Horizontal Leadership: Bridging the Information Gap
Bridge Over the Euphrates River
Technology Review published a story, How Technology Failed in Iraq, about one of the largest resistance efforts, code-named Objective Peach (pdf), of Saddam's Army during the early-morning hours of April 3, 2003, near a key bridge on the Euphrates River, located about 30 kilometers southwest of Baghdad in the Karbala Gap. The battle turned out to be a fairly conventional fight between tanks and other armored vehicles. During this operation, a four lane fixed bridge was secured and a second bridge was put in place by Engineer units.
The Iraqi attack was quite large, thus it should have been known well in advance since the U.S. troops were supported by a large technology assisted intelligence network, such as aircraft spotters, satellite-mounted motion sensors, heat detectors, image sensors, and communications eavesdroppers. Commanders had high-bandwidth links to tap into this intelligence network while in the field.
Yet, during Objective Peach, Lt. Col. a battalion commander with the 69th Armor of the Third Infantry Division, was starved for information about Iraqi troop movements and as he said in the Technology Review article, “I would argue that I was the intelligence-gathering device for my higher headquarters.”
As night fell, Marcone realized the situation was getting quite threatening so he arrayed his battalion in a defensive position on the far side of the bridge. It was not long before his fighting force of 1,000 soldiers, 30 tanks, and 14 Bradley fighting vehicles was facing three brigades of Iraq fighters composed of about 30 tanks, 70 armored personnel carriers, artillery, and about 7,000 Iraqi soldiers coming at him from three different directions.
This Iraqi deployment should have been fairly easy to detect, yet they received no information until the Iraqis slammed into them. This was not an isolated case as one key node was consistently falling off the intelligence network — the front-line troops. This soon became known as the digital divide: at the division level and above, the view of the battle space was adequate, yet among the front-line troops, such as Marcone's, the situational awareness was terrible.
Yet, a new U.S. intelligence paradigm was employed at the time — force transformation, which was to use a number of technologies so that field commanders, such Marcone, would be networked into an information gathering and disseminating array. This information was to help units project not only power, but also act as protection. Lucky for Marcone, the tactical adroitness of his warriors easily overcame the attacking Iraqi army. Thus they won on superior tactical strength, rather than a vision of total knowledge.
One of the breakdowns in this intelligence network were the antenna relays carried by the advancing units. These antennas needed to be stationary to function and be within a line of sight to pass information to each other. However, these units were moving much too fast and too far for the system to work. In a few cases, they were attacked while they stopped to set up their antenna relays.
A second breakdown happened in the rear units — their connectivity was too good. They received so much data from some of their sensors that they couldn't process it all; thus they had to stop accepting some of their information feeds.
Horizontal Verses Vertical
One of the arguments for this intelligence breakdown is that it is doctrinal in nature, rather than technological — the communication breakdown was out of date as it used vertical command and control rather than a horizontal flow. Information was to go up the chain of command, so that the major commanders in the rear could interpret it, and then send down their decisions. This resulted in major time delays. Thus the information was out there, yet it was not getting to the people who needed it the most.
In contrast, during the 2001 war in Afghanistan, special-operations forces were organized into small teams (about two dozen soldiers) who patrolled the mountains near the Pakistan border on horseback. Their mission was to root out the Taliban and al-Qaeda forces. Rather that being linked to a central command, the teams were networked to each other — no one person was in tactical command.
Each team also had a key node — the alpha geek, whose job was to manage the flow of information between his team and the others. Thus, rather than being confined to the “corporate IT department,” the information geeks were actually in the field.
These special force units also maintained a web page, that arranged all the data collected by the teams into information that could easily be accessed by all.
Vertical leadership refers to an individual who is in a formal position of power, such as being the hierarchical head of a division. But if we start looking at leadership as being a total system, rather than an individual, then information becomes networked, rather than running up the ladder, and then back down.
From this point-of-view, the various work teams receive leadership contributions from every member, not just the official designated leader. Now this does not mean that everyone is a boss or manager, for there are those who main purpose is to set the vision for the various teams. However, once the vision is received, it becomes the job of everyone to see to it that the vision is actually implemented.
But rather than a vertical stream of information that goes vertically between Jobs or Schultz and their employees, their employees are now beside them on the same horizontal information stream.
A digital dashboard is an interface, resembling an automobile's dashboard, that organizes and presents information in a way that is easy to read. One of their uses is to present Key Performance Indicators (KPI) in a visual and easy to understand manner. Yet a lot of the literature coming out is directing them towards executives (see Executive Dashboards and KPI).
While some key information should only go to select individuals, organizations need to start thinking more along the lines of the special-operations forces operating in Afghanistan — pulling information from all sources and then providing the means, in this case via the internet, so that all teams have access to it.
One of the advantages of horizontal leadership is that it fits in more with the OODA Loop model that was developed by Col. John Boyd, USAF (Ret). When Colonel John Boyd first introduced the OODA: Observe-Orient-Decide-Act). Thus, it allows for faster decision making:
Horizontal leadership is a means of involving networked teams to ensure a leader's vision is executed.
Thus, rather than visualizing the organization as a traditional organization chart:
...it needs to be pictured more as a network:
Use the Horizontal Leadership Instrument to assess your team's Horizontal Leadership Team capability.
Next chapter: After Action Review