B contractors viewed me as a key customer and followed my direction and tasking. Outside the SPO and its two contractors, the remaining seven organizations had responsibilities in their regulations that dictated their roles and responsibilities in support of nuclear certification. Consequently, both inside and outside the SPO, I had all the authority I needed to exert influence. Although indirect and derived, the authority was still more than sufficient. Nevertheless, as I engaged the members of the POG individually before my first POG meeting, I left no doubt in their minds that I was taking charge and assuming responsibility for the project and expected their support. Not surprisingly, not only did I meet no resistance but also the team seemed relieved that someone was assuming control because they knew that without leadership, they would fail.
At the first POG meeting, I went well beyond just chairing the meeting by reinforcing the fact that I had authority. For example, I told the POG that we had four years to get the job done and that business as usual would not get us there. I emphasized that when we encountered problems, I was interested only in what we needed to do to solve them—not in how tough it would be to do so. Finally, I told them it was time to stop talking about what we needed to do and to start doing those things.
Challenge No. 3: Obtaining Cooperation and Teamwork
Securing commitment is essential but not sufficient for a project such as nuclear certification, which demands cooperation and teamwork across so many organizational boundaries. No simple formula exists for getting the necessary degree of cooperation and teamwork, but I believe that the following are key steps.
First, the leader must define what needs to be done, as well what the roles and responsibilities are, in sufficient detail that it becomes clear that the support of multiple organizations is critical to carrying out each task. I insisted that both the POG and its subgroup charters have this level of detail. Once we had the plan, every task had not only a designated office of primary responsibility but also offices of collateral responsibility. When teams recognize that cooperation and teamwork are imperative, the members will respond by working together.
Second, smaller groups tend to be more effective than larger ones in fostering cooperation and teamwork toward a common goal, so I delegated most of the work to the three subgroups, empowering them, as teams, to do the job. At every POG meeting, I had each POG subgroup chairman report on his organization’s actions, results, progress, and issues. After only one or two meetings, the subgroups knew that I could tell the difference between activity and action, and that I expected both results and progress. Because people want to do a good job and satisfy their leaders, after I made my expectations clear and told them I would inspect their progress regularly, I got what I needed—teamwork, cooperation, and, most important, results and progress!
At that first POG meeting I attended, I did something that, in a very direct and powerful way, reinforced this message. As we went through the action items from the first couple of POG meetings held before my arrival, I closed 20 of the 30 items because they tasked organizations to do their jobs or to coordinate with others in doing their jobs. I made it very explicit that I didn’t need action items to have them do their jobs and coordinate—I expected them to do that! At each subsequent meeting, I focused action items on issues that needed resolution in order to keep the project on schedule.
Challenge No. 4: Opening the Lines of Communication
After securing commitment to reaching the goal and working together to do so, the leader faces yet another challenge: opening lines of communication among all organizations at all levels. My approach to this issue involved providing every POG member the telephone number and mailing address of all the other members. If we had had e-mail back in the early 1980s, I would have provided that also. The standard operating mode for nuclear-certification POGs at that time called for all communication to go through the SPO or POG leadership, especially if the communication involved interacting with or asking a program contractor for something. I knew that I had neither the staff nor the time to manage communications, so I authorized and encouraged every POG member to communicate directly with each other, including our contractors. This rather revolutionary approach carried a degree of risk because it could have led to substantive, unauthorized contract changes resulting in unplanned costs; nevertheless, I accepted that risk because I viewed open communications as essential and trusted our contractors—another somewhat unprecedented approach. However, before I implemented this initiative, I engaged our contractors, who operated on fixed-price contracts. I asked them never to say no to a request for anything without consulting me. If the request fell outside the scope of the contract, I told them that I would have the request or contract modified. Interestingly, I never received an “out-of-contract-scope” claim from them after I fixed the contract disconnects.
Looking back to the early 1980s, we see that communication itself presented a challenge because there were no computers, Internet, or e-mail, as well as no videoconferencing or teleconferencing capabilities. All communication took place either face-to-face or by phone. So we spent considerable time managing by walking around, talking on the phone, and traveling to meetings. Although those modes are somewhat inefficient, they benefited communication clarity and management effectiveness.
