Recently, I was reading a book where a story about how Dwight D. Eisenhower had such a situation. His top General, George Patton, was constantly saying and doing things that were actions not becoming of a senior leader and lost countless hours trying to figure out the best way to deal with it all. What made matters worse is that this person was a close personal friend who rose through the ranks with him. Eisenhower was in a tough place, because he had to discipline him, but if he was relieved from command, the Germans would take advantage of this. And most of this was right before the launch of D-Day.
This story made me think about all of the times I was a thorn in the side of my leadership. Why? I can’t give a solid reason, but wish I could take it back in most situations. Yet, many of us do this to our leadership and we make things very difficult for them.
Think about this as if you are house shopping. The first house has everything you want. It has that Pottery Barn kitchen, pool, professional landscaping and huge air conditioned garage, but the price is much higher than it should be for that neighborhood. The next house has an ok price, but needs to be gutted and would cost almost as much as the first one to do all this work.
The first house is like General Patton. Your teammate has all of the talent you can imagine and can deliver like no other; however, he is constantly stirring the pot and angering his peers and your leadership is pressuring you to remove him. The cost is very high, but the features you need are there.
The second is that person you are unsure of. You know she needs some work to be where you need her to be, but she says she is willing and she works well with her peers. The amount of work needed to make her successful is not known, and who knows for sure if she can do the job.
As a leader, it is situational. In the case of Eisenhower, he had to stick with Patton because he had no room for error at this time. However, had this been during peacetime or later in the war, he would have been gone and the next person in line would have been tapped. The best talent for the job who could add the most value to the team would be (and often is) removed because his price was way too high. The next person in line would be put in place and the masses would suffer through his learning curve.
It is rare to see amazing talent and humility in the same person. I think it is because we get to the point where we see or think that we are the go-to person and doing more of the value-added tasks than the others and think we deserve special treatment. I fell into this trap when I was a young instructor. I was on a streak where I was the go-to guy and knocking big things out of the park. Well, I hated rushing in the mornings and got to work a few minutes late each day. My boss at the time could have easily reprimanded me or some other form of punishment, but he saw an opportunity to mentor.
This SNCO took me aside and asked me what was going on and I had the audacity to try and justify it. Something about the fact I stayed late each day, always did my job well, blah, blah. If I were him, I would have Darth Vader choked me. Instead, he helped me see that acting in this way actually took away from all of the hard work I was doing. He taught me the value of the very first leadership lesson we all receive, “lead by example”.
Anyone can be taught to do great things. Anyone can have a great season where they are knocking it out of the park. Anyone can become that fixer-upper house that is now completed. Honestly, that is the easy part. It just requires effort. However, the hard part is to lead with character. Doing big things is great and all, but we are missing the ability to bring others along if we are not willing to lead with character. When we decide to develop our character within and lead in this way, we become the right person for every situation.