Non Decision Leadership – Experiences from Army Service

Once a Senior Officer advised me, ” If you wish to succeed in Life, always play safe.
Do not give instant decisions; remember less you work, less  mistakes you make. In an environment of Zero Error Syndrome, it is better that you lie low, mark your time and move on.”
Such a philosophy is fine for normal peace time activity, but can never succeed in war or operations. The buck has to stop some where and somebody has to take the responsibility as human lives are involved. I was thus rather puzzled at his advice. However, I did come across such type of Non Decision Leaders (NDL) during early days of my Army life and it was strange that these guys did succeed to some extent.
I was once posted to a Regiment where my Commanding Officer (CO) was of NDL variety.
He could sit on files for months together without giving a decision . Since this Regiment was located in a Peace time station, he managed to carry on for almost the entire duration of his two years tenure. Some of the methods that he adopted were:
A. When a proposal was put up to him for a decision on a particular matter, he would mark the file ,” Put up Separately”. Adjutant ( staff officer to the CO) will take his own time to put up the file to CO with all connecting documents. CO’s next tactics was to order a study group to examine the proposal. Adjutant would now select a group of officers to go into the merit of the case and give their comments. Such an action would take anything up to two months and would further get delayed as some member or the other would have gone on leave. After this study group presented its findings and recommendations to the CO, he would then circulate the file to all officers for their comments. This would take another two months by which time, CO himself would have gone on two months leave. Thus that proposal would die its natural death. We often see civil bureaucrats working in this manner but hardly any Service officer.
B. Sometimes, Superior Headquarters ask units for their comments by a date bound schedule. Our CO had answer to that also. He would keep the file pending and just before the due date of submission he would send an interim reply, stating that the matter was under active consideration and would require more examination and bid for additional time of 6-8 weeks. By this time the other units would have sent their comments to the higher formation , who would be in a position to compile and send a reply to their next higher formation and our units would never be reminded.
C. Let me list out the tactics adopted by this CO.
1. Ask the originator of any proposal to discuss the matter personally with him.
2. Never be available to that officer for about two weeks on some pretext or the
3. Task another officer for critical comments and then to discuss the proposal with
him, make sure that he was not available to him also.
4. Whenever officers could meet him, he would further confuse the issue by asking
irrelevant questions and diverting the main issue. Would indulge in long telephonic
conversation with someone  in their presence and ask them to meet him again the next day. The concerned persons would get so demoralised that they would avoid meeting the CO.
D. This gentleman hardly took any decision in his two years of tenure as CO and fortunate for us that he got posted out. Various Company commanders acted on their own and carried on with the routine tasks. They fully knew that if anything went wrong, the CO would wash his hands off and put the blame on them. But what else could they do as someone has to accept responsibility. Fortunately for the Regiment there was no major exercise during this CO’s tenure, so his NDL style managed to work. He was promoted to the rank of Brigadier General.
As old habits die hard, his next tenure as a Brigadier was in an operational area, where his style did not work and he was eventually passed over for further promotion.
We do have such NDLs in corporate also; they seldom give decisions and blame their subordinates if anything goes wrong. Some of them do manage to hoodwink the system and get their promotions, but are caught in the long run and come to grief. It is rightly said,
” You can fool all the people for some time, you can also fool some people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.”


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