Challenge No. 5: Building Trust and Respect
Nothing is more important to effective teamwork than building trust and respect. For that reason, I focused a great deal of attention on this area, as illustrated by the following examples.
First, within the SPO, I worked out a couple of staffing rules with the functional offices. I insisted that they appoint to my project a chief functional-area expert who would accept responsibility for providing functional support and respond to my tasking. I made clear that, beyond supplying a chief functional expert, staffing my project and other projects was their responsibility and that I cared only about completing the job. I asked them to consult me whenever a conflict arose over meeting their multiple staffing responsibilities, assuring them that we would negotiate a solution. Although I didn’t sign their people’s performance reports, I provided written and verbal input to those reports. I built up additional trust and respect by writing a number of award nominations for their people.
Two illustrations reflect my efforts to build trust and respect in outside agencies. Traditionally, the operational user (SAC in this case) and the acquisition organization have a strained relationship. Users get frustrated because they feel that their requirements are not being fully met or because cost overruns and schedule delays occur. Acquisition agencies get frustrated because of requirement changes that affect design, cost, and schedule. Because the B-1B had a very detailed and rigorous requirements baseline, many of these traditional problems were mitigated up front. General Thurman also made SAC a voting member on the program’s configuration and baseline-control board. I emulated that arrangement in the POG by making SAC a full member. If the command wanted something in the weapons-capability area, I never used the program baseline as an excuse to say no. Instead, I had our contractors evaluate the request. If they could accommodate it without affecting either the cost or schedule, we incorporated the change. If the request did affect either the cost or schedule, we gave SAC the option of offering an offset or elevating the proposed change to the program configuration and baseline-control board. In this way, we built trust and respect, accommodated many no-impact changes, and, to my knowledge, never elevated a proposed change.
The second example involved the Air Force IG’s DNS, who normally is not a member of the POG in order to preserve his independence. Traditionally, the DNS received the minutes of POG meetings, attended occasional meetings as an observer, and waited until near the end of the development phase to begin an independent assessment of the nuclear-safety study and proposed safety rules. This approach simply would not have worked with the B-1B because production had begun concurrently with development—an example of what I meant when I said that business as usual would not suffice. I asked the DNS representative to become an involved observer, requesting that he attend all POG meetings and make his concerns and issues known up front so that we could address them and, hopefully, avoid costly design changes downstream. I even took the unprecedented step of inviting him to attend some program engineering-design reviews. I assured him that I understood and respected his need for independence and that I knew we had no guarantees that DNS would not find a design flaw later during its independent assessment of the safety study.
Opening up the POG for DNS participation and commenting that a business-as-usual approach would not assure B-1B nuclear certification in time for the September 1986 IOC came back to haunt me. After my first POG meeting, the DNS representative wrote a two-page trip report that went up the Air Force’s IG chain. Condensed into a short paragraph inserted in the IG’s weekly activity report to the secretary of the Air Force, the report quoted Lieutenant Colonel Shulstad as saying the B-1B would not reach its September 1986 IOC because it could not attain nuclear certification in time. The condensed form did not mention my statement that we would not be doing business as usual. About a week later, General Thurman was blindsided by the secretary of the Air Force during a B-1B program review. Being responsible for blindsiding the boss is one of the quickest ways to end a career, but I survived when General Thurman heard and validated the whole story; afterward, the Air Force IG apologized to the secretary and General Thurman for the misinformation. He even let me retain the DNS as an involved observer in the POG after I worked out some rules with the directorate that would prevent any recurrence of such miscommunication. As painful as this incident was at the time, it contributed to building mutual trust and respect.
Challenge No. 6: Removing Barriers
Every project encounters problems or barriers that must be resolved or overcome to move forward and achieve success. Identifying these issues and working to resolve them can prove especially difficult when multiple agencies are involved and hierarchical authority is absent.
