What’s My Arc of Fire?

Blog Post Transformational Leadership

Each one of you reading this has unequivocally experienced this scenario:

A direct report comes to you, saying they need you to make a decision to move a project along; except, their request for your time is over a banal, or even insignificant aspect of the project, surely a decision their title and experience qualifies them to make.

This kind of interaction is played out between an executive and a direct report within the hallowed walls of free enterprise every single day. Whether a small private, family-owned business or a major public enterprise trading at $100 per share on the NYSE, the bottom line is, leaders and managers are simply not effectively communicating to their subordinates what decisions can be made without their input.

And what’s the result?

Bottlenecks, stagnation of projects, missed deadlines, frustrated clients and shareholders, finger pointing, and a potentially severe ding to the performance of the enterprise and its bottom-line.

Establishing Effective Decision Rights

At it’s core, establishing decision rights is as simple as explicitly authorizing who can make what decisions, when and why. The bottom line is, establishing effective decision rights can have a profound effect on a business, both in terms of everyday operational effectiveness, and its overall strategic outcomes.

When I was in the Military, we would give instructions to a soldier, or a team, that afforded them maximum decision making power, and we thought of it in terms of their “Arc of Fire.” This allowed them to make decisions in real-time consistent with the overall strategic intent and appropriate to the developing situation.

Imagine you are a leader of soldiers tasked with protecting a village from bandits. You recognize that you cannot be in all places at all times; your objective then, is to rely on the ingenuity (brains), initiative (action orientation) and individual responsibility of each of your soldiers.

The orders would be given to the group of soldiers like this:

The Why:

“Ok, Trooper, our job is to protect this village from bandits—there are women and children depending on us. From this trench, your job is to protect the south approach.

The Where:

“You will have Alpha Team on your left protecting the east and Charlie team on your right protecting the west.”

The Arc of Fire:

“The red barn at your left is your left arc, the chapel on your right is your right arc. Your job is to stop anything entering the village between the left and right arc. You are authorized to use deadly force on any threats attempting to enter the village within your arc of fire. You have the following resources, (x,y,and z), and you are to keep HQ informed of any enemy contacts you are engaging and the status of your resources.”

In today’s, albeit less high stakes, business battleground, employees need to know “The Why” the “The Where” and what their “Arc of Fire” is, in order to effectively act. Notice how each of these essentials are explicitly communicated in the provided example.

Improved Performance in The Arc of Fire

Give your direct reports their arc of fire, and I promise your people will begin acting with greater authority and ownership over their accountabilities, involving you less, and producing new and better results.
1. The Why: The person needs to know the overall objective and why something is being done.
2. The Where: The person needs to understand the context of where they fit. In other words, they need to know how they fit into the equation and how their contributions will make a meaningful impact; and,
3. Arc of Fire: The person needs to understand the boundaries within which they are free and expected to act. These boundaries are critical to aligning the actions of many people.