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Unleash free flow of information

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in Best-Practices Leadership,Leaders & Managers

For many years, executives tended to control the flow of information in their organization. They would limit who had access to data and expend much effort ensuring that most employees did not know what senior management knew.

Thankfully, that approach is changing. More leaders are loosening their grip on information so that their entire workforce can assess the same body of knowledge and make better decisions.

Both the U.S. Army and Marines have developed technology giving every soldier updated accounts of what’s happening at the front lines. Previously, only commanders knew this information.

After much testing, the Army has concluded that when soldiers receive such information and get trained on how to interpret it accurately (so that they can readily identify the “commander’s intent”), they can make smarter decisions to guide their actions. Armed with this information, they’re more apt to respond quickly in advancing toward their unit’s battlefield objective.

Some older commanders initially resisted this approach but they’re more willing to abandon tradition once they see how linked networks of troops coordinate their response to the same data.

Metaphors can help promote free-flowing information. Rather than think in terms of “keeping the lid” on something, compare information to salmon. Keep your streams of data well stocked and they will find their way to where they need to be. Like salmon, data will swim upstream to where they can spawn. The leader’s job is to keep the streams clear so that information can flow.

— Adapted from Leadership and the New Science, Margaret Wheatley, Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

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