Almost immediately I realized that I had to fix the contractual disconnects to assure that we got the required level of support. Compounding this challenge was the fact that many of the players who negotiated the initial contracts on both the government and contractor sides had moved to other jobs. I did know, however, that both sides claimed that nuclear certification had been eliminated from the baseline contracts because of its cost—an estimated $50 million.
Thanks to the planning effort discussed above, I had a good idea of what we needed the contractors to do. Armed with that knowledge, Rick Mael and I began a painstakingly detailed fact-finding analysis of the baseline contract and contractor proposals for nuclear certification. With the help of the contractors and SPO functional teammates, we found that most, but not all, critical analyses and tests were already in the baseline contract but not labeled nuclear certification per se. We also found that most of the government’s $50 million cost estimate was driven by the assumed necessity of the dedicated flight testing of weapons. We worked with the flight-test community to integrate both captive-carry instrumented environmental testing of weapons and flight testing of weapons delivery into the overall B-1B flight-test program. We did find that contractor support and participation in the POG and its subgroups had been eliminated from the baseline contract and needed to be covered. In the end, we negotiated contract changes with Rockwell and Boeing at a total cost of less than $5 million. After our briefing, General Thurman directed that program-management reserve funds cover the $5 million. The B-1B baseline now explicitly incorporated nuclear certification.
Challenge No. 7: Building and Executing the Plan
Building a comprehensive plan for a program requiring support from a number of organizations is critically important and especially challenging without hierarchical authority. The key to meeting this problem is implementing a participative planning approach that sets top-level milestones and then delegates detailed planning to the level of execution. At that level, participants complete detailed planning by using a collaborative process involving all organizations. At my first POG meeting, I set time aside for the subgroups to begin the detailed planning process based on a few top-level milestones. I asked that they meet prior to my second meeting a month later, when we examined and integrated all the required activities, assigned responsibilities, and determined the necessary time phasing. We identified critical actions in both the lower-level subgroup plan and the top-level management schedule. Everyone left that second meeting with a clear understanding of what had to be done, by whom, with whose help, and by when.
I then shifted into a manage “performance-to-the-plan” mode with monthly reviews of subgroup progress and quarterly reviews at the POG meetings. During these reviews, we made adjustments as necessary, identified issues, and assigned action items to resolve the issues and get back on plan. Essentially, I used the plan to exercise control and direct management functions, an important enabler when managing through influence! My replacement and the POG continued to use the plan in this way after I departed for a new assignment in 1984; thus, the plan and my overall approach survived a change of leadership about halfway through execution.
My responses to the seven challenges reflect both my strategy and leadership style that I used to direct the B-1B nuclear-certification program. They also reflect an overarching commitment to mission accomplishment and ability to adapt leadership and management style to meet the practical challenges of the complex situation I faced. I had no prior experience in leading and managing through influence, yet the issues were clear from the beginning, and the basic framework of the strategy came together soon thereafter. The lessons I learned during planning and execution are reflected in my responses. Others can use my lessons learned and approaches in any managing-and-leading-through-influence environment. In generalized form, the following golden nuggets represent these best practices:
1. Secure and maintain commitment through education and persuasion of all management layers in all organizations.
2. Take charge through indirect, derived sources of authority and exert influence.
3. Obtain cooperation and teamwork by defining roles and responsibilities and making expectations clear regarding the need for action and progress.
4. Open the lines of communication by enabling all teammates to communicate with each other.
5. Build trust and respect through open, frank engagement and actions.
6. Remove barriers to success with determined collaborative effort, hard work, and negotiation when necessary.
7. Build and execute a comprehensive plan and use it to exercise direction and control.
Keys to Success
In addition to applying the golden nuggets, individuals who wish to be successful in this complex environment must practice sound management and effective leadership. They must apply the basic management functions of organizing, planning, directing, and controlling, but skills in persuasion and negotiation become more important in the absence of hierarchical authority.
Similarly, my responses to the challenges discussed here reflect almost all of what I consider the essential elements of effective leadership: caring about people, setting the vision and direction, communicating effectively, embracing and instilling a positive attitude, staying proactive, and mentoring and developing subordinates—even those who don’t work directly for the leader.10 However, the involvement of multiple agencies requires a more collegial, participative leadership style.
