Know the Four D’s

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. James Meinders
  • 22nd Air Refueling Wing Judge Advocate
I attended a conference last year where the top military attorneys of all the services spoke about leadership.

In his speech, the Marine Corps top lawyer set out four axioms for leadership which I found to be particularly concise and helpful. Those leadership axioms are what he named The Four D's - Direct, Decide, Delegate, and Disappear.

Direct means a leader must have a vision and a plan for achieving that vision.

A leader must then direct his unit by articulating that vision and plan to his subordinates. This must be done clearly and often. In this way, the unit has a clear understanding of the direction it is heading in and why.

This vision, and the ability to articulate it to others, is a hallmark of good leadership - it is often the most difficult to implement as well.

Decide means what it says - a leader must make decisions in a timely manner.

Many aspiring leaders fail because they won't make decisions at a time when those decisions can have an effect. What those failed leaders did not understand is that, many times, whether a decision is good or bad is not as important as just making a decision.

Nothing stalls progress in an organization faster than a leader who will not make a decision.

To paraphrase General George S. Patton, a good plan executed immediately is better than a perfect plan executed too late.

Delegate recognizes a leader cannot and should not do everything themselves - they must empower subordinates to carry out the vision and plan of execution.

The larger the organization you lead, the more important this becomes for three reasons. First, you do not have enough hours in the day to do everything yourself - it is just not possible. Second, delegation allows a leader to leverage the unique capabilities of his subordinates. Lastly, delegation allows a leader to groom others for leadership roles, which is one of a leader's most important obligations.

Disappear means once you have explained your vision and plan, made the tough calls about how to get there, and delegated authority to execute the plan, you need to let those you have empowered do their job.

This is more than a warning against micro-management - it is a show of faith and confidence in the abilities of your subordinates.

Showing you have confidence in the abilities of subordinates to implement your vision gives them a stake in the outcome and makes them want to succeed.

General Dwight D. Eisenhower said "Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it."

If your subordinates have a personal stake in the success of your organization, they will be much more likely to give it their best effort and thus implement your vision. However, this does not mean your organization can be put on auto-pilot.

Once you have given your subordinates the authority to carry out your vision, they must be held accountable for their success or failure.

The Four D's of leadership - Decide, Direct, Delegate, and Disappear - should not be used as a formula for leadership, but they are a great start in building success as a leader.

In General Douglas MacArthur's words, "a general is just as good or just as bad as the troops under his command make him,"