Frame of Reference: Who Do You Work For?

This post was written by a friend who wanted to share some lessons learned from an experience he had in the Army.  Reading his perspective provided me with the realization that you must have a conversation early with a new boss to ensure you both see your duties in the same light. This story was truly eye-opening for me. I typically view my own role as being in service to the organization and its people, not necessarily to my boss as a single individual.

Frame of Reference

Who Do You Work For?

I recently had a chance to catch up with a friend as he was heading to my old job. We discussed a variety of topics. When he asked me, “What was your biggest lesson learned,” my answer surprised me.

With almost no hesitation, I replied, “You first need to determine whether you work for your Commander or do you work for the unit?  And your Commander has to answer that question.”

Frame of Reference

Though these thoughts are directly connected to different “styles of leadership”, I had never given much thought to who I worked for until asked in this conversation. Of all the units, I had ever been a part of in 15 years of service, this question had never entered my mind.  In all my previous experiences, the answer was unequivocal, “you worked for the unit.”

Of course, the Commander was critical in making key decisions, providing guidance, intent, direction, etc. However, we were expected to operate within the Commander’s intent, which included making decisions. In this scenario, every product, meeting, etc. was for the betterment of the unit because the Commander was not entrenched in the day-to-day activities. Instead, the Commander was providing the long-term vision and getting appropriate updates to offer course corrections as appropriate, especially in areas that seemed to be outside of the bounds of the original guidance or intent.

New Paradigm

As we talked, I recalled finding myself in a position where I clearly worked for the Commander, not the unit.

For the first time in my career, everything we did was driven by a single individual. Comments and phrases like “the staff doesn’t make decisions, only Commanders make decisions” became a staple. My previous experiences of operating inside the Commander’s intent and ability to exercise disciplined initiative were no longer valid.

Organizational Impact

The Commander’s battle rhythm became the unit’s battle rhythm. Subordinate units struggled to keep pace with the changing of meetings and events because of the Commander’s dynamic schedule. The staff was only able to achieve marginal results because of the constant state of frenzy and unpredictability. Instead of attempting to solve greater problems for the unit or improve day-to-day operations, we found ourselves saturated with a variety of tasks to collect data that often were not connected to impending decisions.

The culture of the unit began to shift. People were more concerned about getting ahead of the Commander’s questions instead of getting ahead of the unit’s problems. This phenomenon only amplified the frenzy.

There is no doubt that the Commander is in charge. The individual controls the focus of the unit at all times. However, the Commander must also have a deep understanding of our most precious resource, time.

Delegate with Trust

I once had a Commander tell me, Delegate until you feel uncomfortable, then delegate some more. There truly is some power in that statement, because, in the end, it is about trust. Trust that your team is doing the right thing. Trust that people are working to build better solutions today to tomorrow’s problems. Trust that your team knows you have confidence in them and have your support.


Question:  So, who do you work for?


For another perspective on this topic, see Dominic Caraccilo’s article on micromanagement (


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