Although the golden nuggets, management, and leadership are all important for success, in the end the hard work of dedicated, talented, and empowered people makes the critical difference. I was very fortunate to have such a team on the B-1B nuclear-certification program.*
Managing a program or campaign that includes multiple organizations without hierarchical authority demands a management-and-leadership-through-influence approach. By examining a case study, I have identified the best practices that can enable success in this kind of challenging environment. I hope that others will benefit from what I learned and can apply that knowledge to become more effective managers and leaders in these kinds of complex environments. ✪
1. Dr. Raymond A. Shulstad, Brigadier General, USAF, Retired, “Perspectives on Leadership and Management,” Air and Space Power Journal 23, no. 2 (Summer 2009): 11–18, http://www.airpower.au.af.mil/airchronicles/apj/apj09/sum09/sum09.pdf.
2. I asked Rick Mael to collaborate with me on this article because of his unique perspective derived from being the only person in the B-1B SPO who actually worked directly for me. Rick has remained a professional colleague and close personal friend for the 28 years that have passed since I took charge of the B-1B nuclear-certification program. I knew that I needed his help in getting the facts right after all this time and that his perspective as a trusted and respected subordinate would prove invaluable to balancing my views as a senior leader.
3. Boeing’s B-1B offensive avionics leveraged the B-52 avionics-modernization program accomplished as part of integrating air launched cruise missiles (ALCM) into the B-52. Similarly AIL’s B-1B defensive avionics leveraged the significant flight testing of defensive systems on the B-1.
4. The initial baseline of $19.7 billion included both a conventional bomb capability and a nuclear weapon (bombs and short-range air-to-surface attack missiles) capability. Soon after the awarding of initial contracts, $800 million was added to the baseline for integration of the ALCM, giving the B-1B a standoff nuclear-delivery capability.
5. The major exception to moderate risk was the defensive avionics suite, something very technically challenging from the beginning. This risk was somewhat mitigated by incrementally enhancing the defensive suite during aircraft production and by adding the ALCM, which provided a standoff capability that would not require the B-1B to penetrate enemy defenses.
6. This model of having the government assume responsibility for integration was unprecedented in aircraft acquisition programs; however, it had been successfully used for many years in intercontinental ballistic missile programs, in which an engineering-support contractor—TRW—performed that role for the government.
7. Maj Richard D. Mael, “B-1B: An Untold Success Story,” research paper (Norfolk, VA: Armed Forces Staff College, 12 November 1986).
8. Nuclear certification is governed by Department of Defense Directive 3150.2, DoD Nuclear Weapon System Safety Program, 23 December 1996, sec. 4, “Policy,” http://www.dtic.mil/whs/directives/corres/pdf/315002p.pdf.
9. Within the Air Force, the IG’s DNS, in order to preserve its independence, participates in the POG as an observer rather than a member.
10. Shulstad, “Perspectives on Leadership and Management,” 13–15.
Dr. Shulstad (BS, University of Alabama; MS, PhD, Air Force Institute of Technology) is an independent consultant to industry and government for a broad range of topics, including organizational management and leadership, research and development, and systems engineering and acquisition. In 2006 he retired as the senior vice president and general manager of MITRE’s Center for Air Force Command and Control Systems. Prior to joining MITRE in 1999, he was the director of Strategic Planning for Surveillance and Battle Management Systems for Northrop Grumman Corporation. General Shulstad retired from the Air Force in 1994 after a distinguished 28-year career. His final assignments included vice-commander of the Aeronautical System Center at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio (1993–94), and vice-commander of the Electronic Systems Division, Hanscom AFB, Massachusetts (1991–93). His publications include Peace Is My Profession (National Defense University Press, 1986), a book that deals with the moral dimensions of US nuclear policy.
The conclusions and opinions expressed in this document are those of the author cultivated in the freedom of expression, academic environment of Air University. They do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Government, Department of Defense, the United States Air Force or the Air University
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